Tennis legend Serena Williams celebrated the premiere of her new documentary Serena last night, hosted by EPIX and The Cinema Society. The verité film gives viewers an inside look at the Olympic winner’s intense world, including interactions with her family, friends, colleagues (even her traveling chef), and fiercest competitors. “I learned that it takes a lot of strength for me to do what I do, and a lot of constant reassurance and love for myself,” Williams told us. “It’s a journey. I didn’t realize how much I gave myself the energy and the confidence to continue to do what I do at such a high level.”
The film was directed by Ryan White, who met Williams for the first time working on the project. They had one phone call before flying to Paris, where they talked about White’s vision. Three days later, they began filming. “It was very close and intimate. Mostly just me with the camera, and Serena just being Serena,” he told us.”I think a lot of us, including myself, who were big fans but didn’t know her personally kind of dehumanized her in a way. That became very apparent to me from the moment I met Serena. I’m like, okay, this is a human being who feels the ups and downs and feels pressured and gets nervous,” White added. “She texted me before the premiere and said she was nervous. She’s human. She wears her heart on her sleeve and I think that’s what surprised me most—that she goes through emotions just like we all do.”
The film also featured Williams’ tennis coach of four years, Patrick Mouratoglou, who wasn’t phased by the whole being followed around by cameras thing. “When you work with Serena, there are cameras everywhere all the time, whether it’s during practice or a match. I’m very used to it. Those guys were around us so much every day that we didn’t even see them—they were just a part of the team.”
The premiere brought out lots from the fashion crowd, and many of them are major fans. Anna Wintour posed on the red carpet with Williams and sat next to her during the screening. Karlie Kloss, Tommy and Dee Hilfiger, Vera Wang, Iggy Azalea, Michelle Ochs, Petra Nemcova, Carol Alt, Julie Henderson, Gayle King, Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee, Dionne Warwick, Sandra Bernhard, Patty Smyth, and Hal Rubenstein also came out to show support. “It’s one thing to watch Serena play tennis on television, but to actually go and sit courtside and watch a game, you realize how massive and unbelievably strenuous it is,” Rubenstein told us. “The best thing is when the U.S. tennis match comes, you can go early during the day and watch everybody practice.”
We also caught up with Timo Weiland, who dished on his favorite memory of the tennis star. “I’m a huge fan of Serena. I used to play tennis for most of my life—I was on the varsity high school team. Definitely rusty at this point, but it’s just fun. There was a women’s-only tournament in my hometown growing up that was a huge thing for the community, and that’s where I saw her play for the first time. She’s a goddess.”
The documentary airs June 22.