In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly published Monday, Smith, who won Best Actor earlier this year at the 94th Academy Awards shortly after smacking Chris Rock onstage, told the outlet that the "only discomfort my heart has around" continued fallout from the incident "is that so many people have done spectacular work on" the new film.
"I definitely lose a couple winks of sleep every night thinking that I could have potentially penalized my team," the actor, 54, said. "But I'm going to do everything I can to make sure everyone gets seen in the light that they deserve."
Speaking about Emancipation, directed by Antoine Fuqua, Smith told the outlet that the movie's screenplay from writer Bill Collage "was one of the greatest reads I've ever had as an actor."
"I knew I wanted to make it by the time I was on page 20," the actor said of the film, which is inspired by "the 1863 photos of 'Whipped Peter,' taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper's Weekly," a synopsis for the film reads.
"I had seen the image of Whipped Peter as a child, but as his story started to come into focus, I was moved in all of the most beautiful ways," Smith told EW during an interview with costars Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa.
Apple TV+ Will Smith in Emancipation
"When you look at the brutality that he suffered, and then realizing that through that he was able to sustain faith, gratitude, and love in the face of those kinds of atrocities — I knew that I wanted to learn from Peter," he added.
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Smith also expressed a concern that his "actions don't penalize my team" on Emancipation in an interview Sunday with Fox 5 DC reporter Kevin McCarthy.
"I completely understand that if someone is not ready [to see the movie], I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready," Smith told McCarthy in a clip of the interview. "My deepest concern is my team — [director Antoine Fuqua] has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career."
David Livingston/Getty Will Smith
Smith continued to say that the creatives he worked with on Emancipation "have done some of the best work of their entire careers" and added that "my deepest hope is that my actions don't penalize my team."
"At this point, that's what I'm working for, that's what I'm hoping for," Smith said of why he hopes audiences see the movie. "I'm hoping that the material, the power of the film, the timeliness of the story, I'm hoping that the good that can be done would open people's hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film."
Emancipation premieres in theaters Dec. 2 and begins streaming globally on Apple TV+ Dec. 9.