Will Smith Opens About His Painful Childhood Memories

After the shocking altercation between Will Smith and Chris Rock on the Oscars stage back in March, many were wondering what was going through Smith's head to prompt such an outburst. During his subsequent Best Actor acceptance speech, he tearfully said, in part, "I'm being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. Now I know, to do what we do, you've got to be able to take abuse. You got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you've got to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you've got to smile and you've got to pretend like that's OK," per BBC.  He later added, "Love will make you do crazy things. And my mother... Being able to love and care for my mother, my family, my wife..."

Now, in a new interview with legendary late-night host David Letterman, Smith is opening up about his tragic upbringing, his mother, and other family secrets that may shed some light on why the "King Richard" star snapped that fateful night. 

Will Smith felt like a coward when his father abused his mother

On the latest episode of David Letterman's hit Netflix show, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction," the guest in question is "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" star Will Smith, who speaks openly about feeling like a "coward" as a child, unable to protect his mother from his father's abuse, and how "protection" is an illusion. Speaking about his autobiography "Will", the "Men In Black" star told Letterman, "The first line of the first chapter is, 'I've always thought of myself as a coward.' When I was 9 years old, I saw my father beat up my mother, and I didn't do anything. And that just left a traumatic impression of myself as a coward," per the New York Post.

In stark contrast to his Oscar's acceptance speech, Smith stated, "You can't protect your family. Protection and safety is an illusion. You have to learn to live with the reality that any moment, anything can be gone in one second." On the topic of his mother, Caroline Bright, Smith jokingly cautioned Letterman, "Don't say nothing about my mother, Dave." Later, as the "Independence Day" star demonstrated some of his boxing skills, Letterman joked, "Show me that, but don't hit me. Jesus, that was frightening," per Deadline

All of his comments take on a greater meaning and different context post-Oscars-slap, but as the opening title card informs Netflix viewers, the episode was actually filmed prior to the Academy Awards ceremony in March, per PEOPLE