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Bel-Air's Adrian Holmes Gives Uncle Phil a New-School Look But Keeps His Old School Values

Over 30 years ago, we were first introduced to the character of Phillip Banks, uncle to Will Smith's character in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Now, Phillip Banks has been given a new image in the re-imagined version of the hit 90's sitcom in Peacock's drama series Bel-Air. Phillip who was originally portrayed by the late James Avery in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is now portrayed by Welsh-Canadian actor Adrian Holmes in Bel-Air, which premiered earlier in February.

Photo by: Adam Rose/Peacock

Holmes, who has an acting career spanning over three decades, describes the Uncle Phil character as "a stand-up, gentleman," "He's a positive Black man, father figure, hard-working man. He has a lot of integrity. He has a lot of dignity and a lot of respect for himself and the people around him, and he wants to make this crooked, crooked world straight, especially the system that has been oppressing us as Black people. He wants to make things fair for everyone," he said.

The idea for the new reimagined story, which would become Bel-Air, came about after the series director Morgan Cooper caught the attention of Will Smith after having released a fan fiction version of how the comedic Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would possibly look if it was a solely dramatic series. Given the tone of the original series, which meshed light-hearted humor with the tense moments of conflict, and the fact that Holmes doesn't resemble Avery, it caught Holmes by surprise that he fit the image of who Uncle Phil is. "I didn't think that it was something that would have been on my radar," Adrian said. "I just assumed that they would be following the pattern of the original sitcom with the characters. I was like a fan and excited like everyone else to watch it when it came out," he added.

Some time had passed before Peacock moved forward with development and, Adrian was working on other projects when he got asked to audition. "I was working on a film at the time and my team reached out to me to do a Zoom, [with] the producer/director session for Uncle Phil and I was completely shocked, to say the least, but excited because I thought, 'Well, they're going another direction,'" Holmes stated.

After nailing his Zoom audition with the producers and directors, Adrian received the news that he got the part that would change his life forever. "When my agents and my team called me I was shooting downtown in Vancouver and I just screamed at the top of my lungs out in the city downtown. I literally almost ran out in traffic, I was so over the moon," Holmes shared. "It was confusion mixed with excitement and everything. I just had every emotion that you could think of going on at that time," he expressed. Further iterating how unexpected landing the role was he said, "It's not a part that you really think would go your way, it just seems so far out there to attain. It seems like an unattainable role because of just the dynamic and the magnitude of it. It's such an iconic character and a nostalgic one at that."

James Avery, the first actor to take on the role, passed away in 2013, but Holmes honored his spirit and impact when working to bring his version of the character to life. "James Avery, rest in peace, he did such an incredible job and left a perfect blueprint for me to just tap into and to draw from," Holmes stated. "I wasn't trying to copy him or anything like that. I was just being as authentic, and just playing the character to my own volition, and just being truthful and honest," he added. "That was actually what he did, and that's why his performance was so powerful. I think that's what is required and necessary for everyone in the show [is] just to be authentic and just speak your truth in that moment," Adrian stated. He also expressed that actors should also "draw from little things that you can use to help fuel character."

Adrian was further able to appreciate and respect Avery's impact on set and off saying, "He was the seasoned actor, classically trained, and he has such a gravitas to him. He just created a strong balance. He had a strong presence on set, and he helped maintain a balance on-set [bringing] positive energy and groundedness. If anybody had any issues or concerns, he was the guy that they all would come to, and that's very important because as we know sometimes the waters can get a little choppy and the ship can start rocking, and your whole objective is to prevent it from capsizing. So, you need that one person to be that anchor to hold everyone down and be the one to be that support system and that pillar for everyone and, that's what I got about James," Adrian stated.

"As we all know that scene, the real moving powerful scene between Will and James about Will's father, played by Ben Vereen, and how Will broke down and really, really lost it in James Avery's arms. James is the one who really helped him to get to that place, that emotional space that he needed to get to and just connect with him. Will was able to deliver a performance that was so powerful, magnetic, and has inspired so many of us actors," Holmes said. "And James pulled him in and said now that's acting. That is such a beautiful moment and to be able to be that for anyone is just a beautiful, beautiful thing and I'm hoping that I have that effect as well. That's basically what I want to be is just be that anchor, be that rock and support system, support figure for the cast," Adrian said.

Photo Credit: Peacock

Adrian shares many scenes with the series lead Jabari Banks. When speaking about the young actor he said, "He's just an incredible young man. He's very, very talented beyond his years. He's very wise and he's so open to advice and to pick up things," "He seems like a sponge, he just soaks everything up so quickly. I really enjoy working with him and sharing the screen with him. There's just a connection, there's a vibe, there's just a flow that we have," added Holmes.

Aside from Jabari, Holmes works alongside Cassandra Freeman, Coco Jones, Olly Sholotan, Akira Akbar, and Jimmy Akingbola in the series. "I guess you can just say we're really in alignment with each other. We're just all so blessed to work together. It's just great chemistry all around. Every cast member from top to bottom. It's been such a treat," he added.

A lot has happened in the world since the '90s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's original television run but many of the issues that were explored are still relevant today. "Coming off the heels of Black Lives Matter [movement] it couldn't be a better time than this because the pots been stirred up, and everyone that was hiding in the shadows is visible now. The world is a different place than it was back in the '90s when the original sitcom debuted. So, our show is so perfect to the time because it addresses all these issues head-on. We don't sugarcoat it. We don't explore it with comedy and humor," he shared. While humor is often a resource to tackle heavy hard topics, sometimes a more gritty and direct approach is necessary. "We explore it with groundedness and realism, which is what the world needs because it's a darker, more complex, uncertain place. And in order for things to change we have to address it in a much more serious manner. So, the stakes are higher than they've ever been," Adrian said.

"And I think it's just a great, great show. It's a balance of the full spectrum of the Black community. It's a great balance of the dark and the light," Holmes stated. "It's really important that we showcase the more positive affluent, successful, thriving, high vibrational side of the Black community because that is our reality," "Unfortunately, we don't have enough programs on television that are highlighting that," Adrian explained.

Photo by: Tyler Golden/Peacock

In the series, the heavy subject of teen substance abuse is depicted through the character of Carlton. Carlton is the son of Adrian's character Phil. Adrian addressed how his character's pursuit of his own goals plays a role in his onscreen family's issues. "There are certain expectations I have for Carlton that I wouldn't have for Will," Adrian said. "But the thing is you just have to really also listen to your kids and pay attention to your kids because there's a lot of things that are going on in the shadows that you don't know about," he added. "And clearly we see that with Carlton, and what he's struggling with, and how he deals with it, his coping mechanisms."

"It's important to really ask your kids questions, to spend time with them. Phil is so focused, so career-driven. He's chasing his goal to become DA and campaign on that campaign trail and some things get left by the wayside. And unbeknownst to him, he's not aware because he's so focused on his career, and he thinks that the family understands and that they're on board with it," he said. "But the reality is, they're suffering. They're going through this lack of attention and just that connection with their father," he added.

"It's really important that you find that balance between career and family," Adrain stated. "I think the true definition of success is when you can have financial freedom and be financially independent but also have the time to spend quality time with your family and your loved ones," Adrian stressed.

Prior to the series premiere, Bel-Air received a two-season order from Peacock. With Uncle Phil being a central character, audiences are bound to see the character grow and evolve as the series progresses, but Holmes has his own hopes about Uncle Phil's future. "Just continue to be a man's man, someone that the public aspires to be and is inspired to be and continue to be a positive figure and a role model for the younger generation, and for fathers out there that they can watch him and learn from him. I just think that that's the direction I'd love to continue to see him on."

New episodes of Bel-Air are available to stream on Peacock on Thursdays.


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