Film Interview: Tony Goldwyn – King Richard, Or Love To Make A Point

April 21, 2022

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Tony Goldwyn stars as Paul Cohen in King Richard, the story of Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams.


What was your reaction when you first read King Richard?

I couldn’t believe I didn’t know that story; I couldn’t believe it was true. I was so blown away by it. And frankly, I’ve talked to a lot of big tennis fans who know more about tennis than I do, who sort of knew some of it. But, you just can’t believe that it actually is real. So, it was exciting and inspiring, and just a great script.


How would you describe the story?

The story is about Richard Williams, who is Venus and Serena’s dad. And he had a vision, before they were even conceived. He saw a tennis match on television and decided that was a way to have children prevail. His vision was of raising the number one and number two tennis stars in the world. And he went to his wife, Oracene, whom he called Brandy, and said, “We’re going to have two more kids. And this is the planning board.” A 78-page manifesto, the whole thing mapped out. He knew nothing about tennis, but taught himself  and Oracene to play, and we meet him when the girls are little and they’re living in South Central Los Angeles. The story is really following what he had to do and the extraordinary story of how he made them champions.


Talk to me about your character. Who’s Paul Cohen?

Paul Cohen is the first professional coach that Richard Williams engaged to train them. He’d taken Venus and Serena as far as he could. Richard researched the top coaches in the country and in the world. Paul was a hot coach in the LA area at the time. He was coaching John McEnroe and Pete Sampras, and a lot of the top players. And Richard just cold-called him and basically said, “You have to see my girls play.” And he said, “I’m not going to take both, but I will train Venus,” as Venus was the older one. And he was blown away by their athleticism, and so he got Venus into the juniors. Richard would videotape all of their sessions and then go home and have Oracene work with Serena to teach her. It was incredible. So, Paul got Venus to the point where she was California’s champion. She was undefeated.


I know that you reached out to Paul Cohen. What were you looking for, and what did you come away with, in order to build your character of him?

I did contact the real Paul Cohen. I wanted to make sure I was being accurate. I wanted to understand how he worked with such young children, what that world was, what his coaching style was, and what his relationships were with the girls and Richard. I researched on Wikipedia, or something like that, and then found his email and emailed him. And he was thrilled to talk to me, and was incredibly informative, helpful and engaged, and understood what I was trying to get at. It was really useful for me… down to telling me some technical issues about tennis and what his approach was.


As far as the screenplay goes, what kind of dynamic goes on between Richard and Paul?

Richard is a force. He was a visionary and, tied into that, he always believes that he knows best. And he can be both incredibly charming and really forceful. He engages Paul to coach the kids, but then he keeps inserting himself into what Paul is doing. Paul said that he had a wonderful relationship and became quite close friends with Richard in the years that he worked with the girls. But Richard is headstrong, and it becomes a funny bit in the movie, because Paul’s trying to do his job and Richard’s constantly saying, “No, that’s not the way to do it,” and coaching the girls over Paul. And Paul’s like, “Dude, you gotta let me do my job.” That’s a fun part of the relationship that they had. But I think Paul became a part of the family, or felt that he was a part of the family, in those years, and he had tremendous respect for Richard, even when Richard was challenging him.


But all in service of his girls.

One hundred percent. He was so devoted to those girls. And aside from the technical tennis issues, one of the big things that they faced – and it’s a big part of the movie – is that Richard wanted to protect these kids from what could happen if you get notoriety, fame and success. He saw the machine of professional tennis and the machine of marketing as a threat to his kids’ childhood, because they were so gifted. And so, he was like, “Whoa, we are putting the brakes on.” And Paul was like, “If you want to do this, we’ve got to get them in the juniors playing on the top level now, if they’re going to have a prayer to be pro.” And Richard was like, “Nope!” He did not want them competing. There was a lot of tension about that. Richard ultimately gave in somewhat, but it was something they faced as the girls got older, when they went to Florida and coached with Rick Macci. He saw instances of young successful tennis players crashing and burning. Both Richard and Oracene were super protective over them.


You talk about the character prep that you did. What kind of physical prep did you do? How’s your game?

I played tennis as a kid. Growing up, my dad was a tennis freak. Then I played in high school, but kind of dropped it as an adult. I was never a great player; I was a decent player. When I got asked to do this role, I was like, “Oh! I better go hit some tennis balls!” I immediately started playing a few hours every day for the month or two before I started shooting and I worked with coaches privately at home. So, I had a lot of blisters. And when I got to LA to do the shoot, they had extraordinary coaches. And my concern was not to be able to play like a competitive player, but to be able to be relaxed and hit the way a coach hits. Paul had been a great player at UCLA and was, I think, on the tour for a period of time. He was a great player and had a distinctive style that I was trying to just replicate. And I had a wonderful tennis double. We talked a lot and he helped me a great deal.


Steering the ship is Reinaldo Marcus Green. What is he like as a director?

I loved working with Rei Green. I was impressed with the first film that I saw of his, Monsters And Men. He’s a brilliant filmmaker, and this is a different kind of movie. What stunned me about Ray is that this movie is a huge film, a huge production with one of the biggest stars on the planet. And Ray’s confidence and ease was impressive. He knew exactly what he wanted. He was good-humored, incredibly helpful, completely prepared, but flexible and collaborative. And so it’s like, “Oh, this guy is where he belongs. He belongs in the big leagues.” It just makes it fun when you’re working with a confident director who loves and values actors, and who wants all the input he could get. It was fun and fluid.


The last scene you have in the film is the first scene that you filmed. Talk to me about it.

There’s this beautiful scene in the movie where Richard and Paul have a real dispute. They are really at loggerheads about how this plan should be going to get these girls where they need to be. Paul shows up at the house in Compton and they have a dispute in the backyard. All the kids and Oracene are there. It’s a fairly irresolvable dispute, but it’s a beautifully written scene and it was the first scene I filmed. So, it’s kind of the culmination of their relationship and it’s Paul’s last scene in the film. But, it was thrilling to do, because of it being such a beautifully written scene. Aunjanue Ellis – who is also extraordinary in this film as the mother, Oracene Williams – is also in the scene. Aunjanue and I are old friends, we’ve worked together before. It was the whole group, all together, doing stuff, and it was fun. For me, actually, it was a wonderful way to start, because we dove in to the deep end and then worked back from there.


What do you think people can expect from King Richard? 

When you see “King Richard,” from the opening moments, you are going to be wildly entertained. It’s an incredibly engaging story. You can’t even believe this is real. It’s also a great sports movie. It is a family drama that’s funny and moving. And finally, it’s deeply inspiring, both about these extraordinary athletes and the perseverance that it takes to be that good at something. It’s a family effort. And then, the fact that they’re a Black family with two tennis players infiltrating a very white sport, particularly in the Eighties, showing what they prevailed against. I think people will leave feeling deeply inspired and uplifted.

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