After a stellar debut last year, Bel-Air — Peacock’s reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air that featured Will Smith — returns Feb. 23 with a new showrunner, new supporting cast members, and an unexpected challenge: how does the Banks Family persuade a young Will Smith (Jabari Banks) to move back into their fancy mansion?
Here, star Adrian Holmes (who plays Will’s Uncle Phil Banks) talks about where the drama picks up after last March’s big finale — when Will realizes that everything he was told about his long lost dad Lou (Marlon Wayans) wasn’t true at all. Lou didn’t abandon his son; he was just serving time behind bars.
Three new episodes drop tomorrow, followed by a new episode each Thursday. The series hails from Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith’s Westbrook Studios and Universal Television, part of Universal Studio Group.
DEADLINE What’s the journey been like on this show? There have been a lot showrunner changes, the most recent being Carla Banks Waddles taking over for TJ Brady and Rasheed Newson. Has it taken a while to find the show’s voice?
ADRIAN HOLMES No, I think we’ve had it all along. The changes that were made were a little concerning at the time, but it was actually a smooth transition for us. We’re very lucky to have Carla Banks Waddles come on and take the lead. She marches to the finish line so beautifully. The whole writer’s room came together and rallied to make sure that we didn’t suffer. The show has a lot of edge. There’s some great love triangles this season that people are gonna really love and enjoy. It’s spicy. I don’t think that we lost anything with the changeover. It just grew and expanded.
DEADLINE The show is obviously much grittier than the original. I mean, this is not supposed to be a comedy, but is there a limit to how gritty you think you can get?
HOLMES We try to stay at the current temperatures we live in. We want to be an accurate representation of the world outside of our window. We’re not trying to be Power. There’s a lane for that show, and there is one for ours. Fortunately, there’s not a lot of shows like ours in our lane. We have a responsibility. Our show is like therapy to the community, to the culture. We tackle a lot of important issues that people deal with on a regular basis. We give a blueprint to how they can deal with them.
DEADLINE Did the real Will Smith, who is an executive producer on Bel-Air, come by the set in the second season?
HOLMES No, not this season, no. He text messaged me. His presence is definitely felt by all of us. We would’ve loved to have seen him. That would have been a nice surprise. But he has a lot going on and you know, hopefully, we’ll see more of him by God’s grace. We’ll have a third, fourth, fifth, sixth season and beyond. We’ll get to see him some more.
DEADLINE Was there a part of you that was concerned that the tailwinds from the Oscars would blow onto your set and impact the show?
HOLMES Well, there was that thought, but like I said, we have created a lane of our own. We’ve got a fan base that is very loyal. I wasn’t as worried about it, as a lot of people thought. Yeah, I wasn’t too worried about it, to be honest. Most people I spoke to were just like, ‘we love the show. It’s such a great show, and what you’ve done with it is just brilliant and genius.’ It’s something that we all need. It’s like medicine for the community, for the culture. People tap in and they get to be entertained, but they also learn something. I think that’s the most important part of the story, just being a part of a positive narrative. It’s what the world needs right now. We live in such a sad, dark world, you know? We need as much light as we possibly can. I think our show is that light. Our show was recognized with an NAACP Award for Best Drama. We are the number one streaming show on Peacock with over 9 million subscribers. That’s not a small thing. I really take a lot of pride in that because it’s hard to do. So I pray that we will be around for a long time. To re-imagine an iconic sitcom and for it to have legs is a miracle.
DEADLINE So Phil didn’t get to be District Attorney. What’s in store for him now?
HOLMES Yeah, poor Phil. Phil is a man of principle. He has come from humble beginnings. He is a beautiful soul. I just love playing him so much. He dropped out of the race at the end of last season for good reason. For his family, for Will. His definition of success is taking care of his family and seeing that they’re healthy and well. This season, Phil is going back to his law firm and figuring out what steps to take and what issues he wants to tackle. He learned a lot when he was running for DA, about what the community needs.
DEADLINE Of those new guest stars, are there any who directly impact Phil?
HOLMES Yes, absolutely. James Lewis, the Harvard Law grad, my partner at the firm, played by Reno Wilson who’s a friend of mine. We worked together 26 years ago. It was really nice to reconnect with him. He’s definitely a direct connection and influence to Phil. There are a couple others but I don’t really wanna spoil the pot just yet, you know? It’s gonna be worth the wait.
DEADLINE So where do things stand between Phil and Will?
HOLMES The trust between Phil and Will has been questioned. It’s been fractured. Will has left the Banks household. He wants to be independent. He wants to do his own thing and have control of his life. He’s trying to prove to the Banks that he doesn’t need them. He’s adopting a lot of his West Philly traits. Phil means well. His intentions are good. He’s all about fairness, equality, and the betterment of humanity. He thought he was doing right by Will, by not sharing the information about his father. But when he hears things from Will’s perspective, he’s like, okay, maybe I could have done this a little differently. So this season is about the rebuilding of trust between Will and Phil. The trust between Phil and Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola) has been fractured, as well. Geoffrey is Phil’s brother. You don’t have to share blood to be brothers.
DEADLINE So we’re probably going to see Will’s dad again?
HOLMES Lou? I can neither confirm nor deny.
DEADLINE Where does Phil stand with his kids? Does he really know what’s going on with all of them?
HOLMES Yeah, he does. We left off with Carlton (Olly Sholotan) dealing with his mental health, his anxiety, and his drug addiction. It’s very sad. That is a very prevalent topic in the world today. I think that we handle it very carefully, very responsibly. Phil and Viv (Cassandra Freeman) work with Carlton to help him find balance and to get the treatment he needs, but also allowing him to have some control in the process. As for Hillary (Coco Jones), she is now a leader at the influencer house. She’s in a higher position, so she comes to her mom for advice and this is a new, new experience for her. She also come to terms with her sexual identity. And that’s something that doesn’t happen overnight. Ashley (Akira Akbar) is all about justice and equality. This season, something happens with one of her favorite teachers, Mrs. Hughes (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Tatyana Ali) and Ashley initiates a walkout. You see the activist coming out in her and Carlton as well.
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