When the show went off to announce, about 10 minutes after The Slap, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and President David Rubin immediately emerged from their audience seats and headed backstage. After first making sure that the rocker was okay, they stumbled upon Smith’s longtime publicist, Meredith O’Sullivan. A lawyer from the academy joined them in a private room.
Outraged by Smith’s stunning breach of fitness and fearful that it would overshadow the entire show, an industry source said academy leaders told O’Sullivan they wanted the actor to leave the Dolby Theater as soon as possible. They thought the message was unmistakable. It was mutually agreed that O’Sullivan would deliver this order to Smith during the next trading break.
“This was not the easiest decision,” the source said. “You know Hollywood. …everyone likes trying to pass the baton and pass on the responsibility. But this was a quick decision on something that was difficult. And it was clear: ‘The will has to go.'”
But others familiar with the conversation remember that the question was a much softer and ambiguous one: “We think we’d like to leave. Can you tell what Will thinks?” It seemed as if the Academy was testing the situation, not without some trepidation, given Smith’s first-list nominee .
Meanwhile in the theater, Combs made his way to check on Smith during his first commercial hiatus. Tyler Perry and Denzel Washington, a longtime mentor to Smith, took the actor aside, trying to calm him down. “He has lost his mind,” a source said. They were trying to calm the situation. As Washington later told Bishop T.D. Jax, The men prayed together.
Washington returned Smith to his seat and Bradley Cooper took his position and hugged Smith and spoke to him for 40 seconds. Smith wiped his tears and sat down and held his wife’s hand.
Six and a half minutes into the memorial segment, television broadcasts paused again for a second commercial break and O’Sullivan visibly walked to Smith’s table to convey the Academy’s request.
“The academy thinks they want you to leave,” she said, standing next to Smith. “What do you feel?”
Smith wanted to stay. He still can’t believe what he did. And that he was blessed with self-confidence or self-deception, he thought he could fix it.
“I want to apologize,” he said, according to sources, thinking in advance about the possibility of returning to the stage, giving an acceptance speech. “I think I can correct that.”
Neither Hudson nor Robin spoke directly with Smith at any point. In retrospect, some will guess the Academy’s decision to authorize O’Sullivan to be the envoy.
“They just had to ask him to go backstage,” one source said. “You would have avoided a big scene. Just say, ‘Mr. Smith, we’d like to talk to you privately. “
While Academy leaders acknowledged that they could have handled the situation differently, some familiar with the challenge of producing a live award show defending the organization’s actions in a volatile, previously unimaginable crisis for which there was no evidence.
“I know from the show’s production that time passes very quickly,” said an Academy insider. “15 or 20 minutes can feel like a minute when you get back in there, and these commercial breaks – the only time you have to properly deal with anyone in the audience – go by at an incredible speed. I can only imagine how difficult it would be because, In addition to their own professional reaction, everyone has their own human reaction. Currently, this was a group of humans who were also going through their own shocks and traumas.”
Another former Oscar producer who was present that night said, “I’m sure the people who were making these decisions were really trying to quickly evaluate the options in the best possible way — and at the same time, it’s tick, tick, tag, tick” the whole time. But everyone likes to complain about the academy, and everyone woke up Monday morning with a clear vision of how they would approach this matter differently.”
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