‘Bel-Air’ Star Jabari Banks’ Big Plans: Becoming a Rap Star and Eventually Opening His Own Disneyland
Jabari Banks remembers the exact date that his favorite actor, Chadwick Boseman, passed away. It was August 28, 2020, and Banks was working at a factory in Temecula, Calif., doing a temp job wrapping gutters. Yes, that is a job that Banks had just a year before getting his big break as the star of Peacock’s “Bel-Air.”
But back to the factory. “My mom got me a temp job, so I flew from Philly (yes, he’s from West Philadelphia like a certain Fresh Prince you’ve heard of) to Temecula where they paid for our housing, our transportation, our food and everything. Super sketchy.” He was staying in the hotel when he got the news of Boseman’s death.
“He’s such an inspiration to me,” Banks said. “That day I was like, I want to continue what he was doing for our community. I want to be an impact on the youth as like he was for me, and for so many people around me.” The next year, like serendipity, he booked “Bel-Air” on the same date.
On this edition of the Variety Awards Circuit podcast, Selome Hailu and Michael Schneider talk to Banks about landing “Bel-Air,” and how his own story seems to mirror that of the show’s main character. Also in this episode, we chat with “Julia” star David Hyde Pierce about his HBO Max show, which chronicles the rise of TV chef Julia Child, what brought him back to TV and, of course, the legacy of “Frasier.” Listen below!
Could there be anyone more suited to take on the role originally held by Will Smith on Peacock’s reimagining of the popular 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” than Jabari Banks? Besides the West Philadelphia similarities, Banks is also an aspiring rapper… and then there’s his last name, Banks, which mirrors the name of the Bel-Air family that Will moves in with.
“It’s an honor and it’s a huge responsibility,” he says. “And I know don’t take it lightly.”
Banks says he knows people were skeptical at first with the idea of “Bel-Air”: “It just really came from a pure place. And honestly, it’s incredible, because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. The wingspan of this show is incredible, because it reaches for so many generations, and everybody knows it. And it’s such a beloved TV series, it’s a quintessential 90s sitcom. And so it’s so it’s everyone’s baby, and they’re like, ‘we don’t touch that we don’t touch this.’ But I was definitely confident, I was like, ‘just wait and watch because we got some great things cooking up.’”
Banks also talks about his music, what his McDonald’s themed meal would be, his love of sci-fi, his visual art hobby, the animated series he’s developing… and the theme park he dreams of building.
Meanwhile, in the HBO Max series “Julia,” viewers see the rise of celebrity chef Julia Child (Sarah Lancashire) from French home cook to TV sensation. Right beside her was her husband Paul, played by David Hyde Pierce. Of course, Pierce rose to fame on “Frasier” as Niles, the snobbish brother of the title character. It’s hard to believe it;s been nearly 20 years since that show ended its run, a fact you’ll notice I stumble on when I realize my math is all wrong.
We recently spoke to Pierce about what he learned about his character, Paul Child, in “Julia,” as well as his “Frasier” reunion with Bebe Neuwirth, who also appears on the show as Julia’s sharp-tongued best friend Avis Devoto.
“Once I read the pilot and said yes, and then started digging into their lives together, I was really intrigued,” Pierce says of the relationship between Paul and Julia. “They’re just such complicated, interesting, wacky people. And then, I didn’t know Sarah Lancashire’s work at the time. But when I knew that she was playing the role, I did research there too, and I saw her on ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ and ‘Happy Valley,’ and even some of her really early TV work, just to get a sense of who this person was. And that made me feel very comfortable. If you do go and watch any of her stuff on British television, you will be completely unprepared for what she does as Julia because she’s a chameleon. She’s that kind of actor. She’s very different in each role. The only thing consistent is that she’s terrific.”
Pierce also talks about taking up judo and drawing for the show, and whether he might show up in the upcoming “Frasier” revival.
“I know Kelsey really wants to do it,” he says. “I don’t know where it is, in terms of script or anything like that. I hope it happens for him. And then I’lll see where I am and see what I’m up to. But I certainly have a lot of love for him. And for everyone involved in the show. So I hope it goes well.”
Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday and Friday.