Will Smith stayed at Oscars because Chris Rock declined to have him arrested or removed, says producer


Will Packer, producer for the Oscars, is detailing for the first time what happened behind-the-scenes after the Will Smith slap.

Packer revealed on Good Morning America Friday how a stunned Chris Rock reacted in the aftermath and detailed their conversation with the LAPD during which Rock declined to have Smith arrested. In the interview, which aired Friday, Packer claimed Smith stayed at the show, going on to collect the Best Actor Oscar, because Rock allowed him to. However, Rock sources have disputed some of Packer's claims.

Packer told GMA's T.J. Holmes that Rock's joke, about Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head, was unscripted. As he stood offstage, as the top producer in charge of the entire show, he thought the slap was "a bit" planned on the side by Rock and Smith. He was "not concerned at all" until Smith returned to his seat and started cursing out Rock, dropping multiple F-bombs during the show broadcast in more than 200 countries.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - March 27, 2022.    Chris Rock and Will Smith onstage during the show  at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022.  (Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Chris Rock and Will Smith on stage during the show at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022. (Photo: Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Myung Chun via Getty Images)

Packer said that once he heard Smith "yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped. I just remember thinking, 'Oh, no. Oh, no — not like this ... But my heart at that point was just in my stomach ... I never felt so immediately devastated like I did in that moment."

It wasn't until Rock walked offstage with Best Documentary winner Questlove that Packer got to ask him if Smith really hit him.

"I immediately go up to Chris," he said. "I said, 'Did he really hit you?' He looked at me and he goes, 'Yeah. I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,'" referring to the Ali star. "He was immediately in joke mode but you could tell that he was very much still in shock."

Backstage, he told Rock, "Whatever you want to do, brother" when it came to handling the situation. He claimed Rock said, "I'm fine. Let's just get past this. I'm getting out of here. I can't believe this happened.'"

The LAPD came to Packer's office and "they were laying out very clearly what Chris's rights were. They were saying, 'This is battery. We will go get [Smith]. We are prepared ... You can press charges. We can arrest him.'"

The comedian "was being very dismissive of those options." He said, "No, I'm fine. No, no, no —even to the point where I said, 'Rock, let them finish.' ... He said no."

As for Smith, Packer said, "I didn't have any conversation with Will" about leaving.

The Academy said in its statement earlier this week that Smith was asked to leave the show. Packer said this happened just before Smith's Best Actor category was announced — about 40 minutes after the slap.

"Shayla [Cowan, another producer on the show,] told me they were about to physically remove Will Smith," Packer said. "I had not been a part of those conversations. So I immediately went to the Academy leadership that was onsite and I said 'Chris Rock doesn't want that ... Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.'"

He said Rock's tone in their conversation "was not retaliatory" or "aggressive and angry. So I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time. It has now been explained to me that was the only option at that point. It has been explained to me that there was a conversation, that I was not a part of, to ask him to voluntarily leave."

Packer said that the day after the show — when Smith made his public apology — he called him directly to apologize as well.

"Will Smith reached out to me the next morning and he apologized," Packer said. "He said, 'This should have been a gigantic moment for you" — because Packer led an all-Black production team for the first time in Oscars history. "He expressed his embarrassment."

Smith also spoke to Academy board members via Zoom call. The Academy started an investigation into Smith's actions at the show.

Packer went on to praise Rock for his handling of this situation.

"Chris handled the moment with such grace and aplomb — it allowed the show to continue," Packer said. "Because Chris continued the way that he did, he completed the category. He handed the trophy to Questlove, who I feel like was really robbed of their moment. It gave us license in a way to continue the show, which is what we were trying to do."

He added, "It was such a huge moment and such a sad and disappointing moment that it wasn't something that we were going to come back from within that night, within this week. I don’t know when we’ll come back and people will be talking about anything else other than the show."

Rock hasn't addressed the slap, saying at his comedy show in Boston on Thursday that the still has a lot to process. The following day, he shut down an audience member who cursed Smith.

However, a Rock insider told TMZ on Friday that he "NEVER" said he didn't want Smith removed from the Dolby Theatre.

"Chris told Packer 'I'm not pressing charges. All I want to do is leave,'" the source told the outlet. "He was never asked if he wanted Will removed. This is the Academy covering itself." However, an Academy source told TMZ that Packer was "not speaking on behalf of the Academy."

Yahoo Entertainment has reached out to Rock's rep for comment and will update this story if we receive a response.