Will Smith Says This Co-Star Shut Him Down When He Tried to Date Her
Early in his career, one of the actor's colleagues rejected him—and he thanks her for it today.
Will Smith's highly anticipated and much hyped memoir Will was released on Nov. 9, and it features plenty of memories, musings, and confessions by the multi-hyphenate star. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, the project that transitioned Smith from rapper to television lead, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is heavily covered in the book. The now 53-year-old opens up about the moment he knew the show needed to end, the piece of advice behind his character's name, and the castmate he once—unsuccessfully—asked out. Read on to find out which co-star Will Smith wanted to date early in his career and why it didn't work out.
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There was a lot of competition for the role of Hilary Banks.
Karyn Parsons was cast on Fresh Prince as Hilary Banks, Will's status-obsessed and flighty older cousin. She'd played a few small parts in TV shows and movies before the sitcom premiered in 1990, but Hilary was her first major role. Smith notes in the book, per EW, that Parsons "beat out a slew of Hollywood big hitters" who were also up for the part.
She was 24 to Smith's 22 the year the show hit the airwaves. And she had been married, from 1987 to 1990, to soap opera actor Randy Brooks.
Smith tried to use logic to ask Parsons out.
While Will and Hilary have an antagonistically loving familial relationship, Smith evidently felt differently about Parsons in real life—at least in the early days.
He writes in Will that Parsons "was as smart enough to tell me 'hell no' when I tried to explain we were not really cousins so it would be fine if we dated." He continues, "'I swear it won't mess up our working relationship.' She knew better that—good call, K.P."
Parson's well-reasoned rejection didn't negatively impact that working relationship, and it appears that the two have stayed friends since the show as well.
In a 2019 interview with Red Carpet News, Parsons said of her former co-star, "He's got charisma like crazy, right? He's just incredibly charismatic, so bright, very smart, and quick-witted and funny. It's just him. People always say, 'What's it like?' It's exactly what you see. That guy? That's Will."
He had a stranger experience with another co-star.
In Will, Smith elaborates on his first and last attempt at Method acting (living as a character, even off-screen) in his first big movie, 1993's Six Degrees of Separation. He learned that the acting method wasn't for him when he found himself far too immersed in the role, to the point where he "fell in love" with co-star Stockard Channing. While nothing happened between the actors and Channing may not have even been aware at the time, his feelings did impact his marriage to first wife Sheree Zampino, who had just given birth to their son, Trey.
"After the film wrapped, Sheree and Trey and I moved back to L.A. Our marriage was off to a rocky start," Smith writes in an excerpt published by People. "I found myself desperately yearning to see and speak to Stockard."
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He met his wife through her Fresh Prince audition.
Smith and wife of 23 years Jada Pinkett Smith could have been an on- and off-screen couple—only she didn't score the Fresh Prince role she was auditioning for. The future couple first met in 1994 when Jada was up for the part of Will's girlfriend Lisa, eventually played by Nia Long. As for the reason she didn't get it? Producers reportedly thought she was too short at 5'0" to pair with a 6'2" Smith.
Smith also explains his decision to end Fresh Prince.
In the book, Smith gives co-star Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton Banks, credit for his character's name.
"'Take it from me,'" he remembers Ribeiro saying. "'Give your character your name, Will Smith. Because people are going to call you that for the rest of your life.'"
And he credits another actor for helping him to understand when it was time to leave the show and invest more fully in his burgeoning movie career. He writes about a conversation he had with John Amos, who played Lisa's dad Fred in some episodes of Fresh Prince. At this point, Smith was already torn about whether to pull the plug: He had seen a Season 5 storyline about Will getting shot as the moment the show "jumped the shark," or had run out of ideas. And they were coming up on Season 6—the last one the cast was contracted for. Amos' character James was killed off on his show Good Times because of a contract dispute, and Amos told Smith that he wouldn't want him to have the same unfinished business or abrupt exit.
"'None of these execs, or producers, or businesspeople, give a s*** about your family,'" he said, Smith recalls. "'Do not let them f*** off all of your hard work and passion. It is your responsibility to make sure these people get to leave this show with some dignity.'"
With that in mind, Smith decided to end the show on his own terms. He told the cast ahead of Season 6 so that they would have the year to think about what they wanted to do next. In 2020, the cast celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the show's premiere with an HBO Max reunion special.