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How Bel-Air Approached The Search For Will Smith’s Fresh Prince Successor, According To A Producer

Jabari Banks on Bel-Air
(Image credit: Peacock)

Filling the shoes of megastar Will Smith would be a tall order for any actor, let alone an up-and-comer. But that was a requirement for the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot, as it needed a young actor needed to give the same energy and charisma of the King Richard star had when the original series dropped in 1990. Of course, Bel-Air’s leading man, Jabari Banks, fit the bill, as evidenced by the fact that he was cast as the new Will. But it took some time to find the rising star, as the search for Smith’s successor required some special criteria to be filled, according to one of the show's producer.

Jabari Banks becoming the new Fresh Prince wouldn’t have happened without the original short film created by writer-director Morgan Cooper. Now, Cooper serves as a director, writer and producer on the new show. Like many fans of the original series, he knew the producing team had to nail the casting for the lead role. The producer spilled to The Guardian how he used Will Smith’s original portrayal as a North Star for the project:

We needed a unicorn, because that’s exactly who Will was in the original. We needed a young man who had the charm, the charisma, and [who was] able to give you dramatic performances while still having great comedic timing. … I remember meeting Jabari in Philly and within five minutes, I knew he was our Will.

Using the “fish-out-of-water” archetype was definitely the way to go. On the original show, Will Smith channeled his fun guy rap persona while showing off his impressive acting skills as Cooper pointed out. So the producing team, which includes Smith, found the same energy and charm in the newcomer that was exuded by the Hollywood star throughout all six seasons of the classic sitcom.

But the similarities between the two actors don’t just stop with sharing the same role. The Bel-Air star grew up in the same areas as the Hollywood star. He recalled growing up admiring the Independence Day actor and the original series, with others noting their close physical resemblance and similar energy. Despite loving the original Fresh Prince, though, Jabari Banks is all about bringing his own approach to the character, given the reimagining’s dramatic take. So while his character will remain somewhat consistent with what fans know, the rising star will be allowed to forge his path with the character.

Based on the hype surrounding the Fresh Prince reinterpretation, it appears devoted and new fans are looking forward to the series.  Of course, having Will Smith involved has helped, and the movie star actually dropped the first look at the series, which featured a dramatic take on the iconic theme song. The road hasn't been easy, as the series faced some shakeups after losing two showrunners before production began. But thankfully, it's now only a matter of time before viewers get to see Jabari Banks take on Bel-Air’s bourgeois alongside a badass Carlton Banks, as seen in the first trailer

Bel-Air premieres on Feb. 18 on Peacock. You can subscribe to the streaming service to watch the series along with other stellar series.

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).