Fresh Prince of Bel Air was one of the most popular shows of all time but you might be surprised to learn about the reasons Will Smith took the show in the first place. Plus we’ve got some really fun facts for fans!
Why did Will Smith do Fresh Prince?
He was actually in massive debt with the IRS and owed them $2.8 million in unpaid income tax! This was down to poor management of his own taxes after gaining fame as a rapper. It got pretty bad for Will back then and the IRS seized most of his possessions which included his house so he was pretty much homeless. The impoverished rapper was about to declare himself bankrupt when producer Quincy Jones saved his butt and chose him to star in the new series, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It took three years for Will to get back on his feet because he had to pay the IRS 70% of his first three years earnings to get out of debt.
So that’s how Will Smith got into acting?
Yeah pretty much. He had no formal training as an actor and prior to Fresh Prince, he had only done one gig in an ABC after school special as a T-Shirt salesman. In fact, Will Smith is so embarrassed by his early performances in the show he went so far as to say,
“When I watch those episodes it’s disgusting. My performances were horrible”
The thing is though, for us as viewers it only solidified his petulant but lovable character even more. For instance, remember when you used to see him mouthing when the other actors were reading their lines? Well we used to think that was part of his character being a bit of rudeboy but it was actually a nervous habit Will had picked up because he was trying so hard to remember his own lines!
But it got better, right?
Yes, things got a lot better for Will. He even produced and wrote some of the later episodes. Clearly his financial situation also improved and whilst on Fresh Prince, he got new dressing rooms done for the whole cast as a gift. The Fresh Prince literally saved his professional bacon as since then, Will has been a box office smasher. In 2012, it’s said he grossed $654 million.
He became the number one star of the show and it is said that his popularity led producers to fire Jane Hubert who played Aunt Viv because of a feud between her and Will. After season three, Jane Hubert was replaced with Daphne Maxwell Reid.
In terms of acting talent, this got a lot better for Will too and was showcased beautifully in the episode, Papa got a Brand New Excuse where Will comes face to face with his onscreen biological father who abandoned him as a child only to feel the cruel sting of abandonment again. The script said Will was to brush it off but instead, Will launched into a powerful monologue, causing James Avery to hug him in an equally unscripted hug. Apparently it was inspired by Will’s own experience in real life with his father. When the episode was released, even audience members were crying and the producers left it exactly as it was.
As well as this, even with his shaky acting skills, Will clearly had vision for the future. Before the show started, the actors were allowed to choose their own names and Will decided to pick his own name, Will Smith so that he would be remembered as himself. Very wise move.
And what about Carlton?
We all loved Carlton especially that dance! It’s rumored that it was inspired or stolen from a skit Eddie Murphy did which featured Courtney Cox to a Bruce Springsteen video, Dancing in the Dark about how white people dance. The dance was super famous ever since and always guaranteed to make audiences smile and laugh.
Where are they Now?
Daphne Maxwell Reid (Vivian Banks)
Daphne is now a photographer and takes photos of doors from around the world.
Janet Hubert (Vivian Banks)
Janet continued with her acting career after Fresh Prince and appeared in Friends.
James Avery (Philip Banks)
James also continued his acting career since Fresh Prince and has been successful on TV with credits including Grey’s Anatomy, NYPD Blue and Star Trek Enterprise.
Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton Banks)
Poor Alfonso has not seen the success he had with Fresh Prince but apparently he still does the “Carlton Dance” at weddings.
Karyn Parsons (Hilary Banks)
Karyn is now an innovator and activist. She is the founder of Sweet Blackberry that promotes stories about the achievements of African Americans.
Tatyana Ali (Ashley Banks)
Tatyana got into music after Fresh Prince but she’s only had one noteworthy album
Ross Bagley (Nicky Banks)
Ross starred alongside Will Smith in Independence Day and has a few small roles since then.
Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey Butler)
Geoffrey crossed the pond after Fresh Prince and starred in popular TV shows such as The Bill and the long-running soap, Eastenders.
Jazzy Jeff (Jazz)
Jazzy still continues his successful music career and has over 30 noteworthy releases under his belt.
- The world’s largest flash mob dance was boogied on down to the Carlton Dance!
- Will Smith met his wife, Jada Pinket Smith whilst auditioning for the show
- Geoffrey the butler’s last name was…Butler
- Quincy Jones also produced Thriller for the late Michael Jackson
- The theme tune is 3 minutes in length which is quite long for a TV programme, but it was actually changed 6 times!
- When the them tune was released on YouTube it got 10 million views.
- There’s a Fresh Prince trivia app for smartphones for die-hard fans
- The social media feed for Fresh Prince includes Facebook and Twitter has 11 million and 26,000 follower respectively.
- After four series, NBC cancelled the show but had to reinstate it due a massive uprising from fans!
- The gag which always results in Jazzy being thrown out of the Banks’ household was only filmed once and reused each time.
- Getting your mitts on the soundtrack is really difficult and was only ever officially released in Holland.
- Fresh Prince was Tyra Banks’ first TV role when she appeared as Will’s girlfriend.