Find the latest breaking news and information on the top stories, science, business, entertainment, politics, and more.

Here’s what really happened after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars

When the show broke for commercials some 10 minutes into The Slap, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and President David Rubin immediately jumped out of their seats into the audience and went backstage. After first making sure Rock was okay, they found Smith’s old publicist, Meredith O’Sullivan. An academy lawyer joined them in a private room.

Furious at Smith’s stunning breach of decorum and concerned 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. The message, they thought, was unequivocal. And it was mutually agreed that O’Sullivan would deliver that request to Smith during the next commercial break.

“This was not the easiest decision,” says the source. “You know Hollywood. … Everyone likes to try to pass the baton and shift responsibility. But this was a pretty quick decision on something that was difficult. And it was clear: ‘Will has to go.’”

But others who know the conversation remember that the question was softer and more ambiguous: “We think we want Will to leave. Can you find out what Will thinks?” That sounded like the academy was testing the waters, and not without some trepidation given Smith’s A-list nominee status.

Meanwhile, at the theater, Combs had gone to check on Smith during the first commercial break. Tyler Perry and Denzel Washington, a longtime mentor to Smith, took the actor aside and tried to calm him down. “He was crazy,” says a source. “They tried to de-escalate the situation.” As Washington later said to Bishop TD Jakes: the men prayed together.

Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, right, comfort Will Smith at the Oscars.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A man in a vest puts his hands on the shoulders of another man.

Bradley Cooper comforts Will Smith at the 94th Academy Awards.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Washington returned Smith to his seat and Bradley Cooper took over, hugged Smith and talked to him for 40 seconds. Smith wiped away tears, sat down and held his wife’s hand.

After the six-and-a-half minute in memoriam segment, the broadcast paused again for a second commercial break and a visibly shaken O’Sullivan walked over to Smith’s table to relay 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 couldn’t quite believe what he had done. And, blessed with self-confidence or cursed with self-deception, he thought he could handle it.

“I want to apologize,” he said, according to sources, anticipating the likelihood that he would be back on stage, as he delivered an acceptance speech. “I think I can make it right.”

At no point did Hudson or Rubin speak directly to Smith. Later, some would question the academy’s decision to delegate O’Sullivan as an emissary.

“They should have just asked him to come backstage,” said a source. “You would have avoided a big scene. Just say, “Mr. Smith, we’d like to speak to you privately.’”

Several people in formal clothes sit in an audience.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith in the audience at the 94th Academy Awards.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

While academy leaders have acknowledged that they could have handled the situation differently, some familiar with the challenge of producing a live awards show are defending the organization’s actions in a volatile and previously unimaginable crisis for which there was no playbook.

“I know from producing the show that time flies by so quickly,” said an academy insider. “Fifteen or twenty minutes can feel like one minute when you get back there, and those commercial breaks — that’s the only time you have to get along with someone in the audience — go by incredibly fast. I can only imagine how challenging it was because everyone has their own human response in addition to their own professional response. At this point, this was a group of people who were also going through their own shock and trauma.

Another former Oscar producer who was on hand that night said, “I’m sure the people making these decisions were really trying to weigh the options as best they could — and meanwhile it’s ‘tap, tap, tap, tap the all the time. But everyone likes to complain about the academy, and everyone woke up Monday morning with a pure point of view on how they would have handled this differently.”