Paul Rodriguez Says Will Smith Was Verbally Abusive on the Set of 'Ali'
“When he turned around [after the slap] — that smug, that look like that. I’ve seen that look before. I feel like I got slapped everyday with the verbal abuse,” Paul Rodriguez tells Inside Edition of his experience working with Will Smith.
While Will Smith waits to find out what action the Academy will take over his slapping Chris Rock for joking about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair, others wait to see what the impact might be on the new Oscar winner's career. At least one of his former co-stars says he'll never work with him again.
Comedian Paul Rodriguez says he's experienced Smith's rage up close while on set of the 2001 film "Ali." Smith packed on 35 pounds of muscle to play the boxing legend. His startling transformation into Muhammad Ali earned him his first Oscar nomination.
“When he turned around [after the slap] — that smug, that look like that. I’ve seen that look before. I feel like I got slapped everyday with the verbal abuse,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez says during filming, Smith became a real life “Jekyll and Hyde.”
“I’d be walking around and he would hurl some insult. You know, I just kept it in. What am I going to do?” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez was cast as Muhammed Ali's boxing ring physician Dr. Ferdie Pacheco — a role he traveled all the way to Africa to perform for the rumble in the jungle scenes.
Rodriguez says the real-life doctor showed up on set, and that's when things turned nasty. The doctor allegedly ranted that his character didn't have a big enough role. Rodriguez says the doctor hurled racial slurs at Will Smith.
After that, Rodriguez claims Smith took out his anger on him.
“Will Smith says, ‘You better be careful. You’re far away from anyone who likes you.’ I go, ‘Where does that come from? What do you mean I’m far away?’ He goes, ‘Ain’t no Mexicans here in Africa.’ I said, ‘What?’” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez even kept a diary of the traumatic experience.
“The insults just continue — that look of impunity. And I’m saying to myself, it went from one of the happiest moments of my life to a horrible situation,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez’s scripted role was cut, and he was basically reduced to that of an extra.
“I had lines. I didn't audition to be an extra here. It was humiliating,” Rodriguez said.
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