I'm a Will Smith lookalike and I may lose stand-in work after slap – but I'm being offered THOUSANDS to recreate itApril 7, 2022
A WILL Smith lookalike has revealed he faces losing stand-in work after some of the star's projects were postponed in the wake of his shocking Oscars slap – but requests for impersonations are booming.
Shad Ellis, 43, said prospective clients are offering him thousands of dollars to re-create the infamous moment Smith attacked Chris Rock onstage at this year's Academy Awards.
Mr Ellis, who has been impersonating Will Smith for the last 25 years, was considering pulling the plug on his doppelganger act before the controversial spat sent demand for bookings soaring.
The surge in demand has included swarms of requests on the personalized video message website Cameo, with fans offering to pay him upwards of $90 to say "Keep my wife's name out your f**king mouth", as Smith warned Rock.
Mr Ellis told The US Sun that he was also offered upwards of $5,000 by a social media influencer with 29 million followers who wanted to fly him out to LA to film a parody of the Smith-Rock bust-up.
"I've had more inquiries and bookings this week than I've had in quite some time," Mr Ellis, of Bedford, UK, said.
"It's that age-old saying that any publicity is good publicity, right?"
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Mr Ellis said his phone has been "blowing up" ever since Smith landed the blow to the left side of Rock's face, with booking requests coming in from across the UK, Europe, and the US.
"I came back from an event from Cardiff [on Monday night], then I'm flying to Germany on Friday, back on Sunday, and then I'm off to do another event in Birmingham," he said.
"The requests are just flooding in all the time … I've also had offers for things involving slaps in the face, like, 'can you talk about this product and say if they don't buy it then they're going to get slapped in the face', but I've turned anything like that down because I don't want to be disrespectful of the situation."
Mr Ellis said he has turned down all requests to poke fun or parody what happened at this year's Oscars, including the $5,000 influencer request, pledging to continue to do so unless it's done in a "light and humorous way."
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"I'm not in the business of kicking someone when they're down," Mr Ellis said of Smith after he defended his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. "It's not always about the money … what was more important to me was my relationship with someone that I've been impersonating for so many years, that's now a part of my life.
"I can’t do anything that could be seen as disrespectful to the situation because I’m set to work with him in the future and I don’t want to burn my bridges."
In the weeks leading up to the so-called "slap heard around the world", Mr Ellis, who works full-time on the London Underground, had flown out to South America at the beginning of March to work as a stand-in for Smith on two projects that have since been postponed in the wake of the controversy.
While Mr Ellis was unable to confirm which projects he'd been hired for, having signed non-disclosure agreements, Smith's halted works include Bad Boys 4, I Am Legend 2, and a biopic based on his best-selling autobiography, WILL.
Mr Ellis had been scheduled to finally meet the real Will Smith during one of those shoots, but the star had a change of schedule last-minute and had to cancel.
With the future of those projects now thrown into doubt, Mr Ellis is unsure if he'll ever get to meet his hero face-to-face.
He's also unsure whether he will get any more stand-in work for Smith in the future, with the star's fractured standing in Hollywood potentially leaving him short of work for some time.
Mr Ellis said he wasn't contracted for any further stand-in shoots on the two paused projects but he was on standby should they have needed him.
In the meantime, Mr Ellis anticipates that his lookalike work will be keeping him incredibly busy in the coming months.
The South London native offers a number of different kinds of lookalike services to fellow Will Smith enthusiasts, including appearances and live performances of the star's biggest hits at weddings, birthdays, and corporate events.
Mr Ellis charges anywhere between $780 (£600) and $1050 (£800) and has performed for crowds all over the world – even winning international awards for his portrayal of Smith, and starring in a number of commercials, movies and TV shows.
In addition to appearances and live performances, he also records personalized videos on Cameo for between $60 and $250 a pop.
The father started the unusual side-hustle back in 1997, around the release of the first Men In Black installment, after friends, colleagues and strangers kept commenting on his striking resemblance to the then-emerging star.
"I applied to an agency through a magazine and they came back telling me that yes, I did look like Will Smith, but I was told not to expect to make a lot of money out of it, because, at the time, they said it was only really Royal Family lookalikes who getting all the bookings," Mr Ellis said.
"So I didn't think too much about where it might lead, but within two weeks I'd booked my first gig, and it just went from strength to strength from there."
But where once the offers flowed in steadily – from commercial shoots with Sony to promote a new Will Smith movie, to starring in a commercial for South Africa's largest network carrier – of late, Mr Ellis said his phone stopped ringing as regularly as it had, leading him to contemplate quitting the lookalike business for good.
"I started thinking it was time to just give it up and focus on being just me for a while – doing my poetry, spoken word, and all the other stuff I do," Mr Ellis told The US Sun.
"And then literally sort of within days of me thinking that, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars and my phone started ringing again, with agents telling me they've booked a commercial in Spain.
"I was like, 'Okay, maybe it's not the right time to quit then.'"
Mr Ellis said he learned of the altercation between Smith and Chris Rock at this year's Academy Awards after waking up in the early hours of the morning in the UK to see one of his friends had forwarded him a video of the slap.
At first, believing the incident was staged, Mr Ellis continued one with his morning before he started receiving dozens of direct messages from friends and followers, jokingly asking him why he'd hit Chris Rock.
"Throughout my life, anything that's happened with Will I'm always made aware of it, whether it be a movie flopping or his whole 'entanglement' thing with Jada, people will say to me, 'Oh your movie is rubbish' or 'How could you let Jada do that to you?'
"And I’m always like, ‘Man, I’m not will’. But I get it, because when people think of Will Smith they think of me because I’ve done this for so long."
Mr Ellis called the incident "shocking" but said he empathizes with Smith and hopes the former Hollywood darling is able to salvage his career from the wreck of his own making.
"We are all human beings at the end of the day, and everyone can look back to a flashpoint in their lives when they acted out of character or lashed out at someone because of an emotional feeling. And I think that’s what happened with Will," Mr Ellis said. "I hope he can come back from it.
"His career has been probably 99.9% of love and happiness – like this is so out of character for him," he added.
"I just think it's shameful seeing how many big celebrities are turning on him for one mistake."
While the real Will Smith's future as a performer remains in doubt, Mr Ellis is experiencing a second wind in his own career but calls the surge in business a "double-edged sword."
"It is a double-edged sword because it's kind of a bad thing that's happened but it's also doing some positive things for me at the same time," he said.
"But I know what's going to happen. Everything that's being booked for now will only be based on or have some reference to that slap."
Mr Ellis performed at his first event since the Oscars in Cardiff, Wales, on Monday night at a 90s-themed event at a student bar.
He said he was nervous for the first time in his lookalike career, unsure if the crowd would act with any hostility towards him in light of the controversy Smith's slap sparked.
Aside from a few revelers asking him to say "Keep my wife's name out of your f**king mouth" on camera, or to slap them claiming to be Chris Rock, Mr Ellis said the crowd was welcoming and quickly put him at ease.
Mr Ellis reiterated that he won't be participating in any parodies of the slap, filming himself reciting what Smith said to Rock, nor will he sign up for any commercials or events that seek to disparage Smith or his family.
He said he believes it's important to maintain "a moral integrity" and not seek to cash in on Smith's misfortunes.
Mr Ellis said he has turned down a number of potentially lucrative opportunities in the past during his two-and-a-half-decade career as a Will Smith impersonator.
Such bizarre requests have included him being offered $4,000 to sleep with another man's wife, and invitations to star in Men In Black-themed porn videos.
Explaining his decision to steer away from filming parodies of the Oscars incident, Mr Ellis said: "Doing something like that would just never sit right with me.
"I've been riding his wave, so to speak. So while he doesn't know who I am or pay me directly, after what I've earned just by looking like Will Smith, I think I owe it to him to say no.
"I've been very selective about the work I've done because I feel very protective of his branding, so I have to be very careful not to make him or his name look a certain way.
"If it wasn't for him and the career he's had, I would never have had the amazing opportunities I've had over the last 25 years."
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