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After “King Richard” earned Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for both outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture and outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role (Will Smith) on Wednesday morning, Saniyya Sidney shared some of her favorite moments from creating the film with Variety.
In a film that illustrates the rise of professional tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams while showing the enormous influence and support that came from their family — including their father Richard (Smith) — Sidney steps into the shoes of a young Venus.
“I just couldn’t wait for the world to see not just a champion, but this beautiful woman,” Sidney told Variety over the phone on Wednesday, adding that the tennis star was her “childhood hero” growing up. “Venus inspired me ever since I was little… This movie changed me [not just] as an actress, but as a person. Getting to tell Venus and Serena’s story was just so special, and I was so honored to be a part of something like this. Every day was the best.”
In “King Richard,” some of Sidney’s favorite scenes to film were the pro matches. Sidney notes that she had never played tennis before the movie, but “ended up falling in love” with the sport.
“I worked very hard. I had an amazing coach, Eric Taino. And when I became Venus, I understood why she loved it,” Sidney said. “[The match scenes] were the times where I felt like her the most… Mr. Will and I could just kind of challenge each other, and that was the beauty of it. Kind of like rallying — it was like tennis, going back and forth with each other in a way that was so powerful.”
The cast also got the chance to connect with the real Venus and Serena while filming the movie. And even on the days Venus and Serena weren’t on set, their sisters Isha and Lyndrea Price, who served as an executive producer and a costumer for the film, respectively, were there everyday.
“When we didn’t have time to communicate with Venus and Serena, we had them there to talk about life and who they were when they were growing up,” Sidney said. “And Venus is the same kid as she was when she was 9, 10. She’s just this bubbly, beautiful person.”
Prior to her role as Venus Williams, Sidney also starred alongside Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in “Fences” (2017), “The Passage” (2019) and more. The young actor added that she was also a fan of Smith’s work growing up, specifically in the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Men in Black,” which would “play nonstop” in her house. She shared her excitement for Smith’s SAG nomination on Wednesday — noting that some of her favorite moments on set were watching him work.
“I’m just so glad that our fellow actors are seeing the hard work that Mr. Will put into this character… He worked so hard to portray Richard with his entire soul, so that inspired me most every day,” she said.
In a statement reacting to the SAG nominations for both the “King Richard” cast and his performance of Richard Williams, Smith wrote: “I am humbled and honored that the Williams family trusted me with their story and that my fellow actors have given our film such a warm reception. Getting to walk in Richard’s shoes and having the opportunity, not only to show the world how misunderstood he was, but also to illuminate the true plight of this family as they paved their own road to becoming two of the most iconic names in sports history. AND to get to do it with this absolutely beautiful cast of actors – Aunjanue, Jon, Tony and the powerhouse performances by two of the best young actors I’ve ever seen on film, Saniyya and Demi! I’m beyond grateful for this experience, for this ensemble cast being recognized, and am mostly proud to play a small part in shining further light and love on the Williams family!”
In addition to Smith and Sidney, “King Richard” also stars Demi Singleton as Serena, Aunjanue Ellis as their mother Oracene “Brandy” Price, and Jon Bernthal as coach Rick Macci.
The cast, particularly those who lived in Williams’ on-set household, became very close. “We became the Williams family. And Serena is my — Serena, see? I call her Serena. Demi’s my sister now, and she really was like the Serena to my Venus. So I was just very grateful,” said Sidney.
She added that they would be celebrating both Smith’s and the cast’s SAG nominations today. “[The cast has] a family group chat and we kind of just text each other,” she said. “We all just say ‘Congratulations’ and we send GIFs all the time of Mr. Will when he was in ‘Fresh Prince’ and him dancing… Or we’ll just call each other and tell each other how much we love each other.”