During season four’s 24th episode, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse,” Will Smith demonstrated his true acting abilities when his character’s father walks out on him again after coming back into his life. Though many have applauded Smith for his acting chops in the episode, the actor claims that he wouldn’t have made the scene believable had it not been for James Avery, also known as Uncle Phil.
The emotional scene left everyone in tears
Believe or not, it’s been 26 years since The Fresh Prince aired that emotional deadbeat dad episode, and it still leaves fans in tears.
The episode centers around Will’s father, Lou (played by Ben Vereen), who returns 14 years after abandoning Will to spend time with him.
Though Uncle Phil can see though Lou’s lies, Will doesn’t and welcomes his father back with open arms, only to be left disappointed when he walks out on him again. After Lou leaves, Will tries to make it seem like he isn’t bothered by his dad abandoning him a second time, but could only hold back his tears for so long before breaking down in front of Uncle Phil.
The moment is so powerful, we still get goosebumps watching it.
For years, many were convinced that Smith’s monologue wasn’t scripted and that he drew from his experiences with his real-life father, who was never around.
But in actuality, the actor’s father played a significant role in his life and had shaped into the man he is today.
“Dad was tough but not tyrannical,” the Men in Black star previously told Essence magazine. “He kept me in line. He’d get this look that said, ‘One more step, Will, and it’ll get ugly.’ He was an independent businessman—he set up refrigeration in supermarkets—and he always provided for us. He’s a steady and positive figure in my life.”
Smith says James Avery pushed him in that scene
Though Smith hadn’t personally experienced having his father walk out on him, he did channel the feeling of wanting approval from someone he held in such high regard in the scene.
In 2018, the actor sat down with TIDAL’s Rap Radar Podcast and revealed that Avery was the one who had helped him get in touch with his emotions and deliver the scene we all know of today.
“So we’re doing that scene and I’m having a hard time,” Smith explains. “‘Cause we were rehearsing and everything so…and then it comes to the moment and we’re in the scene together, right. So I’m doing it, I’m messing up the lines ’cause I want it so bad and I’m in front of the audience and I’m doing it and I’m furious and he holds on to me and he says, ‘Hey, relax. Relax. It’s already in there. You know what it is…Look at me. Use me. Don’t act around me. Act with me.'”
He continued, “So he’s talking me through it and everything. I get it together. So I do the scene and then he hugs me at the end. While he’s hugging me he whispers in my ear. He says, ‘That’s f*cking acting right there.'”
Smith went on to mention that while working with Avery, he was always looking for the actor’s approval and channeled that into the scene. “It makes me teary right now because it was like I was using…I was using him. I wanted him to want me. I wanted him to approve of me. So actually in that scene with him I was transferring that energy onto James Avery.”