Will Smith has revealed he only spoke to his mother for the first time about his father’s abusive behaviour following his death in 2016.
The Hollywood star, 53, claims in his memoir Will that, as a nine-year-old, he saw his father assault his mother and the moment “probably more than any other moment in my life has defined who I am today”.
During an event at The Savoy Theatre in London hosted by fellow actor Idris Elba, Smith told how his first “honest conversation” with his mother about the issue came during a book camp he hosted ahead of publication day.
The event in Miami was attended by close friends and family mentioned in his memoir, and saw Smith read to them and gauge their reactions.
He said: “It is terrifying to expose yourself to the world and those types of vulnerabilities.
“Even for my mother and I, the writing of the book was the first time we ever actually talked about it.
“I had a book camp in Miami so I brought everybody in my family and all my friends, everybody I mentioned in the book, and we spent two weeks and I read everybody every word, what I was saying.
“I just wanted to make sure everybody was OK with what I was saying about them. So it was really the first time that my mother and I had a full, wide open, honest conversation about it.”
Smith, who stars as Serena and Venus Williams’ father in his latest film King Richard, said it had been “so cathartic to get it out”.
He added that it can be “physically debilitating to not be able to say your truth out loud.
“You can make yourself physically sick holding back some aspect of your truth. So the practice of being able to even say it out loud is freeing.
“You get liberated in your mind just being able to say out loud what your truth is.”
Elsewhere during the event, Smith recalled the positive lessons his father had taught him, such as approaching each challenge without looking at the bigger task ahead, and described him as “one of the greatest men I have ever known”.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air star said he had chosen to write a memoir now because he felt he had life lessons to teach others and that he felt “freed” following the death of his father.
He said: “The second reason is my father died in 2016 and there were things in my childhood that I never would have shared while my father was alive.
“And for a big part of my career the image of Will Smith was really incomplete and I just felt handcuffed, in a way, that I couldn’t share my full truth.
“Because my father was one of the greatest men I have ever known. But there were flaws. I felt freed by his passing to be able to tell the whole truth of Will Smith.”