Morgan Cooper does not see “Bel-Air” as a reboot of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” the classic ’90s sitcom starring Will Smith. While the new Peacock drama series also centers on a fictionalized version of Smith, a confident teen from West Philadelphia who sees his life turned upside down when he moves to his aunt and uncle’s Bel-Air mansion, Cooper considers it a “reimagining” more than a reboot. “I don’t think you could reboot ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and do it the same way at all,” says Cooper in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “It’s taking the spirit of the characters and the concept and completely flipping it on its head and setting in a completely different time, with a different take on these characters.” Watch the video webchat above.
Cooper’s vision started in 2019, when he created a mock trailer/short film that reimagines “Fresh Prince” as a dramatic story. The film went viral and caught the attention of Smith himself, who said he loved it and asked him if he wanted to do anything with it. Cooper seized the opportunity to pitch his idea for adapting it into a proper drama series. The producer likens this experience to a moment of truth in his career, something that “can really change the trajectory of your career.” He also praises Smith for challenging him “in a really positive way” to bring the show to its fullest potential.
Many character changes were made from “Fresh Prince” to “Bel-Air,” like Carlton (now a drug addict), Aunt Viv (now involved in the art world) and Hillary (now an influencer), but the most crucial change was finding a new Will Smith. Cooper and the casting director ultimately found newbie Jabari Banks, who had never acted onscreen before, to step into those iconic shoes. Cooper recalls meeting Banks and knowing pretty quickly that he was the one. “Seeing the look in his eyes and his swag and charisma and his earnestness,” remembers Cooper, “He was just so excited.” He snapped photos of Banks in action, realized he was perfect for the role and the rest was history.
“Bel-Air” marks Cooper’s first long-form project as a director, producer and writer, having mostly done short films in the past. While the multi-hyphenate did feel the pressure, his vision for the show propelled him forward. “It’s all about just taking one step at a time every single day,” he explains. “More than anything, I believed in the idea, and I still do believe in the idea.”
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