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Before The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, its leading man Will Smith was already a star, but the sitcom catapulted him into new heights. Smith had long wanted to transition into acting but didn’t know a weekly comedy would be what would help propel his career to the next level. But according to his co-star Joseph Marcell, it was clear from the beginning that Smith had what it takes to win.

Joseph Marcell and Will Smith filming 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'
Joseph Marcell and Will Smith | Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank

Joseph Marcell speaks on Will Smith’s first audition for ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

Smith was a rap sensation alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff before his breakout role on The Fresh Prince. Though he was popular, he still had to prove himself and audition for the part. Marcell, who starred as the Banks’ family butler Geoffrey, says he knew from the first time he read with Smith in an audition that Smith had big acting chops.

Source: YouTube

“I came from London, and I had to do my audition with him that morning. I arrived I think about 8pm and at 9:30am I was at NBC and so we’re doing this scene and I thought, ‘What’s he doing? Is that how he’s going to do it? It’s not on the script!’ And Will said, ‘Yeah, man, that’s how I do it.’ And I thought, okay I can deal with that. Right,” he said during an interview with Daily Blast Live.

He continued, adding: “If I had known, I would have put it in tiny bottles, and it would cost you a million bucks to buy one. I had no clue. But what I knew most above anything else, was that the man leading that show was an extraordinary talent.”

The actor was a champion for Will Smith when Smith was feuding with his former co-star

Smith became a megastar thanks to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But not everyone was accepting of Smith’s success. His co-star Janet Hubert, who played Aunt Viv on the show, grew frustrated with Smith during filming. She found him to be arrogant and lacking professionalism and didn’t mince words. Marcell felt that Hubert was jealous of Smith being the star of the show.

“The show is called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the leading actor, the name that comes first is Will Smith and that’s how it is and that’s how it should be,” he said in an interview with Hip Hop Uncensored. “I feel that perhaps Janet was not able to deal with that.”

Source: YouTube

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The relationship between Smith and Hubert became so contentious that Marcell says he advised both Smith and Hubert to talk it out. Marcell says Smith came to him for advice as he was considering firing Hubert. 

“Janet called me and I said, ‘Janet, sweetheart, you have to look at it the way it’s set up. It’s Will’s show and he’s given you as best, I’m sure he could give you more, but you are the female lead of the show. You really are,’” Marcell says he told Hubert during one of their chats.

Hubert was fired from the show and replaced with Daphne Maxwell Reid. According to Marcell, he later learned that Smith and the producers tried to reason with Hubert but were unsuccessful.

A reimagined dramatic take on the show is now on NBC’s streaming platform, Peacock

In 2019, Morgan Cooper uploaded Bel-Air to YouTube. The submission was a fan film, written and directed by Cooper as a mock trailer for a modern and dramatic reimagining of the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The video has over 7.5 million views currently. 

Smith was immediately impressed and met with Cooper while he was filming Bad Boys For Life to discuss how to bring the project to television. In Aug. 2020, Peacock ordered an unprecedented two season pickup of the series. Smith serves as an executive producer on the series. The series has been praised for keeping the same elements of the original while forming its own narrative.