'Bel-Air' is a gritty new ten-part drama based on the hit 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which catapulted Will Smith to TV fame.
British actor, Jimmy Akingbola, has a starring role in the new reboot, however, things could have been very different when Jimmy reveals he almost didn’t do the audition.
Here in an interview with WhattoWatch.com, Jimmy, whose acting credits include The Tower, Kate & Koji, Rev, Ted Lasso, Holby City, and In The Long Run, tells us about playing the role of the wealthy Banks family’s housekeeper, Geoffrey, in Bel-Air, working with Hollywood legend Will Smith and why he almost passed up the role….
'Bel-Air' is set in LA and filmed in LA. How did this role come about?
Jimmy Akingbola: "I was asked to audition for it but it was in the middle of the pandemic. I was doing a lot of self-audition tapes at the time from home, it was all starting to get a bit taxing. When I saw ‘Geoffrey, mid-50s’ I was like, ‘55-plus is pushing it!'
"I thought it would be better to concentrate on other auditions I was working on but my team were like, ‘Hell no, we’re not passing on this, ignore the age, do the audition!’"
"Then I saw the trailer that film-maker Morgan Cooper had done, (which was the catalyst for the Bel-Air's creation), I was like, ‘Wow!’ Suddenly I was looking at the job through different eyes thinking, this is perfect for me."
So how did the actual audition go?
"I had to do it on Zoom. There were massive technical difficulties so I couldn’t see any of the other guys which meant I was crashing over the casting director’s lines. I was doing the biggest audition of my life. It was a random very hot day in London and I was sweating in a three-piece ‘Geoffrey’ suit. But they liked me and the rest is history!"
Were you a fan of the original 'Fresh Prince Of Bel Air'?
"Definitely. Dinnertime was always Home and Away, Neighbours then Fresh-Prince. There is something iconic about the show. We all grew up with it, no matter what age you are, what country you’re from, it’s global. So to get a part in and play this legendary British character, Geoffrey, is just fantastic."
Do you think this rebooted and much grittier version will appeal to a whole new generation and audience?
"Yes, It’s really exciting, because it’s hour-long episodes, we can really peel back the layers of each character and explore them in-depth. To be able to push the boundaries of the original Fresh Prince is brilliant. There are lots of beautiful, respectful nods to the original. If you loved that, you’ll love this but equally, if you’ve never watched it before you can watch this and then go back and enjoy the whole Fresh Prince journey."
Did you speak to British actor Joseph Marcell who played the original Geoffrey?
"I worked with Joseph in an episode of Death in Paradise. He’s a legend, and someone I’ve looked up to for years so when I got the role I was able to share the news with him. He was so happy for me, I started tearing up. He told me what an amazing opportunity it was and to enjoy every minute."
How different is your version to the original?
"Joseph’s Geoffrey was much more suave and James Bond. Mine is more swagger and Jason Bourne (from The Bourne Identity). He’s streetwise, book-smart and from East London like me. He’s got an interesting background that we’re going to tap into across the two seasons."
Did you have fun working with the rest of the cast?
"Oh yes. We all met up recently and it was like a family coming together for Christmas dinner with everyone talking over each other, the banter, the interaction but that’s so beautiful. It’s a fantastic cast."
"Jabari Banks who plays Will is so talented, he’s from Philadelphia, he dances, makes music, raps and this is his first-ever acting gig. And Olly (Sholotan) who plays Carlton, is such a perfect fit. He’s a chatterbox, crazy intelligent, and has a lovely old soul. We became like one big family right from the beginning."
How have you found the experience of working in America?
"I’ve been living in LA for five years. I wake up, go to Universal Studios, I'm going past the sets of Jaws and all these iconic Hollywood movie sets and I'm having to pinch myself, I'm seeing Ted Danson just being driven around the corner. It’s just beautiful."
"I’m the boy from East London, from Barking Road and now I’m walking down James Baldwin Boulevard of Universal Studios."
"Bel-Air is filmed here in LA so I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I do miss my friends and family. That chimes with Geoffrey because he’s a fish out of water and I can relate to that. I’m the Brit in LA with a lot still to learn!"
Hollywood legend, Will Smith, who starred in the original 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' is the executive director on this, how exciting is that?
"It’s been fantastic. At the moment Will’s been filming Emancipation and he’s doing the Oscar run, so we've not been able to have a lot of interaction. A lot has been through video messages and text messages and stuff like that. But we’ve all had the thumbs up from Will. It’s so exciting because of course you want the original cast’s blessing and for them to be happy with it. The rumor is they’re ecstatic and they can’t wait to see Season Two."
The first three episodes of Bel-Air are available from Monday 14 February on Sky and NOW.
Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.
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