Before he took his role on "Fresh Prince," Will Smith had only one acting credit under his belt — a minor part on an ABC after school special. Although he's an award-winning and prolific actor now, he was not trained in acting at the time, and he says he cringes while watching his early scenes on "Fresh Prince." He admits that he would memorize the whole script and you can see him mouthing the lines of other characters as they spoke.
For the first three seasons, Aunt Viv was played by Janet Hubert, but for the rest of the series the role was played by Daphne Maxwell Reid. Apparently, Hubert was not happy with the non-competition clause in the contract the studio gave her, which kept her from taking any other roles while on "The Fresh Prince," so she quit. There are also rumors that she and Will Smith didn't get along, and that she was fired at his request.
In his early days, Will Smith was relatively famous as a rapper under the name The Fresh Prince, and although he was making a good amount of money, he wasn't managing it wisely or paying his income taxes. Smith wound up owing the government $2.8 million, which he couldn't pay, and many of his possessions were seized. Thankfully, producer Quincy Jones chose him to star in his new series, and Smith of course agreed since he was on the brink of bankruptcy.
Due to his immense debt, the IRS forced Smith to pay them 70% of his salary over the first three seasons of "Fresh Prince." After that, though, he got to keep his full salary.
In a running gag throughout the series, Will's dim-witted friend Jazz, portrayed by Smith's actual musical partner DJ Jazzy Jeff, is thrown out of the Banks's household, usually by Uncle Phil. Because the gag would require expensive on-site filming, they decided to only film it once and reuse the clip in various episodes. You can always tell when Jazz is going to be thrown out because he wears the same clothes in those scenes as he does in the clip to avoid continuity errors.
The "Fresh Prince" was filled with songs that were beloved by its fans, but the actual CD soundtrack was originally only released in Holland. In 1992 the extended version of the title song reached No. 3 on Holland's singles charts. You can find the soundtrack on Spotify, but getting an actual CD version will require you to ship it from the Netherlands.
Will and Jada Pinkett actually first met during auditions for "Fresh Prince." She was trying out for Smith's on-screen girlfriend, but instead got the role of the leading man's off-screen wife in 1997.
Tyra Banks is a household name for her television and movie roles, alongside her modeling of course, but back when the "Fresh Prince" was starting, she was only known as a model. Banks actually made her acting debut on the show, appearing as Smith's girlfriend in a season four episode.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in "Fresh Prince" comes in the episode "Papa's Got A Brand New Excuse," when Smith's character's biological father who abandoned him as a child comes back only to immediately abandon him again. In the script, Smith was supposed to brush off the abandonment. But the actor, who was abandoned by his real father at a young age, was overcome with emotion during filming and launched into an equally angry and vulnerable monologue that caused James Avery to embrace him in an unscripted hug. The scene was so powerful that you can even hear audience members crying at the end, but it wasn't reshot because the producers knew they could never re-create that raw, emotional moment.
Carlton's unique dance became a fan favorite motif from the show, and actor Alfonso Ribeiro explained that we really have Courteney Cox and Eddie Murphy to thank for Carlton's hilarious footwork. Ribeiro said he basically tried to combine Cox's dancing from the Bruce Springsteen video "Dancing in the Dark" with a skit Eddie Murphy did of how white people dance to create Carlton's dance move.
Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro were allowed to choose their own character names for the "Fresh Prince." Ribeiro warned Smith to be careful when picking a name, because if the show got successful than that's what he might always be known by. In a genius move, Will Smith named his character Will Smith. Meanwhile, Alfonso Ribeiro is still mostly known as Carlton.
Almost everyone assumes that Will Smith shares the name of his "Fresh Prince" character Will Smith, but they are actually different! The actor's name is short for William, while the character's name is short for Willard.
The Banks's snarky butler, Geoffrey, was almost never referred to by his full name, although you've actually heard his last name a lot more often than you realized. His full name is Geoffrey Barbara Butler.
NBC canceled the show after the fourth season, and the last episode featured Smith moving back to Philadelphia. However, the fans loved the show so much that NBC brought it back for two more seasons. Season Five opened with a TV executive driving Will back to California, saying "It's called the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, not The Fresh Prince of Philadelphia."
The inmates at the U.S. military prison of Guantanamo Bay love the "Fresh Prince," as evidenced by the fact that it recently surpassed "Harry Potter" movies as the entertainment of choice in the detention center.
Many websites claim that the taxi driver in the opening credits is none other than the show's executive producer Quincy Jones. However, both Jada Pinkett Smith and Quincy's daughter Rashida Jones state with certainty that the cabbie is not Quincy Jones. Adding to the proof is that the legendary producer never learned to drive due to a traumatic car accident in which he was a passenger at age 14.
Ever notice anything interesting about the name of Uncle Phil's law firm: Firth, Wynn, and Meyer? It's a play on the band Earth, Wind & Fire, one of executive producer Quincy Jones's favorite groups.
If we are to go by the Banks's house used in the show's intro, then the title of the show is inaccurate. The featured house is actually located in Brentwood, not Bel-Air. The address is 251 N. Bristol Avenue, if you wanted to stop by and see it in person.
Daphne Maxwell Reid, or the second Aunt Viv, now runs a photography blog entitled "Daphne Maxwell Reid's Fresh Prints." She is also married to Tim Reid, who played the father Ray Campbell on "Sister, Sister."
Recently, Karyn Parsons, the actress who played Hilary Banks, revealed that the cast kept a notebook inside a drawer on the set's kitchen island. Actors and crew members would write little notes, poetry, or scribbles in the notebook whenever they felt like it, and some people would even gossip about other actors. Parsons has the notebook now.
In the episode where Will interviews for a spot in Princeton, he impresses the dean by solving the Rubik's Cube on his desk. In reality, solving Rubik's Cubes is actually a talent of Smith's. He's shown off his skill on some talk shows, and also in his movie "The Pursuit of Happyness."
Lisa was Will's girlfriend on the show, but few fans know that her real name isn't actually Lisa. Her character's name is Beulah.
Although Will Smith was pretty popular before joining "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" as the rapper the Fresh Prince, not everyone was familiar with his music. Both Janet Hubert and James Avery have said they'd never heard of the Fresh Prince before they signed on for the show.
In the third season, Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv have a baby boy that they name Nicholas Andrew Michael Shawn Nathan Wanya Banks. All of those middle names were an homage to the group that performed at Nicky's christening in season four: Boyz II Men. The Boyz II Men members are Michael, Shawn, Nathan, and Wanya.
Queen Latifah guest starred on the "Fresh Prince" in not one but two separate roles. In her first appearance, she played Hilary's boss, and in her second she played Will's love interest.
Queen Latifah wasn't the only actor to guest star on the "Fresh Prince" in two separate roles. Hemsley first appeared on the show as Judge Carl Robertson, who dies in the shows third season. He then comes back as George Jefferson, his character from "The Jeffersons," in a later episode.
Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro did more than just act on the "Fresh Prince" set — they also worked behind the camera. Smith wrote one of the episodes in season three, and Ribeiro directed an episode in season five.
The "Fresh Prince" inspired a lot of merchandise, but probably the most impressive is that the show had its own model of Air Jordan basketball shoes. They were called Air Jordan 5 Bel Air, and you'll have to pay over $600 online if you want a pair today.
The "Fresh Prince" is a hilarious comedy, but it's also tackled serious matters in more dramatic episodes. Smith said that he encouraged the writers to start writing more serious and dramatic episodes after being inspired by the show "Roseanne," a TV comedy also known for its emotional moments.