Demi Singleton, teen actress from NYC, stars in 'King Richard'

NEW YORK -- Will Smith stars are the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams in "King Richard," a new movie opening in theaters on Friday.

The film also marks a big leap forward for a 14-year-old performer from New York City, Demi Singleton, who plays Serena.

She is tomorrow's star here today.

Singleton moved to the city from New Orleans when she was 3 years old and found inspiration at 9, when she attended her first Broadway show. Now, she's on the big screen in the movie about how one dad trained two legends.

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Richie Williams, the father of Venus and Serna, is called "King Richard" for a reason.

"I don't even mind you saying that we're hard on these kids," Smith's character tells a social worker in the film. "You know why? Because we are."

According to Singleton, Smith wasn't nearly as intense once the camera stopped rolling.

"He's just a genuinely great person," she said, adding that he made an effort to "admire the work of every single person on set."

Holding her own in scenes with the superstar is just another day's work for the young teen, who started performing as a pre-teen.

"I feel like the younger you start, the more you connect with it," she said.

Her Instagram feed is full of past and present triumphs, like her appearance in "The Lion King" on Broadway.

She picked up a musical instrument early, when she started playing the cello as a child.

"People don't expect a little 4-year-old Black girl to pick up a cello and be good at it," she said.

In this way, her background is similar to the Williams sisters.

"The same way that people don't expect people like Serena and Venus to not only come into a predominately white sport but dominate it," she said.

Singleton first played Serena in a 2019 Super Bowl commercial, but the young performer had to earn the right to play her again over nine long months.

Then, she had to learn to play tennis well enough to be believable as one of the world's greatest players.

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She also studied old videos of when Serena was young.

"I noticed that she has this very fun and goofy laugh, so that's something I always tried to do in the film," she said.

Two of Serena's older sisters were helpful in giving her old home movies, since most of the videos online are from the years after the legend became famous.

Singleton said with pride that she has heard the Williams family have seen the movie and enjoyed it. It's all the more gratifying because the young performer grew up admiring the woman she portrays.

"She wanted to be the best at what she did, you know, but also inspire so many young girls," she said. "And that's something I hope to do."

Poised and professional are two good words to describe Singleton, who is also kind and generous. I predict this is just the beginning of a great career for her.

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