“King Richard,” tells the story of Richard Williams, father to tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams. Played by Will Smith, Richard Williams is a determined father with a vision and a 78-page plan for his daughter’s future. Based on a true story, “King Richard” follows a family whose focus, resolve, and unwavering faith results in the incredible tennis greats, Venus and Serena Williams.
Saniyya Sidney (Venus) and Demi Singleton (Serena) play the tennis greats with incredible poise and maturity. In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Defender, these two talented teens discuss working with Will Smith and their portrayal of two women they admire.
Chicago Defender: When did you both decide to get into acting?
Saniyya: I realized I wanted to act around four years old. I was inspired by watching award shows. I remember telling my mom what I wanted to do, and she initially said no. From there, I just began memorizing things and showing her I was capable and serious. She put me in acting classes when I was five.
Demi: I’ve always loved performing. I started dancing at age three and was playing the cello at four. Then, when I was seven, I began taking professional singing lessons. But, it wasn’t until my mom took me to see Matilda on Broadway that I knew I wanted to be an actress. Watching the kids on stage inspired me, and I told my mom, and she was completely supportive.
Chicago Defender: Describe the moment you find out you have been chosen to play tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams?
Saniyya: My stomach dropped. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited. I worked so hard during the audition process, so it was almost a relief. It’s funny because I also immediately said, “Oh my gosh, I have to learn tennis.” I was so excited I just started to cry. Venus and Serena were so inspiring to me, so it meant so much to get this role.
Demi: I learned I got the part after a long day of school, so it was a great end to the day. I was excited but nervous too. After I sat and took it all in, I couldn’t believe it. I get to play one of my childhood heroes. She’s someone I’ve looked up to my entire life. I was nervous but so excited and grateful for the opportunity.
Chicago Defender: Venus and Serena Williams are known for being such incredible athletes. How do you prepare to take on a role like this?
Saniyya: Lots of research. We also had the Williams family involved in the film, so they helped quite a bit. Their sisters were on set every day. We were able to speak with them and listen to their stories. It helped make our performances more realistic.
Demi: Definitely a lot of research and preparation. Before I booked the role, I was on the internet looking at as many videos of Venus and Serena as I could find. Thankfully their sisters would also show us family videos of Venus and Serena when they were younger. It really helped me understand their dynamic.
Chicago Defender: Were you able to meet the sisters during filming?
Demi: Yes, we were, and it was so exciting but nervous. We kept thinking Venus and Serena were here watching us play them, so that was a little scary. When they were on set, we went harder than ever because we knew they were watching. They were so kind to us.
Saniyya: Yes. When we met them, we saw their hearts. We were able to see them interact as sisters. You know we see photos of them and interviews with them in public, but when we met them, we were able to see how tight their bond was. They were exactly how we imagined them to be.
It helped us in our acting as well because we could see how they interacted with each other.
Chicago Defender: You both have such great chemistry with Will Smith. What was it like to work with him?
Saniyya: Working with Mr. Will was one of the most fun experiences of my entire life. He’s so kind and humble. He’s down-to-earth and very approachable. There was never a day we weren’t laughing. It was really cool to watch him create and bring Richard Williams to life.
Demi: Watching him was inspiring. He helped us grow as actresses. I felt like we were able to develop our characters even more after watching him.
“King Richard” is an inspiring film. Will Smith portrays Richard Williams with authenticity, completely disappearing in the role and transforming into the father of two tennis greats. Richard Williams is a father determined to steer his daughters to greatness and uses unconventional and controversial methods to get them there. Despite living in the inner city of Compton, Richard Williams believes in his daughters enough to push them to strive outside of the harsh realities of their neighborhoods. He’s brash, stern, strict, and stubborn at times, even ornery, yet the love he has for his daughters is unwavering. There is already Oscar buzz around his captivating performance.
Aunjanue Ellis plays “Oracene “Brandy” Price,” mother of the tennis greats. You don’t often hear about her in the public, but her impact on the lives of her children is inescapable with Ellis’s performance. In “King Richard,” she’s the family’s equalizer, often balancing her husband’s big ideas, thoughts, and sometimes abrasive parenting style with the loving, nurturing, fierce qualities of a strong black woman and family matriarch.
Saniyya Sidney (Venus) and Demi Singleton (Serena) are destined for longevity as actresses. They light up the big screen with their performances, and you find yourself cheering for them during each match or a big competition. Saniyaa, age 15, is already establishing herself as a young woman to watch. She’s appeared in TV shows, Roots, American Horror Story, and in the films Hidden Figures and Fences. She will rejoin Viola Davis in the Showtime film, “The First Lady,” where she will portray the daughter of Barack and Michelle Obama, Sasha. At 14, Demi Singleton is already a stage veteran, starring as a Young Nala in The Lion King on Broadway. In addition, she plays Margaret Johnson in the hit series, Godfather of Harlem, starring Forest Whitaker.
“King Richard” is an incredible film sure to inspire and entertain families. Despite his controversial real-life persona, Will Smith’s portrayal of the family patriarch humanizes him. It shows that despite his flaws and shortcomings, he was a man who loved his daughters and believed in them so much, he was willing to risk it all.
“King Richard” is a beautiful and inspiring story of the power of a Father’s love. “King Richard” premieres Nov. 19 in US theaters and on HBO Max.