Will Packer, the lead producer of the Oscars telecast that was thrown into upheaval after actor Will Smith went onstage and slapped comedian Chris Rock, said Friday that after Smith had been asked to leave the ceremony, he urged the leadership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences not to “physically remove” him from the theater in the middle of the live broadcast.
Packer said he had learned from his co-producer, Shayla Cowan, that there were discussions of plans to “physically remove” Smith from the venue. So he said he immediately approached academy officials and told them that he believed that Rock did not want to “make a bad situation worse.”
“I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time,” Packer said. “Because as 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 gave his first interview since Sunday’s broadcast to “Good Morning America” on ABC, the network that also broadcasts the Oscars. In the interview, Packer said Rock’s joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair was unscripted “free-styling.”
“He didn’t tell one of the planned jokes,” he said of Rock.
Packer said that, like many viewers at home, he had originally thought the slap might be part of an unplanned comedic bit, and that he was not entirely sure until he spoke with Rock backstage that Will Smith had actually hit the comedian.
“I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,” Packer recalled Rock telling him.
Packer said Smith reached out and apologized to him the morning after the Oscars. And he praised Rock for having kept his cool.
“Chris was keeping his head when everyone else was losing theirs,” he said. “I’ve never felt so immediately devastated.”
Asked if, after hearing Smith’s acceptance speech, he wished that the actor had left the ceremony, Packer said that he did, noting that Smith had not used his remarks to express real contrition and apologize to Rock.
“If he wasn’t going to give that speech which made it truly better, then yes, yes,” Packer said when asked if he wished Smith had left the ceremony. “Because now you don’t have the optics of somebody who committed this act, didn’t nail it in terms of a conciliatory acceptance speech in that moment, who then continued to be in the room.”
Smith did not apologize to Rock until Monday evening, after the academy, which administers the awards, had condemned his actions and opened an inquiry into the incident.
Packer’s comments came after days of questions about why Smith had seemed to face no repercussions for striking a presenter on live television.
The academy said in a statement earlier this week that Smith had been asked to leave the awards ceremony following the slap but had remained. Then several publications questioned that account, citing anonymous sources, and reported that Packer had suggested he stay. Representatives for Smith and Rock have not commented publicly on the matter.
Shortly after the ceremony ended Sunday, the Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying that the person who had been slapped had “declined to file a police report.”
In the interview, Packer described his recollection of law enforcement’s involvement.
“They were saying, this is battery, we will go get him,” Packer said. “We’re prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him.”
“Chris was being very dismissive of those options,” Packer said. “He was like, ‘No, I’m fine.’ He was like, ‘No, no, no.’”
Both on Sunday night and in subsequent interviews this week, the Los Angeles police have maintained that Smith’s slap qualified as misdemeanor battery under California law — and that as a misdemeanor, officers cannot take action unless the victim in the case files charges, which Rock did not do.
In an interview Thursday, Deputy Chief Blake Chow, of the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Bureau, described the department’s role in less dramatic terms. At the Oscars, police officers are primarily responsible for patrolling outside the Dolby Theater and the academy hires a security company to handle issues inside the building, he said.
On Sunday, one police captain was stationed backstage as a liaison, the deputy chief said. The captain inside did not observe the slap himself, but he quickly became aware of it, the deputy chief added. The captain made contact with a representative for Rock shortly after the comedian had finished presenting an award and had returned backstage with his team, Chow said.
The representative communicated “Chris Rock’s wishes” that he did not want to press charges or file a police report, the deputy chief said. “He didn’t want to do anything.”
The police department was not asked to escort Smith out of the venue, and even if police had been asked to do that, such a request would not have fallen within the department’s purview, the deputy chief said.
Detectives followed up Monday with Rock’s representatives to ensure that he still did not want to take action. He reaffirmed that he did not, the deputy chief said.
Rock made his first public comments about the incident Wednesday at a comedy show in Boston.
“I’m still kind of processing what happened,” Rock said, while promising to discuss the episode in greater depth later. “It’ll be serious, it’ll be funny, but I’d love to — I’m going to tell some jokes.”
The academy said Wednesday that it had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Smith “for violations of the academy’s standards of conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the academy.” It said Smith would be given a chance to respond and that at its next board meeting, on April 18, it “may take any disciplinary action, which may include suspension, expulsion or other sanctions.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.