Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Venus and Serena Williams’ mother, Oracene, in King Richard, said her character deserves more credit, including from herself.
The film tells the story of how the Williams sisters’ father, Richard Williams (Will Smith), designed a plan for their tennis success. Ellis spoke with Deadline’s Joe Utichi about her performance at Contenders New York on Saturday.
“Before, I had a perception of her that I know so many people have that she was this doting mother in the stands who was always there cheering her daughters on,” Ellis said. “She wore these glasses. She was a woman of mystery but we didn’t know her.”
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When Ellis began researching Oracene, even she took issue with sites like Wikipedia calling her Venus and Serena’s coach. The more Ellis researched, she realized how wrong she was.
“I felt so ashamed when I started filming and doing my preparation when I got the job to discover that she was in fact their coach,” Ellis said. “She was more their physical coach than Mr. Richard was. Mr. Richard was the visionary, but Ms. Oracene was the day-to-day. I want to say this. I think I kind of clicked into something in the way that I describe it. Mr. Richard was the architect of this dream, but Ms. Oracene was the builder of the dream.”
Ellis said the Williamses represent a loving family not often seen in movies. They happen to have parlayed their love into athletic success, but Ellis hopes their love speaks to families of any persuasion.
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“There was so much love in this family, and love was the engine for what they did,” Ellis said.
“They love each other so much, and they protect each other so much. I think that is kind of a rare story, and I gotta say it is extraordinary what these folks did, but it’s not rare. It’s rare that we get to see it. I think that, particularly in a sports movie — and it could’ve had a whole other focus — but I think hopefully what we did is we showed the brilliance of them through this lens of love.”
Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton also star in King Richard, along with Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal, Andy Bean, Kevin Dunn and Craig Tate. Warner Bros released the pic November 19 in theaters and it is streaming on HBO Max.
Check back Monday for the panel video.
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