Morgan Cooper Doesn’t see “Bel-Air” as a reboot of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” the classic ’90s sitcom starring will Smith. While the new drama series Peacock also centers on a fictional version of Smith, a confident West Philadelphia teen who sees his life turned upside down when he moves into his uncle and uncle Bel-Air’s mansion, Cooper considers it more a “re-imagining” than a reboot. “I don’t think you can ever replay ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and do it the same way,” Cooper said in a new exclusive interview with the Gold Derby. “It takes the spirit of the characters and the concept and completely turns it on its head and puts it in a completely different time, with a different look at these characters.” Watch the video via web chat above.
Cooper’s vision began in 2019, when he created a short film/mock trailer that reimagined “Fresh Prince” as a drama. The film went viral and caught the attention of Smith himself, who said he liked it and asked him if he wanted to do anything with it. Cooper took the opportunity to pitch his idea to adapt it into a proper drama series. The producer likens this experience to a moment of truth in his career, something that “can really change the course of your career.” He also praised Smith for challenging him in a “really positive way” to bring the show to its fullest potential.
Several character changes were made from “Fresh Prince” to “Bel-Air”, such as Carlton (now hooked), Aunt Viv (now involved in the art world) and Hilary (now influential), but the most significant change was finding New Will Smith. Cooper and the casting director finally found a rookie Jabari Banks, who had never been seen on screen before, to step into those famous shoes. Cooper remembers meeting Banks and quickly learns that he was the one in question. “Seeing the look in his eyes and his charm and his charisma and his seriousness,” Cooper recalls, “he was so excited.” He took pictures of Banks in action, realized he was perfect for the role and the rest was history.
“Bel-Air” marks Cooper’s first feature-length project as a director, producer, and writer, having mostly done short films in the past. As the multiple hyphenated felt pressure, his vision of the view pushed him forward. “It’s all about just taking one step at a time every day,” he explains. “More than anything else, I believed in the idea, and I still believe in the idea.”
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