Saniyya Sidney speaks to GUAP about her portrayal as Venus Williams in Golden Globe Award Winning Motion Picture “King Richard”.
Saniyya Sidney has become a treasured fixture in some of Hollywood’s most iconic films to come out in the last few years. From appearing in the Roots as Kizzy Walker at just ten years old to her work in American Horror Story: Roanoke, Fences and Hidden Figures. It was no surprise that Sidney’s next move would be stepping into the role of one of the most iconic figures in sports in the 21st century.
King Richard produced by the tennis champions; Serena and Venus Williams as well as their sister Isha Price focuses on how their Father, Richard Williams (played by Will Smith) and Mother, Oracene Williams (played by Aunjuane Ellis) trained their daughters into becoming worldwide champions from their humble beginning in the late 90s of Compton, Los Angeles.
It was produced by the love and care of the family that lived through the experience. The movie focuses on the core values that the tennis champions were raised with; love and family. Saniyya Sidney plays alongside living-legend Will Smith and together carve out the beauty, courage, and love at the heart of the success and drive of the Williams family.
At only 13 years old, Saniyya Sidney stepped into the role of Venus Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time. A role that has earned her earned her critical acclaim and several worldwide accolades and attention. This year, she returns to our screens as she tackles the role as Sasha Obama in Showtime’s The First Lady series that focuses on the women of the White House which she will star alongside Viola Davis (as Michelle Obama).
We had the wonderful opportunity to get to know the young actress and discuss the unforgettable experience of telling one of the most inspiring stories of American history.
Chelsea: Your performance was absolutely amazing! You portrayed Venus Williams beautifully. What was your experience playing this role?
Saniyya: Extraordinary. She is an amazing soul, and I wanted to make sure I captured that because she has such a big heart. But at the same time, she lights up the room. She steps into a room, and it’s like, ‘oh, my gosh, I want to talk to her’. At the same time, she’s also a beast on the court, that kind of eye of the tiger that is so iconic to me.
Chelsea: What was the most important thing to you when portraying her?
Saniyya: I also wanted to show how quiet, humble and reserved she was. Every time she had a victory, she was thankful and was on to the next.
Chelsea: As a person and through your portrayal of her, are there aspects of Venus that you feel like you connected with or things that you feel like you want to now take on in your career?
Saniyya: Definitely! It was important to Richard to make sure that Venus and Serena focused on what they wanted to do and block out the negative. As for Venus, she told me to stay grounded and humble and know that what I have is a gift and to flourish that – to make sure I go and chase my dreams.
Chelsea: So tell me the truth, do you like tennis? How was training to be one of the greatest tennis players ever lived?
Saniyya: I love it. Which is funny because I didn’t like to play sports when I was little. But I had such an amazing time. We trained for a long time. A month before we started shooting, we trained Monday through Friday.
Chelsea: There’s no doubt that you got the full ‘Williams’ experience through training.
Saniyya: It’s crazy because it connected Demi and I more because we were both going through it at the same time. We were learning at the same time, and as we grew stronger in the sport, we had more confidence and trusted ourselves to look better and better each day. Towards the end, we were like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is actually pretty good.’ There were definitely some tough times. And I was sore a lot. But it was really fun. I loved it.
Chelsea: So one of your co-stars, the legendary Will Smith, plays your Father. What was it like working with him on set?
Saniyya: Will would tell me, ‘Everything you’re doing is for a reason.’ He said, ‘don’t be afraid to just let go and surprise yourself. And I trusted that. There were a lot of times where I was like, wow, this is an incredible experience. He would also always just make us laugh too. There were times where we’d be sore from all the tennis and saying, ‘oh, man, I’m so beat up right now, my hip is killing me’. And he’d come over and be like, ‘your hips killing you, you know how old I am?’
Chelsea: So, as a very young actress, in an industry that still has a long way to go when it comes to black girl representation? Do you ever feel pressure as one of the few figures of representation in the industry?
Saniyya: One of the most important things for me to do in my career is to inspire. When I was little, Venus and Serena were huge inspirations for me. When I saw them on screen, winning grand slams and being number one, it was amazing to see women who looked like me accomplish so much. So for me, I want to make sure that the characters I play connect with everyone around the world and make sure that we feel heard and seen. It does come with a little pressure, but it comes with the job.