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Jabari Banks Talks ‘Bel-Air’, Working With Will Smith & More – Set Visit

The pressure is stacked high for young actor/musician Jabari Banks. Coming straight from West Philly, Jabari is making his on-screen acting debut playing Will Smith. Not the Oscar-nominated actor Williard Smith, but the character William Smith portrayed by the Grammy-winning rapper in the 1990s hit television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Jabari Banks is bringing his spin on the Fresh Prince in Peacock’s new series Bel-Air

​​Bel-Air is a contemporary dramatic reimagining of the beloved 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  The series is based on Morgan Cooper’s 2019 fan trailer Bel-Air. It immediately went viral, and now Peacock is bringing this reimagining to life.

Jabari Banks in Bel-Air.
(Courtesy of Universal Television/Peacock)

When speaking with Jabari Banks on the set of Bel-Air, he detailed his emotional journey from graduating from Philly’s University of the Arts to being the lead star of a major new show. While Banks’ background as both a rapper and a basketball player helped him get the most out of the role, it also presented some challenges.

“I’m just leaning into who I am. I felt a lot of these issues. Being from where I am…Sometimes it does get real and I have to step away. Sometimes it gets to be a lot, but I’m carrying it. I hope that comes across on screen,” Banks said.

Despite all the ways Jabari relates to the character, it’s an immense amount of pressure. For a first-time actor, this can be nerve-racking, but Jabari had a pretty big ally in his corner. He learned of his casting from Mr. Box Office himself – Will Smith.

“Will was very supportive early on. He said he wanted to be to me what Quincy Jones was to him,” Banks said.

(Courtesy of Universal Television/Peacock)

The Quincy Jones allegory is robust considering the role Quincy played in making Will Smith a star. The story goes that Quincy threw a lavish birthday party filled with industry people and television executives. He invited Smith to attend, and upon Smith’s arrival, Quincy cleared the whole living room and made Smith audition on the spot. The Fresh Prince was green-lit that night, with Jones having his lawyer draw up the paperwork at the party itself. That moment single-handedly catapulted Smith’s career from hip hop star to a Hollywood sensation.

Another element that likely eased Mr. Banks’ nerves was the sense of community felt while on set. He talked about how the crew embraced him openly, allowing him to experiment, improvise, and explore the character as filming went on. He mentioned how Morgan – the show’s creator and director – would encourage him to “throw it out.”

“I’ll just do some crazy s***. I was all over the place, doing flips and stuff. But Morgan said we couldn’t use that take because it wasn’t in the frame. That was a learning lesson too. Just being able to see the camera as another scene partner,” Banks said. 

Smith has spoken about how his scene partner – the late great James Avery – would push Smith to deliver some of his best performances. When Smith initially performed the famous Fresh Prince scene where he’s venting to Uncle Phil about his father, Smith struggled through the first take. But after Avery cooled him down and told Smith to “use me” as an anchor for the next take. Jabari discusses a similar moment between him and Adrian Holmes – the new Philip Banks.

(Courtesy of Universal Television/Peacock)

“There’s a moment where Will tries to sneak out and Uncle Phil brings him back in for a talk. That was a huge scene. Adrian was an amazing screen partner and I learned a lot from them just then. To keep my eyes up, to be vulnerable in front of all those people. After I finished, I started balling. Going home, I felt like an actor,” Banks shared.

Director Morgan Cooper spoke highly of Jabari’s talents.

“He’s so versatile as an actor. He has natural charisma, natural comedic timing, his dramatic chops are exceptional. And he had only done a short film. Now he’s number one on the call sheet. And ever since the first take, he rose up to the occasion,” Cooper said.

Jabari Banks is a new face to watch. Even with massive shoes to fill, his charismatic performance in Bel-Air resonates as smart-minded, earnest, and honest.

Bel-Air lands on Peacock on February 13.

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