Over 20 years ago, NBC took a chance by creating a show around a young, up-and-coming hip-hop star and called it The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Not only did the show become so adored by millions of people around the world, but it also launched Will Smith into Hollywood stardom. It also gave us some beloved characters like Uncle Phil, Carlton, and put a new spin on the classic "family" sitcom.
Today, we go behind the scenes to find out some interesting facts about the cast of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
1.) Jada Pinkett Smith Tried Out For Lisa But Got Rejected Due To Lack Of Chemistry With Will:
The role of Lisa, Will's girlfriend, eventually went to actress Nia Long but it turns out, Jada Pinkett Smith had originally auditioned for the role but was rejected due to lack of chemistry with Will. Ironically, the audition led to Will and Jada hitting it off in real life and they were married three years later. They have two kids together.
2.) Joseph Marcell Influenced The Rest Of The Cast To Leave The Show:
NBC first canceled Fresh Prince after season four due to declining ratings but was persuaded by fans to bring the series back on the air. It ran for two more seasons, officially ending after season 6. Will Smith already felt the show was losing steam by the end of season 6 but it was actually Joseph Marcell, who played Geoffrey Butler, the Banks family Butler who influenced the decision to end the series.
Marcell planned to quit his role after season 6 and return to London to be with his family. After the rest of the cast got word of Marcell's departure, they decided to follow suit, with Will opting to further his acting career with feature films.
3.) Tatyana Ali Graduated From Harvard After 'Fresh Prince':
Tatyana Ali, who played Ashley Banks in Fresh Prince, had quite the career after the series ended. Following the series cancellation, Ali went on to appear in feature films, became a best-selling artist in the music industry, and even graduated from Harvard University in 2002 with a degree in Afro-American History and Government. She became a spokesperson for Barack Obama and traveled the United States during his campaign, heading voter registration drives.
4.) James Avery Was The Original Voice Of Shredder From TMNT:
James Avery, who played everyone's favorite TV dad Uncle Phil, was also an accomplished voice actor who appeared in a lot of animation series. Interestingly, he was the original voice of Shredder, the evil villain from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series from the 1980s. Most iterations of Shredder have since been based on Avery's voice performance.
5.) The Cast And Crew Used To Keep A Hidden Notebook On Set:
Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary Banks, revealed in an interview with ABC that there was a secret notebook hidden in one of the drawers of the kitchen set, which she kept after the show wrapped. According to Parsons, everyone from actors to crew members would scribble little notes or even write poetry in the notebook every so often.
Every now and then a camera person or the actors, somebody would just write silly poetry or 'James is getting on my nerves.' We would make little notes, so I took that. I need to pull that out, especially now that James has passed, because I know he's written in there. I know he was written about."
6.) Will Smith Has A Thing For Solving Rubik's Cubes:
The scene where Will quickly solves a Rubik's cube in season 3's 'The Alma Matter' is actually real. Will Smith is extremely skilled at solving Rubik's cubes and can solve one in under 55 seconds. He has demonstrated this ability in Fresh Prince and "The Pursuit of Happyness", as well as live TV and social media.
7.) Alfonso Ribeiro Invented The 'Carlton Dance':
Before landing the role of Carlton in Fresh Prince, Alfonso Ribeiro was actually a professional dancer, appearing in Pepsi commercials with Michael Jackson and even running his own series of instructional books intended to teach popular dance moves to kids. When Ribeiro first read the script, it simply said "Carlton Dances" and Ribeiro took the liberty of coming up with a dance routine. He later stated in an interview that the dance was based on the "white people can't dance" bit from Eddie Murphy's Raw.
Recently, Alfonso Ribeiro sued the creators of popular video games NBA 2K16 and Fornite for including the dance but a judge, in accordance with the U.S. Copyright Office, denied his claim of copyright.
8.) 'Fresh Prince' Was Tyra Banks First Television Role:
Nowadays, the name Tyra Banks is synonymous with television, hosting shows such as The View, The Tyra Banks Show, America's Got Talent, and creating America's Next Top Model so it's hard to imagine Tyra ever not being on television. Turns out, her first-ever television role was playing Jackie, Will's childhood friend/ex-girlfriend on Fresh Prince.
9.) Queen Latifah Appears In The Show As Two Separate Characters:
For whatever reason, Queen Latifah appears in the series as two separate characters, only two seasons apart. In the season 1 episode, "Working It Out," she played a diva-like celebrity named Marissa Redman (her first-ever television role) who hired Hilary Banks as her personal assistant. Later, in season 2's "She Ain't Heavy," she appeared as the more memorable Dee Dee Williams, Will's potential love interest.
10.) The Actress Who Played Will's Mother In The Opening Theme Wasn't Credited And Ended Up Homeless:
Fans may have noticed that the version of Will's mother -who appears in the intro credits wearing a shower cap- is not actress Vernee Watson, who plays Viola Smith later in the series. The original actress was not only uncredited by NBC but apparently wasn't paid for her appearance either, despite appearing in the opening credits of the show. Her identity is still unknown but she was later recognized as a small-time stand-up comedian from the 90s and ended up becoming homeless for a while.