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In speaking of her former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air costar, Long, 52, applauded Smith, 54, for how he's handled himself in the spotlight.
"I will always love him. He's had an incredible career, and he's carried a burden for many years to try — to represent what perfection looks like," Long, who played Smith's character's girlfriend and fiancée Beulah "Lisa" Wilkes on the series, said in an interview with Yahoo's Kevin Polowy. "Or what achievement looks like."
Long also reflected on her generation's idea of "celebrity" — and how Smith fit into that box. "I don't think that — at least when we were growing up — there was room to be human. I think he's now able to be human," she added.
Last year, Smith went viral after slapping Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars. The unscripted moment came after Rock, 57, mocked Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved hairstyle, which was done to her alopecia.
Smith, in turn, faced a great deal of backlash before he eventually apologized for his behavior.
Though Long did not directly mention Smith's outburst, she equated life in the spotlight to that of strict routine, which sometimes does not allow authenticity.
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"We all have our moments in life where we need to reconcile things that we suppress," she said. "And I think — it's hard growing up in this business and being front and center every day, all day."
Of her own career, and backseat spotlight, she added. "Think about it — I can go to the grocery store anytime I want to, and for the most part, people are like 'Hey, Nia Long.' No one's chasing me down the street. I still have my anonymity, and I appreciate that about my career."
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During the conversation, Long also got emotional discussing the difficulties she's faced in recent months. Long went through a very public breakup last year with her fiancé, former Boston Celtics Coach Ime Udoka, after 13 years together. He had been caught having an affair with a female subordinate within the Celtics organization.
"I've had some pretty devastating moments in my life over the last couple of months, and I've had to just say 'It's alright. You'll pick yourself back up' — oh, my God I'm about to cry," Long added. "You pick yourself back up, and you keep it moving."