The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was on the verge of physically removing Will Smith from the Oscars ceremony when one of its producers stepped in, saying Chris Rock did not want to make the situation worse, the producer said Friday.
In an interview with Good Morning America recounting the night's most baffling incident, Will Packer said his coproducer Shayla Cowan told him they were about to kick Smith out for slapping Rock onstage during the live broadcast.
"I immediately went to the academy leadership that was on site and I said, 'Chris Rock doesn't want that.' I said, 'Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse,'" Packer said. "That was Chris's energy. His tone was not retaliatory. His tone was not aggressive or angry."
An otherwise unexceptional Academy Awards on Sunday was disrupted when Smith went up to Rock onstage and slapped him after the comedian told an unscripted joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith's bald head. Pinkett Smith has talked candidly about having alopecia. In his acceptance speech for Best Actor about 30 minutes later, Smith likened his actions to that of the protective father he portrayed in King Richard.
Packer said the discussion to physically remove Smith from the premises "was the only option" at the time, but did not say whether Smith was actually asked to leave.
"I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time," he 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 I was not a part of to ask him to voluntarily leave."
Packer, a movie producer who has worked on films like Night School and Girls Trip, said he talked to Rock immediately after the comedian handed out the award for Best Documentary and went backstage.
"I said, 'Did he really hit you?' He looked at me and he goes, 'Yeah, I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali.' He was immediately in joke mode but you could tell he was very much still in shock," Packer said.
"He was telling me, 'I'm fine, let's just get past this. I'm getting out of here,'" Packer recalled Rock telling him.
When police arrived at the ceremony, they told Rock that they were "prepared" to arrest Smith and asked the comedian if he wanted to press charges.
"As they were talking, Chris was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, 'No, no, I'm fine. No. No. No,'" Packer said.
The fallout from the slap has been messy and drawn out, and public opinion is intensely divided. Smith apologized to Rock in a statement the day after it happened, and the academy said it had initiated "disciplinary proceedings" against Smith for violating its standards of conduct.
At his first public appearance since the slap, Rock told the crowd at his comedy show in Boston on Wednesday that he was "still processing" what happened. He also reportedly shut down an audience member who yelled "Fuck Will Smith" at his show the next day.