Nia Long Opens Up About Working With Will Smith On Fresh Prince And The ‘Burden’ He’s Had To Carry In Hollywood For Years

nia long and will smith at the 2022 ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards Luncheon
(Image credit: Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

Nia Long has, well, long been a big and small screen favorite for many people. She’s lit up the screen in everything from a number of classics, like Soul Food and The Best Man franchise (which includes the recently released Peacock series The Best Man: The Final Chapters), to newer fare like the smart mystery, Missing, and being a part of the You People cast. But, a lot of people surely got their first taste of the actress when she portrayed Will Smith’s girlfriend and eventual fiancée, Lisa, on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in Season 5 of the hit NBC sitcom. She recently opened up about working with Smith, and the “burden” he’s carried as a Hollywood star.

What Did Nia Long Say About Will Smith And His Burden?

The Fatal Affair talent became a working actor in the ‘80s, when she was still in her teens, landed her role on The Fresh Prince after a one-off part much earlier in the series, and after working with Smith on the Whoopi Goldberg movie, Made in America. She recently reminisced about her long career with Yahoo! Entertainment and talked about working with the rapper-turned-movie-star, and what she thinks his fame meant for him personally, saying:

And I just remember that Will was this energetic, goofy, funny guy that was obsessed with playing golf and sneakers. And he was just the happiest person. He was like Disneyland. Will Smith was like Disneyland during The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And I love him and I will always love him. And he's had an incredible career and he's carried a burden for many years to try to represent what perfection looks like or achievement looks like. And I don't think that, at least when we were growing up, there was room to be human. And I think he's now able to be human and I'm just thankful and grateful for that moment in my career because it taught me a lot about comedy.

Obviously, a lot of the dialogue over the past year about the man who helped make not only the TV comedy that bares his hip hop moniker a success, but movies like Independence Day and the Men in Black franchise major hits as well, has been about his shocking actions at the 2022 Oscars ceremony. While Smith won his first Academy Award that night, it came after he walked up on stage and slapped Chris Rock after he joked about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss. That led to the King Richard actor resigning from the Academy and then being banned from the Oscars for 10 years.

A lot has been said about what may have led to the infamous award show moment, including by Smith himself, who released a lengthy video answering questions about that night and the aftermath. He apologized to Rock and a lot of other people in that video, and also mentioned that personal traumas, his constant desire to never let people down, and his fears of not being able to protect his family all played a part in his actions.

His admissions all seem to echo what Long talked about when she referred to his “burden.” Something that every non-white person who who steps out into this world to do anything understands is that, even though we are all human and fallible, we become representatives for our entire race. Any mistake, whether it’s one that could be easily made by anyone or not, sets not just the individual back, but views on everyone they are seen to supposedly represent. And, we are reminded of that daily, even in the smallest, seemingly nice interactions with white people.

So, if you have someone who is already eager to please and make folks happy, who then becomes a mega-star who’s seen as a representative for all Black people everywhere, I think we can all imagine how that makes even the smallest slips in behavior feel like a complete no-go. And, how one’s anger/frustration at having to hold back and also attempt to be perfect, all the time, might eventually boil over in a terrible way.

Long continued, and spoke about how, even though she believes her former co-star to be a genuinely happy person normally, he has probably had a lot to unpack about his life, including his fame and success:

Sometimes I'm like, 'Can you stop being so damn happy?' You cannot be this happy. But he really is. He's a joyous person. But I think we all have our moments in life where we have to reconcile things that maybe we suppress. And I think it's hard growing up in this business and being front and center every day, all day… I can go to the grocery store anytime I want to.

The good thing is that Smith does seem willing to do that work to “reconcile” the many facets of his life, whether good or bad, as he continues to return to the spotlight.

Adrienne Jones
Senior Content Creator

Covering The Witcher, Outlander, Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias and a slew of other streaming shows, Adrienne Jones is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend, and started in the fall of 2015. In addition to writing and editing stories on a variety of different topics, she also spends her work days trying to find new ways to write about the many romantic entanglements that fictional characters find themselves in on TV shows. She graduated from Mizzou with a degree in Photojournalism.