When you think of ‘90s sitcoms, there are plenty that probably come to mind, but one that stands as one of the most iconic is The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The Will Smith-led comedy gave viewers plenty of humor and heart during its six-season run, and this can be greatly attributed to the talents of the pitch-perfect cast. One of those stars is the wonderful Daphne Maxwell Reid, who fans came to know as Vivian “Aunt Viv” Banks. The actress recently joined her former co-stars for the HBO Max reunion special but, ahead of its premiere, she graciously took some time to chat with me.
Daphne Maxwell Reid has had an extensive career, having appeared on various shows like The A-Team and WKRP in Cincinnati before she even set foot on the set of Fresh Prince. Although Reid joined the cast in 1993 at the start of Season 4, she explained to me that she actually had the chance to audition ahead the show’s original 1990 debut:
I had been asked to audition for the show before it first started. And I had just come off of working back to back about four years of TV series. And I was moving to Virginia to chill out. They asked me to audition for a half hour comedy with a young rapper. And I said, ‘Ah, no, thank you very much. See ya’ll.’ And when I saw the show come up that fall. I said, ‘Aw, now that's a cute show.’
The opportunity to play Vivian Banks would soon come back around for Daphne Maxwell Reid, however and, after auditioning for two and a half weeks and doing five readings, she landed the role. Joining the cast, of course, meant that Reid would be working alongside the rising megastar that was Will Smith. Some may have varying ideas about Smith’s personality due to his public persona, but Reid saw a hard-working and inquisitive kindred spirit:
[Will Smith] was the hardest working man I had ever seen. He gave 150% in rehearsals. And that was odd because we usually kind of goldbricking it during rehearsals [laughs]. But he was on it all the time. And he was so darn curious about everything and so interested in learning stuff and being exposed to stuff. He was my kind of guy. I like curious people, I am one. And he had a great sense of business. He was really focused on what he wanted to achieve, and he was going about achieving. I was impressed, very impressed.
Given where Will Smith has ended up in his career, it’s no surprise to hear that he was so ambitious, even when he was just getting started in Hollywood. Daphne Maxwell Reid also highlighted his keen skills as an actor, though she says Smith doesn’t believe he was all that good at it at the time:
He was quite good at the acting part of it, which he claims he wasn't as good at when he started because he had never acted before. He’d been performing, but he learned how to rein that performance into working with other people and following a script and hitting his mark. He did good.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air allowed Daphne Maxwell Reid to work with a number of talented stars, including the late, great James Avery. The actor, who humorously and affectionately played the role of Philip Banks, was able to charm both audiences and his castmates, and Reid spoke on what she remembers most about working with him:
Hugs. I just love the hugs and dancing down the halls with him and sitting and listening to jazz with him and talking about literature and Black history and Black art. He was just an amazing man.
Interestingly, it was that love of dancing that actually influened Reid’s favorite episode of the show. And it’s definitely a classic:
I like the one where we did the flashback to Soul Train. That episode, it's just endearing to me because it was so much of what we were doing down the hall anyway.
Memories like these are what make The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air such a special show and give you a sense of the great chemistry the cast had. Daphne Maxwell Reid may have joined the show when it was reaching new heights in its popularity, but she had no trouble meshing with her co-stars, who she says were “warm and giving” and “embraced” her as if she had been there from the beginning.
All of this love is sure to be more than evident in the upcoming reunion special and, based on that trailer, the cast shared more than a few special moments as they reminisced about working together. It’ll be exciting to see what Daphne Maxwell Reid, Will Smith and their Fresh Prince family have planned.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion arrives on HBO Max on Thursday, November 19 and, before you check it out, you can stream past episodes of the show as well.