Fresh Prince of Bel Air Cast Then And Now

By Aaron Love 1 year ago

Will Smith (Will Smith) Then

Image Source: Entertainment Weekly
Master Will, Big Willy, Or Just Will, is the titular character featured in the Fresh Prince series. Born and Raised in West Philadelphia but forced to Bel Air by his mother to live with his aunt and uncle. He originally seems a little rude and boisterous, often angering his Uncle but he, and all the others eventually come to love Will. Will is always seen to be dressed in vibrant colours and is always cracking jokes, especially at the expense of Carlton. Oh, and those fire dance moves as well!

Will Smith (Will Smith) Now

Image Source: The Hollywood Reporter
Let's not discuss that infamous slap shall we? The Fresh Prince was Will's breakout role and he provided the comedy on the show for 6 years. As we all know, Will has gone on to make an excessive number of appearances in huge films and won countless awards. This includes his Best Actor award at the academy awards for King Richard the night of the slap. Oops. To list off all his roles would be impossible but a brief overview would include: Independence Day, I Am Legend, Men in Black, Hitch, I, Robot, Bad Boys, Hancock and The Pursuit of Happiness. Phew. He also makes music, where he likes to get jiggy with it.

Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton Banks) Then

Image Source: Vanity Fair
The character that spawned one of the most famous television dances of all time. It's clear early on the Phil and Vivian are very proud of Carlton, and he is seen to be respectful and caring, but often cocky in nature. This is particularly evident when at odds with Will, despite the fact they eventually come to love one another. He is known for his preppy dress style, and despite it meaning to show his rich lifestyle, it is somewhat reminiscent of some popular fashion choices in the current day. Don't mention how small he is though!

Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton Banks) Now

Image Source: Rachael Ray Show
Prior to Fresh Prince, which is Alfonso's most memorable role, he features as Alfonso Spears in Silver Spoons. Strangely, he hasn't appeared television series much since the show apart from a role in In The House through until 1995. He has offered his voice to a number of animated projects including  Spider-Man and Extreme Ghostbusters. He competed in and won the 2014 series of Dancing with the Stars alongside Witney Carson. Keeping with the show, she joined as the co-host alongside Tyra Banks for season 31 and from season 32 he is now the main host.

James Avery (Philip Banks) Then

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Philip is the powerful head of the Bel Air Household, he is often seen to be very strict and commanding of his children, holding them to the highest of standards. Despite this, it is obvious he cares about his children and his nephew Will and really only wants the best for them. Who could forget the heart-wrenching episode when Will's father re-enters and then leaves his life again; Philip truly shows his kindest side here and comforts will claiming he is his son.

James Avery (Philip Banks) Now

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James Avery's most prominent on screen role came as Philip Banks in the Fresh Prince series; following this he played the role of Alonzo Sparks in UPNs Sparks. Beside this he had recurring roles in 2002's The Division, and as Officer Kennedy as That 70's Show was coming to its end. If you were a fan of the original TMNT series as a child starting in '87 Avery voiced the turtles biggest foe, Shredder for over 100 episodes. James Avery was truly a gentle giant, as described by his fellow actors; he unfortunately passed away in 2013 as a result of complications from open heart surgery.

Janet Hubert (Vivian Banks) Then

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Vivian Banks is often seen as the medicine to the hot-headed Philip Banks, as she is often the only one that is able to calm him down. She is originally shown through seasons 1-3 to be equally as ambitious and and career-minded as her husband Philip. Vivian is Will's aunt and you're likely to remember the energetic and exciting jumping up and down (that will joined in with) when her and Will's mother are together.

Janet Hubert (Vivian Banks) Now

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An unfortunate falling out between Hubert and Smith during season 3 ultimately led to Hubert being released from her role as Vivian and the role instead being recast. This 'feud' wasn't concluded until 2022 when in HBO's Fresh Prince reunion, a private conversation between Hubert and Smith was recorded where they discussed their various issues and ultimately reconciled. Hubert has continued her career since the show and featured as Chandler's boss in Friends. Other roles include: Adina Phillips in the Job and Yvonne Godfrey in General Hospital.

Daphne Maxwell Reid (Vivian Banks) Then

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Surprisingly, when Hubert left the cast of Fresh Prince and Reid took over, the character shifted in dynamic. Reid played Vivian as more of a homeowner type character, and was more reluctant to chastise her children. She seemed to accept things that wouldn't have slid by in the previous incarnation of the character, such as when Hilary decides to pose naked for Playboy.

Daphne Maxwell Reid (Vivian Banks) NOW

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Following Fresh Prince, Reid appeared in a recurring role on UPN's Eve as JTs mother. Other recurring roles she has featured in include Jacqueline and Jilly and Let's Stay Together. Her most recent appearance on our screen was in a singular episode of Fox's Fantasy Island. She even featured in Bel-Air the newer, dramatised version of the show.

Karyn Parsons (Hilary Banks) Then

Image Source: British Vogue
You'll remember Hilary as the impulsive, yet attractive, slightly self-centered, money obsessed, eldest child of Vivian and Philip. Despite appearing quite shallow on first glance, throughout the seasons we see that Hillary is actually very affectionate towards her family and bar the whole money thing, she does have a strong sense of integrity. By the end of the show, her push for fame is realised as she has a talk show that moves to the Big Apple.

Karyn Parsons (Hilary Banks) Now

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Following her stint in Fresh Prince, Hilary swiftly moved onto creating and producing her own show Lush Life for Fox, however it was swiftly cancelled after four episodes. She also starred in another short-lived series The Job which was considerably more successful. Outside of our screens, Parsons owns Sweet Blackberry Foundation, who produce films about black heroes we might not have known.

Tatyana Ali (Ashley Banks) Then

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Ashley is the first of the Banks family to really take to Will's laidback and often outlandish behaviour, something she really follows especially in the earlier seasons; this is much to the disgust of Phil. Originally, Will is somewhat a role model for Ashley, and she spends much of her time messing around with him. She ultimately ended up moving to New York with Hillary in order to attend a performing arts school.

Tatyana Ali (Ashley Banks) Now

Image Source: Entertainment Weekly 
Throughout the show Ali's musical talents were explored via storylines, and following the show she released her certified gold album Kiss the Sky in 1998. She even performed on a Barack Obama supporting project by Will.I.Am. In terms of her acting career, Ali continued to appear on our screens in recurring roles on CBS' The Young and the Restless and Second Generation Wayans alongside Damien and Craig Wayans.

Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey Butler) Then

Image Source: BBC
Geoffrey is the traditional, sarcastic British butler to the Banks family. He will always be remembered for his quick-witted insults, as a result of the frustrations he has with the various kooky members of the family. Despite the family being very dependent of Geoffrey which, as mentioned can frustrate him, he also has a strong affection for the family. He is evidently well-educated, and understands his position in the household, although when he clocks off his cynicism rises as he doesn't work out of hours.

Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey Butler) Now

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British Actor Marcell has appeared in a number of shows following the Fresh Prince series, including a recurring role in The Bold and the Beautiful as Hudson and he even appeared in British soap opera Eastenders briefly in nine episodes across 14 years. He also appeared in Netflix's Ratched for two episodes in 2020. Beside this much of his work has been within the theatre space, appearing at the Globe Theatre in productions of some of Shakespeare's greatest works.

Ross Bagley (Nicky Banks) Then

Image Source: The Sun
Nicky Banks was born at the end of season 3 and becomes a speaking role through season five as a preschooler. Thanks to Boyz II Men performing at his christening all of his middle names contain the names of each of the members! Throughout his two season stint on the show, Nicky was used as comic relief, particularly in emotional or more serious scenes.

Ross Bagley (Nicky Banks) Now

Image Source: BestLife
Following Fresh Prince, Bagley went on to feature alongside former castmate Will Smith in Independence Day! Despite this, Ross never really fulfilled the potential he showed as a child actor and doesn't appear on our screens today, despite making an appearance in a few low budget films in 2015. He now DJ's under the name DJ Rossy B.

DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jazz) Then

Image Source: Showbiz Cheat Sheet
Despite Jazzy initially being introduced as Ashley's drum instructor in season one, but throughout the series an undeniable bromance is developed between him and Will. He is always seen to be wearing them stylish blackened sunglasses, except on a date (by blackmail) with Hillary. Jazzy is always trying to persuade hilary to date him, unsuccessfully.

DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jazz) Now

Image Source: NBC News
Will and Jazz weren't just best friends on the show, but also off our screens too. Prior to the show they released music together as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. The Fresh prince series is actually Jazzy's only credited television appearance! Within the music industry, he has produced music for; Eminem, the Roots and Eric Roberson. He also had a part in the scratch overdubs for the hit 2015 film Straight Outta Compton.

Tyra Banks (Jackie Ames) Then

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Jackie appears as a recurring character throughout season four, she is an old childhood friend of Will's who also moves to Bel Air after accepting a basketball scholarship at LA. Despite slapping Will upon seeing him for the first time for not keeping in contact, their friendship is resumed after she hires Will to work for her at the university store. She also gains the nickname Miss Boss Lady, affectionately from Will.

Tyra Banks (Jackie Ames) Now

Image Source: Us Weekly
We all know Tyra Banks, she has become a national television personality we see regularly on our screens today. Following fresh prince she made her film breakthrough as Zoe in Coyote Ugly and Halloween: Resurrection. Perhaps most recently, she is well-known for her hosting duties on America's Got Talent for the 2017 season, and as the host of Dancing With the Stars, alongside co-host and former fresh prince castmate Alfonso Ribeiro.

Nia Long (Lisa Wilkes) Then

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Lisa is introduced in season five as a love interest to Will, with the two falling deeply in love; they even become engaged! Despite this, and despite getting to two separate ceremonies they never actually tie the knot. In a bizarre turn of events, after Will's mother and Lisa's father are introduced, they themselves engage in an intimate relationship and take advantage of the second failed ceremony, getting married themselves! So from potential wife to stepsister, sheesh.

Nia Long (Lisa Wilkes) Now

Image Source: Page Six
Following the Fresh Prince, Long is probably most well-known for her roles in the Big Momma's House movies and she also starred in the popular Fox series Empire for seven episodes as Giuliana Green. She still appears on our screens fairly frequently, most recently as Fatima in You People, alongside Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill.

Vernee Watson-Johnson (Viola Smith) Then

Image Source: BestLife
Viola solely raised Will following his father leaving them at the age of 5, and she is the one who originally sends Will to Bel-Air. She is a recurring character, visiting as often as she can, usually for important family events, such as their third sister's wedding and for Will's failed marriage where she ultimately ends up marrying her son's girlfriend's father, oof.

Vernee Watson-Johnson (Viola Smith) Now

Image Source: Daytime Confidential
Vernee Watson-Johnson has appeared in guest appearances on countless shows including, Big Bang Theory and spinoff Young Sheldon, House, Melissa & Joey and Dexter. Until 2013 when she began appearing as Stella in General Hospital, Watson-Johnson never really had a consistent role on our screens. She also joined the cast of Bob Hearts Abisola as Gloria and has appeared in every episode of the show to date.

Charlayne Woodard (Janice Smith) Then

Image Source: BuzzFeed
Janice is one of the four Banks sisters, and features a handful of times across the series. Janet first appears when visiting the Banks house to tell them that she is engaged to marry a white man. Viola originally doesn't take this well claiming bigotry will follow her but she eventually warms to Frank. Following a frightening robbery, she is revealed to be pregnant with Frank's child.

Charlayne Woodard (Janet Smith) Now

Image Source: Rochester City News
Charlayne played Tituba in the film The Crucible, alongside Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis in 1996, and also had main roles in the M.Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable and Glass, its sequel in 2000 and 2019n respectively. She also featured consistently as Sister Peg on Law and Order: SVU for 9 years. Much of her work now and in the past has been seen in the theater scene where she has also written many of her own pieces.

Jenifer Lewis (Helen Smith) Then

Image Source: Fandom
Helen is the fourth and final of the Banks sisters, and as with Janet, she appears infrequently except for episodes where there are family gatherings. Helen is seen to be one of the sharper, more cynical of the sisters, although she is always happy to see the various members of her family doing what's best for them, as with Janet's marriage to Frank.

Jenifer Lewis (Helen Smith) now

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Following her role in Fresh Prince, Lewis featured as a backup singer to Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 cult classic Sister Act. Lewis has also appeared in kids animated films Shark Tale where she featured alongside Will Smith and as Flo in Pixar's Cars. She also has a starring role in popular ABC comedy series Black-ish where she plays Ruby Johnson, a role in which she was nominated for the best guest performer in a comedy series at the Critics' Choice awards.

Here are some surprising things you didn't know about Fresh Prince! The only reason Will Smith agreed was because he was in debt

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Fresh Prince would never have been Fresh Prince without Will Smith, and it's one of the first shows people think of when the actor is mentioned. You might think that was a huge breakout role for him that he really wanted, but the only reason he agreed to take the role was because he was in serious debt and needed the cash!

The IRS then took the majority of his pay check!

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Will Smith was in debt to the IRS, who had already claimed possession of his belongings, and Smith was almost about to claim bankruptcy until he took the role on Fresh Prince. When his paychecks came in, the IRS then took around 70% of what he earned for the first three seasons to pay off the debt!

His early performances on the show reveal his inexperience...

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Will might have been handpicked for the role, but he didn't have much acting experience, having only one other TV role before Fresh Prince. He'd never formally trained in acting, and the very early seasons reveal how inexperienced he actually was (though most of us might not notice!).

And he's mortified by it!

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Will Smith admitted that in the early seasons he was pretty out of his depth - and that he'd work hard to memorize the script and then end up mouthing everyone else's lines along with them! We're all going to go back and rewatch now aren't we, just to see? He's admitted he's seriously embarrassed by his early performances!

The intro house isn't even in Bel Air

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Silly us for thinking the house show in the introduction to Fresh Prince of Bel Air would actually be, you know... in Bel Air. But nope! The house is actually in Brentwood - which sort of counts, because it's nearby and it's just as affluent a place as Bel Air! You wouldn't know the difference.

This was Tyra Banks acting debut!

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In season four of the show, Will has a girlfriend named Jackie - played by Tyra Banks! You might not have known who she was at the time because she hadn't appeared in anything else acting wise, but the show was actually the America's Next Top Model legend's acting debut.

Geoffrey actually had a last name

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If you're a good butler then you're hardly seen or heard, but as we know, Geoffrey liked to be heard - and we thank him for it, because his snarky dialogue was always fun to watch. You might have thought he was just called 'Geoffrey', but he did have a last name... it was Butler!

Carlton's famous dance was inspired by Courteney Cox!

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Whether you think his dance is famous or maybe more infamous, we can all agree it was one of the iconic moments of the show, and also for the actor who played Carlton. You might have thought he was giving out original moves, but apparently he was inspired by both Courteney Cox's dancing from Bruce Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark video, and Eddie Murphy's White Man Dance!

Is that Quincy Jones driving the cab?

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Quincy Jones is one of the producers of the show, and some people thought he played a cameo as the cab driver from the opening sequence - it even went so far as IMDb listing him as playing the cab driver - but actually, it isn't Quincy! He's apparently never even learned how to drive.

Nicky's middle names come from Boyz II Men!

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The character of Nicky first appeared in season three, when he became the newest member of the Banks household. His full name Nicholas Andrew Michael Shawn Nathan Wanya Banks - bit of a mouthful, but it was also inspired by the names of all the Boyz II Men members!

Will Smith met Jada Pinkett Smith during the auditions

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A lot of famous acting couples have actually meet each other during auditions or through being cast across from each other, and the Smiths are no different! Jada Pinkett Smith originally auditioned to be Will's on-screen girlfriend for the show, but funnily enough she didn't get the part - and then got the part in real life when she married him.

Smith actually had an input in some of the show's stories

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Although he was inexperienced in acting when he first started on the show, he went on to pick it all up - and not just the acting side of things. He also contributed a lot to some of the show's storylines - including the one where he considers becoming a comedian - and he also produced some of the episodes.

The real reason Aunt Vivian was recast

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Loyal fans will know that the original actress for Aunt Vivian was recast in the middle of the show, but you might not have known why. Janet Hubert, the actress who played Vivian in the first three seasons, was given a 10-episode contract from the producers which would stop her doing any other acting. She refused, so they recast Vivian as Daphne Maxwell Reid.

The show had a huge amount of celeb guest stars!

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We probably didn't realize at the time because many of the stars might not have been as big as they are now - which is why a rewatch is in order! We've already mentioned Tyra Banks, but some of the other guest stars include Queen Latifah, Hugh Hefner and Jay Leno.

The cast all kept a shared diary to write in

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According to the actress who played Hilary Banks, there was a notebook kept in one of the drawers in the kitchen that everybody on the show would use to write in - including some of the people working behind the scenes - where random notes would be written, like poetry or which actor was being annoying that day! The actress took it with her when the show ended as a souvenir.

It was actually cancelled!

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It's always surprising to learn some of the most successful shows were cancelled before they became big, but Fresh Prince was actually cancelled! It was cancelled after season four, where the finale shows Will driving back to Philadelphia. It was then brought back after fans were outraged, and went on for another two seasons!

The opening theme caused a real life school to be locked down...

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We all pretty much know the opening theme off by heart - the theme alone is as iconic as the show - but it caused a bit of a problem in a real life school. When a receptionist called a student's phone, his voicemail was him singing the theme tune to Bel Air. For the line "shooting some b-ball outside of the school", the receptionist thought he said "shooting some people outside of the school" and the police were called. All a misunderstanding!

The soundtrack CD was originally only released in Holland

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For some strange reason, the original soundtrack - back when CDs were our only option - was only released in Holland, and was near impossible to get your hands on. Nowadays, you can easily stream the soundtrack on any music service or find it on YouTube... thank goodness!

Prison inmates love the Fresh Prince

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Apparently the show is a huge hit with inmates in Guantanamo Bay prison. Makes sense why inmates with a lot of time on their hands would watch a popular show with so many seasons. Not only that, before this Harry Potter had been their favorite binge until Fresh Prince took the winning position!

The show has been parodied a bunch of times

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Understandably, the plot and comedy of Fresh Prince has been parodied a bunch of times - because it's a very easy to show to make fun of! The parodies even include an animated version of the show called the Fresh Prawn of Bel Air, as well as a pet adoption group producing The Fresh Pup of Bel Air!

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