She Played Will's Mom on "The Fresh Prince." See Vernee Watson Now at 73.
The actor behind Vy Smith has played well over a hundred other roles in her impressive Hollywood career.
"I got in one little fight, and my mom got scared" is a lyric anyone who's ever watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is familiar with. And while the sitcom's theme song explains why Will (Will Smith) isn't living with his own mother, she is still a big part of his life. Thus, Vernee Watson was a big part of the show, recurring as Viola Smith (known to her family as Vy) across all six seasons. All told, the actor appeared as Vy in 15 episodes of The Fresh Prince between 1990 and 1995, including some iconic ones—remember when Will finds his mom and Lisa's dad in bed together? While fans of the '90s comedy may know her best as a loving mother visiting from Philly, Watson has had a long career in entertainment with almost 200 credits to her name. Read on to learn more about the actor now.
She's played well over 100 roles.
A New York native, Watson got her start in performing on stage as a teenager. Her first significant onscreen role was in the 1972 movie Trick Baby. By the time The Fresh Prince came calling, she had already been in movies including All Night Long and Showdown in Little Tokyo and many TV shows. She played recurring character Verna Jean Williams in Welcome Back, Kotter and Lucille Banks in Carter Country. Watson also appeared in episodes of Good Times, The Love Boat, The Jeffersons, Benson, and more.
After playing Vy, the star continued to act, mostly on television. Roles across the 2000s and '10s include The West Wing, The X-Files, Dexter, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men, Young Sheldon, and The Resident. She won two consecutive Daytime Emmys in 2018 and 2019 for guest starring on General Hospital, and since 2019, she's been starring on the sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola as Gloria Tyler. On the big screen, Watson can be seen in Antwone Fisher, Christmas With the Kranks, and Clemency, among a few other films. And she's also done some voice acting for video games.
She's still in the Fresh Prince universe.
In 2022, a reboot of the sitcom premiered on the streaming service Peacock. Rather than being another sitcom, Bel-Air is a coming-of-age drama. Watson-Johnson appears in one episode of the show, not as her original series character, but as a woman named Janice—a board member of an art council. Daphne Maxwell Reid, who played Aunt Viv in the later seasons of The Fresh Prince, appears in the same episode as another board member, making filming a family reunion of sorts. Watson also joined fellow original cast members including Smith, Tatyana Ali (Ashley), and Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey) at the premiere of the new show in February of this year.
For more celebrity updates sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
She's an acting teacher.
While she continues to take on roles, Watson is also an instructor. "I teach acting to kids," she told We Are Entertainment News in 2021. "Even though they are kids I'm very honest and direct when I'm teaching them. I tell the kids upfront, if you have thin skin or if you don't want me to tell you the truth, then don't take my class. My classes are good, we have a lot of fun and I am very direct with them. I teach them the way I was taught. But I'm also complimentary, loving, nurturing and caring."
There's a documentary about her life.
In 2021, a documentary about Watson's life and career, titled You Look Familiar: Vernee Watson, made its debut. But the actor had to be convinced that she'd make a good subject. "My friends [director] Juney Smith and [producer] Glynn Turman approached me about the project," Watson told We Are Entertainment News. "I was like, 'Nobody wants to see that. Who cares?' [And they said,] 'We do!'"
The actor continued, "To be honest, I really didn't want to do it but I did. We shot it and it came out pretty good. I didn't get bored. I wasn't like why doesn't this woman shut up?" The official site for the film notes that Watson "has broken ground and paved the way for Black actresses on television today," and the actor herself seems to believe that she earned her lengthy career by never chasing fame. "You know I never wanted to be a big star," she said in the same interview. "Stardom comes and goes. I don't need all that attention. I just wanted to be able to work, you know? And to be recognized for the work. This documentary is a part of that recognition and I'm extremely grateful."
You Look Familiar also touches on Watson's personal life, which includes two marriages—one to Joe Duckett from 1976 until 1977 and one to photographer Van Johnson from 1979 to 1991—and two children. She has a daughter named Sunde and a son named Josh, both from her relationship with Johnson.