Will Smith had never auditioned for anything before The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He probably didn’t think he’d have to audition for his show given that he was the Fresh Prince. However, legendary producer Quincy Jones wasn’t going to let him off the hook. Smith told the story of his audition with Jones during the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion on HBO Max.
Before ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ Will Smith was a rapper
Smith released his last album in 2005 to become a fulltime movie star, but before The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air putting him on TV was no sure thing. It took executive producer Jones to put the package together. Jones produced music for artists from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson, let alone his own.
“Quincy Jones basically steamrolled me through the whole process without ever really auditioning me,” Smith said. “The only kind of audition I had was Quincy’s birthday, the show was an idea. Benny Medina had pitched me the idea. I was making music. They were like, ‘Come to Quincy’s house, we have this idea for a TV show.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll go to Quincy’s.’
When Will Smith met Quincy Jones
As a recording artist, Smith was just happy to meet Jones. Jones lived up to Smith’s expectations.
“So I got to Quincy’s house and Benny Medina pitched me the whole idea of the show,” Smith said. “It was based on Benny Medina’s life. He went from Watts to Beverly Hills. We go to Quincy’s house and Benny’s like, ‘Hey, this is the Fresh Prince.’ Quincy says, ‘I know who that boy is. I’ve seen his stuff. Come on in.’ It’s his birthday. He’s been tasting a little bit. He wet his beak.”
It was Jones’s decision to have Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Will reflect the life of the real Smith.
“So we go in and he said, ‘Where are you from?’” Smith asid. “I said, ‘I’m from Philly.’ He said, ‘Your character’s from Philly.’ Okay, give me a glass of whatever Quincy’s drinking.”
‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ was Quincy Jones’s birthday present
That’s when Smith learned he was not the only guest at Jones’s birthday celebration.
“It’s Quincy’s birthday so it’s a big party,” Smith said. “Everybody’s in there. It was Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC, Warren Littlefield. Everyone gets in the room. Quincy says, ‘Hey, clear the living room out. We’re going to do an audition.’ I said, ‘Q, Q, no, no.’”
Jones wasn’t going to let Smith miss this opportunity. So, he pulled Smith aside in his office, where Smith felt intimidated by all the Grammy awards and acknowledgments for “Thriller” and The Color Purple.
So Quincy says, ‘Okay, what do you need?’. I say, ‘Quincy, I’m not an actor. Just give me two weeks. Let me find an acting coach. Let me work on it and let’s set up a proper audition.’ ‘So two weeks? You only need two weeks?’ I said, ‘Yeah, just two weeks. He said, ‘So here’s the deal. Right now, everybody that needs to say yes for this show is sitting in that living room right now waiting for you.’ I was like, ‘Give me 10 minutes.’ He’s like, ‘All right, audition in 10 minutes! Audition in 10 minutes.’ They did a deal memo that night. That’s how we got to the pilot that fast.Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion on HBO Max