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Turned Gentleman: Bel-Air's Adrian Holmes

Bel-Air's Adrian Holmes’ Strategy For Winning in Hollywood

The last time The Quintessential Gentleman caught up with actor Adrian Holmes, we witnessed firsthand the charm he exhibits and the charm that has made him a main staple as a leading man in Hollywood. It was during the 26th annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF). The cast of Peacock’s Bel-Air was the talk of the town as the first season of the hit show continued the legacy of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. We were covering multiple screenings and events, with one event, in particular, standing out. It was the opening night ceremony.

Spectators and Hollywood insiders danced the night away as Holmes and his co-star Cassandra Freeman worked the room, flocked with fans wanting to take photos. Anyone would have grown tired from being constantly hounded, but Holmes kept a smile on his face and engaged with many adoring fans. The attention he showed made those around him feel as though they were old friends catching up as Black Hollywood was celebrated. Holmes proved that he took a genuine interest in living in the moment when he, alongside his Bel-Air cast, showed up to our Culture issue release party held at Soho Beachhouse in Miami. The same winning charm and excitement Holmes had the night before were ever so present during our event.

Now with Bel-Air Season 2 streaming, Holmes is ready to cement his legacy in Hollywood. Born in the UK, the 48-year-old actor already had over 100 film and television credits to his name before taking on the iconic role of Uncle Phil. Fans did not know what to expect from the dramatic iteration of the 90’s beloved comedy, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Yes, Morgan Cooper’s trailer of his vision for Bel-Air was such a viral sensation that it caught the attention of Hollywood legend and the original fresh prince himself, Will Smith. Still, with the sitcom in syndication and on streaming services, new fans consistently emerged. Critics waited to see how the writers would be able to pull off and build on a new series with such a die-hard fan base.

The first season worked. In the summer of 2022, it was announced that Bel-Air was crowned as Peacock’s most streamed original series, reaching 8 million accounts. With so many eyes watching, it is no wonder why life has forever changed for Holmes. “I’m definitely a little more recognizable now,” Holmes says in an exclusive interview with The Quintessential Gentleman. The star explains that he is getting used to hearing fans call out for Uncle Phil while he shops at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Fans are not just saying hi and looking for a photo opportunity, they are expressing their love for the show and appreciation for Holmes’ version of Uncle Phil, first portrayed by the late James Avery.

“I love that and I feel so proud… I feel so blessed to be a part of the narrative,” Holmes says regarding the positive impact Bel-Air continues to have on the culture. “I look at our show like medicine for the community.” The healing for the community comes by way of the storylines that the Banks family goes through. What fans see is a Black family who talks through their obstacles and faces the consequences of their actions in ways that are rarely seen in Hollywood.

It is not lost on Holmes the opportunity that comes with playing a Black male figure such as Uncle Phil. For an actor, it is easy to become pigeonholed into what people believe your limit is. Although Holmes acknowledges the importance of shows like Bel-Air and breaking down barriers with his character, he understands that other roles may take him in different directions. “It’s about the story itself,” Holmes explains. “If I have to play an antagonist to tell a story, I will gladly play that role. As an actor, it is good to show different layers so you won't be placed in a box.”

Holmes is up for the challenge against what has happened to so many actors before him who were praised for their portrayal of iconic characters but never had the chance to prove themselves outside of what Hollywood executives saw them as. “You have to be strategic in the choices of the roles you play… I want to find projects that align with me and my brand, whether it is film, television or broadway,” Holmes says.

For Season 2 of Bel-Air, Holmes says that the show has created its own identity outside of the original show. What makes the actor’s experience unique is that he is also learning from the show. His marriage to Vivian Banks, played by Freeman, has heightened certain qualities he displays in his real-life marriage to actress Caroline Chikezie. The Black love shown on screen is refreshing to see, even through the hardships the Banks family faces. “I am soaking it all in and trying to be a better person every day from being on the show,” Holmes explains.

Holmes’ curiosity for life and constant student to his craft is why he has been able to last in Hollywood since 1991. He knows all too well how easily Black actors can vanish. Yes, the Hollywood charm, the talent, and the never-give-up attitude all contribute to his longevity, but it's also his determination to tell our stories. With the debate over how to address Black actors and the film and shows created for us, Holmes knows that it is important that if we are telling our stories they should be told “by us,” the 6 foot 1 actor says. “I want to be seen as an actor, and I want to be respected by my peers.”

Actress Nia Long once came under fire for saying terms like "black movies" and "black famous" only "hold us back.” She later clarified on The Daily Show saying, "This thing called 'art' should be representative of all of us.” Actor Idris Elba also found himself on the radar of Black Twitter when in an interview he said that he stopped calling himself a “Black actor” because it created limitations for his career. Many were quick to point out it is those who are giving projects the greenlight who are putting actors such as Elba and Long in boxes, the same boxes that Holmes is strategically not trying to find himself in. “We all need to open up and people need to see us as artists. We are artists,” he says.

Holmes’ strategy is working in Hollywood. He is heading back to film Season 3 of Star Trek Strange New Worlds, and with the success of Bel-Air and its two-season order, a third one is likely. For his perseverance, style, and charm, Adrian Holmes is our latest Turned Gentleman.

Check out the full interview.

Photographer: Antar Hanif

Stylist: Ini S. Ikpe

Graphic Designer: Justin Carey

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