As with any great sports movie, King Richard, the stirring new biopic chronicling how tennis dad Richard Williams guided daughters Venus and Serena towards greatness, locates truth and emotions that lie beyond the bounds of skill and competition.
Telling the foundational story of two all-time great athletes and cultural icons, the film’s director, Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men), understood that the Williams family’s story is bigger than just grand slams and gold medals.
“They’re so much more than that,” says Green. “Their legacy is going to be far greater than anything that they accomplished on the court, and they’ve accomplished a lot on the court.”
Yet, while he points out that Venus and Serena “don’t consider themselves just tennis players,” he and his cast and crew still needed to ensure that the tennis playing in the film was both dramatic and convincing, which it is.
It also was key that actors Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, portraying young Venus and Serena, could capture the legends’ early playing prowess, which they do.
“We were very fortunate that our actors actually got to a level that they did a lot on their own,” Green says. “So we were able to film them doing it, being able to play a lot of the tennis without the ball.”
The production also benefited from “some movie magic,” according to Green, as well as some insider expertise. “We had some of the best tennis consultants you could ever ask for,” he says, including Venus and Serena’s sister Isha Price, who’s a producer on the film.
“Apparently, she was as good as Venus and Serena. She just got hurt. You know, there were probably like three or four other greatest of all time in that family, but through injury, she wasn’t able to continue.”
Price helped Green and company nail nuance. “In the way that Venus would hold the ball or the racket versus Serena. And it’s that specific in our movie, ‘Oh, she would hold it like this, or she would bounce it this many times.’ We had that level of nuance with us on set every day that we can tap into. And hopefully I didn’t mess up the performance aspects of it.”
The performances — led by Will Smith as Richard Williams, Aunjanue Ellis, superb as family matriarch Oracene Williams, and D.C. native Jon Bernthal as the girls’ coach Rick Macci — are garnering plenty of awards buzz, as is the film itself and the Beyoncé anthem “Be Alive,” which soars over the ending.
“I could not think of a better artist to help carry that section of the film,” says Green. “It makes it feel timeless. It makes it feel that the struggle continues in that way. The fight continues. There’s a beauty, there’s an irony. There’s inspiration, but there are so many layers that the Williams family represents.”
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