Considering everywhere that Will Smith's career has gone in the past 25 years, it's almost hard to remember that his path to stardom began with a successful hip-hop career that veered into television thanks to the legendary Quincy Jones and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That said, fans will definitely never forget the hit sitcom that turned him into a mega-star, and HBO Max is giving everyone the chance to relive those glory years thanks to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special, which brought the surviving cast members back together for heartwarming memories, touching tributes and hilarious conversations...particularly when it comes to Will Smith's early acting skills.
For as clever, charismatic and captivating as Will Smith was in the late '80s, he wasn't exactly a seasoned thespian. And before the multi-hyphenate got into an equally enjoyable reunion story about his total lack of auditioning, Smith humorously got put in his place by former co-star Karyn Parsons. In talking about filming the pilot, Parsons called Smith out for suddenly mouthing her dialogue back to her as she was saying it, and she apparently wasn't the only person he did that with in those early episodes. Here's how the Hillary Banks portrayer put it, accompanied by some input from fellow former co-star Tatyana M. Ali.
Karyn Parsons: I came out, I’m saying it to myself, I’m trying to get through it and just do my thing and keep it together. And you mouthed my lines back to me! For the first time! All rehearsal, you never did it. [But] the night in front of the audience, you went…[mouths words silently].
Tatyana Ali: You did it to me, too.
Karyn Parsons: I was a nervous wreck. I was like, ‘Oh my God!’
Of course, this wasn't exactly headline news to Will Smith, who was indeed well aware of his past foibles in that respect. As it happens, members of the creative team were also aware of Smith's quiet-but-awkward habit, and they apparently had to work with him on curbing the behavior for future episodes. I guess sometimes there's such a thing as being too professional. Here's how Smith tried to explain it.
Will Smith: So wait, so my side of that was, when we were on the set of the pilot, that was my first time really doing dialogue.
Karyn Parsons: So you did everybody’s dialogue.
Will Smith: I learned everybody’s! So it’s on the episodes. You can see it on the episodes.
One specific example that was brought up during the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special was Episode 5, "Homeboy, Sweet Homeboy," which boasted the Oscar-nominated Don Cheadle as Will's friend "Ice Tray." Check out some highlights from that episode below and pay close attention to Will Smith's mouth whenever Cheadle is speaking, because it's wild.
Predictably, Will Smith took it all in stride during the conversation, sheepishly admitting it was an issue back in those early days. Of course, the reunion's producers actually made Smith watch some of those same scenes with Don Cheadle, and the actor was pretty shocked by how blatant it was, saying:
That's terrible. That's terrible. Oh, wow. That's painful to watch.
So the next time you hunker down for a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air binge-watch – or anything else starring Will Smith from the early 1990s – pay close attention to the actor's mouth during scenes when other actors are talking. If you see him mouthing along, that's just a compliment to the screenwriter.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's reunion special is now available to stream on HBO Max. While waiting on more information about the upcoming dramatic reboot, head to our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule and our Winter and Spring 2021 schedule to see all the new and returning shows hitting the small screen soon.