In the new Peacock series “Bel-Air,” Cassandra Freeman becomes the third actress to take on the role of Aunt Viv. The series reimagines the classic ’90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” where Janet Hubert originated the role followed by Daphne Maxwell Reid, and it would be daunting for any actress to step into their shoes. Luckily, “Bel-Air” creator Morgan Cooper and showrunner Rasheed Newson assured her, “Don’t worry about those shoes,” recalls Freeman in an exclusive new webchat for Gold Derby. “‘You’re here to create your own shoes, so what would that look like?’ And that really freed me up.” Watch the video interview above.
The “Bel-Air” version of Vivian Banks is an artist who has put her dreams on the back burner to support her husband’s ambitions of becoming the next District Attorney. At the beginning of the series, we see a woman who enjoys her affluent lifestyle but as the season goes on, her lack of fulfillment comes to the surface. “You really see her not as herself, but as a projected image of herself, which is Michelle Obama,” states Freeman. Eventually, she expresses how her dreams have been stifled over time and makes strides to return to the art world. “She starts to have radical truth with her husband, with her sister, with her daughters, and by the end, she gets to have a great unveiling.”
Towards the end of the season, Vivian’s sister Vy comes into town where they reopen some fresh wounds. While Vivian has carefully curated her life to reflect a certain status, Vy is able to bring her back down to her roots and confronts her with the fact that Vivian didn’t do this all on her own. This destabilizes Vivian in a way we hadn’t seen before, causing a nasty fight between the two sisters. “To see this woman, I think it’s just a constant reminder of how she’s not so perfect,” says Freeman, “even though she’s everyone else’s wise friend.”
Ultimately, the sisters set aside their differences and Viv is spurred to take on an arts fellowship, from two women who happen to be played by Reid, a.k.a. the second Aunt Viv, and her fellow “Fresh Prince” cast member Vernee Watson-Johnson, who played the original Vy. Freeman recalls it was a “momentous day” to have the pair on the set, with some of her castmates who weren’t called to work coming in anyway. She recalls the kind words expressed to her by Reid: “You are Viv 3.0. I want you to take up all the space and be Viv 3.0.”
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