Jabari Banks had the nearly impossible task of creating a reimagined version of Will Smith in Peacock’s “Bel-Air.” The new drama series offers a fresh spin on the iconic ’90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which starred Smith himself, setting it in modern times and diving deeper into the themes tackled in the original and presenting some new ones. For Banks, growing up with “Fresh Prince” was like seeing a part of himself. “I related to Will and my upbringing was very familiar with his, and so I really felt like Will watching that show,” the actor says in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby.” It really stuck with me throughout my life and shaped how I moved throughout the world.” Watch the full video chat above.
While “Bel-Air” shares a number of similarities with the ’90s comedy, telling the story of how Will moved from West Philadelphia to Bel-Air to live in his aunt and uncle’s mansion, the Peacock drama isn’t trying to recreate its predecessor’s specific magic. This is also true of Banks in what he brings to the character of Will — while he shares some of the same charisma as Smith, he was encouraged to make it his own. “I wanted mine to be very raw and to be very authentic,” he explains. “So I just constantly was thinking about, ‘How would a 16-year-old kid from Philly feel about this situation?'” A West Philly native himself, the young actor drew on what he knew from interacting with peers in his hometown.
Will’s experience in West Philly also made him adaptable to most situations, which proves to come in handy as he gradually acclimates to his new life in Bel-Air. But as Banks notes, that adaptability comes out of necessity more than anything else. For instance, Will’s relationship with cousin Carlton (Olly Sholotan) gets off to a rocky start but they ultimately find some common ground, however shaky it might be. “You have to be a chameleon of some sort when you’re dealing with different people,” the actor adds. “When he goes to Bel-Air, he realizes that it’s a whole different world and so he has to learn to adapt, and I think that’s definitely one of his best traits.”
Banks shares other commonalities with Will outside of hailing from Philadelphia. Like Will, the actor is now having to adjust to a whole new lifestyle as the lead of “Bel-Air,” which marks his debut onscreen performance. While he admits that his new life can be “a lot” sometimes, he is taking some advice from Smith’s memoir, which emphasizes the importance of focusing on one thing at a time. “I’m in the eye of the tornado,” admits Banks. “There’s so much working around me, and so I definitely have to just focus on what I do best and provide that energy for the rest of the people around me that are leaning on me, and that I lean on as well.”
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