The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a show that needs no introduction. It enraptured a generation of people, and made the world fall in love with Will Smith. With the cast of characters, there was a lot to love in the original show, giving a real sense of struggle, love, and family that felt much more natural than what was seen on other sitcoms of the day. When it was announced the show would be rebooted, it was hard to imagine what could be done to modernize The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but somehow they managed it, bringing a new, much more real take to the iconic Banks family.
With the new show here, and a certifiable hit, we jumped at the chance to talk to Olly Sholotan, who plays Bel-Air’s version of Carlton Banks. While The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air viewed the character as more comedic, the one in this series is much more of a foil for Will. He is more complex and much deeper. So, jumping on a video call, CGMagazine met with Olly Sholotan to discuss his role as Carlton Banks, reviving the show, and his view on how important the show being revived is.
CGMagazine: Did you know about The Fresh Prince of Bel Air before you got cast on the show?
Olly Sholotan: About the original show? Absolutely! Who does not know about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? It is one of the most iconic shows in the history of literal existence. It is referenced in every other TV show. I definitely knew about the show, and it was one of the most exciting moments.
I didn’t even tell my parents that I got the audition. Since my parents are proud African parents, any audition I say I get, and they will ask me every day for the next six months, “Hey, so how is that going?” And with the way acting works, you sadly do not get most of the roles. So, I didn’t even tell my friends I got the audition. But once I had found out that the studio was interested, then I was juiced.
CGMagazine: Being a fan of the show, was it daunting to step into that role? How was it to step on that set for the first time?
Olly Sholotan: Look, I am a person that loves a challenge. So, in a situation like this, when you realize how tall the giants that you are standing on are, you can either fold or you can just rise to the occasion. I think I am someone who has been taught to rise to the occasion. Rather than looking at it as a daunting task, I chose to look at it as an honour to continue this legacy, and bring this story to a new generation. When we all stepped on set, it was just the most electric thing. We were all just locked in, and knew what we were here for.
CGMagazine: The role of Carlton is very dark compared to the original series. What was it like to play a character that is so conflicting and complex?
Olly Sholotan: It was a gift the writers gave us. Every single time a new script comes up for a new episode, we drop everything, and I just run to the corner to read to see what is there. I would run back to my trailer because an actor loves nothing more than to show life on screen and life is messy, life is complicated. In real life, I do not think there are no pure heroes and no pure villains. And so, when I realized, “Oh, I am being given the gift to showcase this kid who is growing and learning,” I fell in love with that idea.
CGMagazine: Did you have a chance to connect to any of the original cast before or since stepping on set?
Olly Sholotan: Yes, since stepping on set, we obviously met Mr. Big Will Smith. We are all homies now, he is like a Dad, uncle to all of us. We have a few of the OG cast in it, here and there in various spots, and it has been really, really great to have them give their blessings to all of us in the show, and they have all seen it.
CGMagazine: Clearly, on the show, your character and Will’s character have some differences. What was it like having that animosity while acting, and then stepping off the set and dealing with the actors afterwards?
Olly Sholotan: Well, Jabari and I, off the bat, truly, from the moment we met, I was like, “I like you. We are going to be buddies.” Then, we met for the camera test and two days later, we were driving around LA, and just hung out for a whole day. So, building that trust and building that bond off-screen makes those scenes easier because when we are in those scenes, there is a lot of trust there. We know that, no matter what I have got you. Because those scenes are tough.
I think that scenes when you are angry with someone, in a way, can be harder than scenes when you are laughing with someone. It requires a lot of mutual understanding and mutual trust as well as letting each other surf the beats of the scene. So, our bond off-screen definitely helps with that. We went to a Justin Bieber concert two nights ago.
CGMagazine: This was an iconic show for countless people. What do you think this new show will bring to audiences, and what do you hope they take away after watching Bel-Air?
Olly Sholotan: I think the show has a lot to say about many very modern and topical social issues, from issues of class, issues of race, issues of race between races but even issues of race within the black community, LGBTQ issues. The hope is that people will walk away from this and have really important complex discussions about what all this stuff means.
With my character, I hope that people can walk away and have complex discussions about the fragility of blackness. What does it mean to be black in America? Is blackness something that is inherent? Is it something that you wear like a costume? In order to be considered black, do you really have to fit all of these sorts of arbitrary social criteria that we have decided that, “Ah this is what makes a black man”? Those are the discussions I hope people have.
CGMagazine: Do you have anything to say to people that may be on the fence about jumping into this new series, or to fans of the original?
Olly Sholotan: If you are on the fence, I think you should watch Bel-Air because it is a really great show. We are all super talented, nice, and funny. But deeper than that, I think nothing is more special than watching something and feeling seen. I remember one of the first times that I felt seen on screen was this Disney Channel original movie starring Coco Jones, called Let It Shine. It is just like, hip-hop gospel musical on Disney Channel and I remember watching that, and I was like, “Wait for a second! People that look like me are allowed to do that?” And, so this show just offers the opportunity to feel seen by so many people.
I do not even mean just people in the black community. I mean, we were having conversations about mental health, about substance abuse, about coming to terms with your sexuality, about a fish out of water. I just think that there are so many groups. There are stories about love, about old love, young love, ambition as an adult, being a mother and having children, and going back to your career. There are so many ways that we allow people to feel seen. I really do think watching the show is a really cool gift. Also, we were funny and cute, and very pretty to look at. So, you should do that as well.
CGMagazine: Thank you so much for your time.
Olly Sholotan: Thank you so much. Have a good one.