Saniyya Sidney Is a Born Winner

The King Richard star talks meeting Venus Williams and bonding with Will Smith.

Interview by Lynn Hirschberg
Photographs by Tim Walker
Styled by Sara Moonves

Saniyya Sidney wears a Giorgio Armani dress; Bulgari necklace; Celine by Hedi Slimane bag and sandal...
Saniyya Sidney wears a Giorgio Armani dress; Bulgari necklace; Celine by Hedi Slimane bag and sandals.

At just 15 years old, Saniyya Sidney has already worked alongside such industry giants as Denzel Washington in Fences, Ryan Murphy in American Horror Story: Roanoke, and soon, Viola Davis in Showtime’s The First Lady. But it’s her star turn playing Venus Williams in King Richard that will perhaps forever change the game for the young talent. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, the 2022 Critics Choice Awards nominee discusses meeting the real-life tennis legend and bonding with Will Smith on set.

Did you know how to play tennis before King Richard?

I didn't know how to play tennis at all. I was so bad. I started lessons when I was auditioning, to say I had tennis experience. I'm left-handed, but I had to play right-handed. The serve was probably the hardest thing I had to learn. But I was up for it. Eventually, it becomes part of your muscle memory. And I became Venus!

How did you feel when you met her in person?

I was so excited to meet Venus. I was nervous, because when you meet your idols or someone you've looked up to for so long, you don't know what you're going to say at first or how you're going to react. But she's just an amazing, down-to-earth person with an amazing heart. It helped me see who she really was as Venus instead of the tennis champion.

Had you ever watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

I grew up watching it, because my parents introduced the show to my brother and me when we were young. We grew up watching Men in Black and everything. So I was definitely a fan, but Mr. Will made us comfortable. We became a family. We went to dinner, and we went bowling. We just bonded.

Sidney wears a Dior jacket; Celine by Hedi Slimane bag.

Do you have any celebrity or cinematic crushes?

There are a couple, but I think they’re just my idols more than a crush. Right now, I really like Taron Egerton. He's really talented. Tom Holland, of course.

Were you theatrical as a child?

I definitely was dramatic. I still am, my mom will tell you. I would act out scenes from Grey's Anatomy because my mom used to watch it all of the time. And I used to pretend I was in the surgery room. The Wiz with Diana Ross was always on, and I know that movie from beginning to end, so I’d act that out all the time.

Are you a singer?

I'd like to say I'm a pretty good singer. I'm no Jennifer Hudson, but I can hold a tune.

Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

There are many. I think I'm a pretty old soul, so anything that has to do with Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. I love them.

Hair by Ali Pirzadeh for Dyson Hair at CLM; makeup by Daniel Sallstrom for Chanel at MA+ Group; manicure by Michelle Saunders for Nailtopia. Set Design by Gary Card at Streeters. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set coordinator: Sarah Hein; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click