Anticipation is high on the upcoming reboot of Bel-Air. Actor Jimmy Akingbola who takes on the character of Geoffrey in the new series, tells AugustMan what audiences can expect.
When discussing iconic 90s sitcoms, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is definitely part of the conversation. Serving as a launch pad for then-rapper, Will Smith into the world of acting, the sitcom follows a streetwise kid from Philadelphia who finds himself in the upper class neighbourhood of Bel-Air.
After several seasons, the sitcom went off the air in 1996. But now after 26 years, the story has been updated for a new audience. Bel-Air stands as a reimagined vision will dive deeper into the inherent conflicts, emotions and biases that were impossible to fully explore in a 30-minute sitcom format. That said, Bel-Air also stands to deliver the swagger and nods to the original show.
In the series, British actor Jimmy Akingbola takes on the coveted role of ‘Geoffrey’, a role which was portrayed by Joseph Marcell in the OG series. In this new serialized one-hour dramatic analogue of the ’90s sitcom, the role of Geoffrey expands beyond of being just a butler in the Banks household. The character is now a trusted advisor to Phil and the Banks family and serves as an integral piece to the new story for Bel-Air.
An actor with extensive experience starring in Emmy-winning series, Ted Lasso and the Emmy-Nominated Most Dangerous Game for Quibi, Akingbola serves as a solid addition to the stacked cast of Bel-Air. Prior to this new role, the actor also featured in British sitcom, Kate and Koi and in the drama comedy series, In The Long Run, starring opposite Idris Elba. Now as he takes on the exciting new role of Geoffrey, Akingbola offers his involvement in the series, and his take of the character in this exclusive interview.
So how does it feel being part of this reimagining of such an iconic series?
Well, I feel grateful, blessed, and excited to be a part of this historical moment and to be working with creators, Will Smith and Morgan Cooper. I’m very proud to be a part of a diverse and inclusive show that really reflects the world we live in and is celebrating Black Excellence. It’s 2022, and we have made sure our show will have something relatable for everyone.
Being a modern-day dramatization, how different is your take of Geoffrey?
My Geoffrey is very different because he is not a Butler; he is a House Manager and much more. He comes from East London and has much more swagger and edge than the original Geoffrey. His relationship with Phillip is also different. They are basically like brothers. Geoffrey is his right-hand man, and they go way back. Morgan and I also talked about the importance of the Black British voice in America and how we wanted to create a Geoffrey that represented a different side of the black community in the UK. Basically, if the original Geoffrey was more like Roger Moore’s James Bond, then our version is more like Daniel Craig’s Bond.
Were you a fan of the original series, did you take any inspiration from the original?
Yes, I was a HUGE fan of the original. I remember watching it with my family every Tuesday, I think about 6 pm. We would always sing the opening credit song as we ate our dinner. Will’s character inspired me to basically be the class funny guy, and that’s probably why my GCSE’s weren’t great! The show also inspired me at times to read more and be aware of my black history.
What are the major differences or similarities between Geoffrey of the old series and the new one?
The similarities are that Geoffrey is part of the family. He lives in the Bel-Air mansion and is like an uncle to the children, and he loves them dearly. He knows what each of the children are going through and keeps an eye on them from a distance, and steps in as and when. The other similarity is that he still works for Phil.
And what about the major differences are between Bel-Air and The Fresh Prince?
In my eyes, Bel-Air is completely different from the Fresh Prince because it is a serialized one hour drama set in 2022. The vibe of the show is epic, beautiful, and vibrant and has a cinematic tone. The original Fresh Prince was only 22min’s long and a comedy sitcom, so with ours being a drama, we are able to dive deeper into our favourite character’s and at the same time dramatically raise the stakes and cover more issues.
In your opinion, does the series work better as a drama or a comedy?
Right now, in 2022, I will say that the only way you could do this show is as a drama. Just like the only way you can do the Rocky films again in 2015 & 2018 is by calling it Creed! And for me, Morgan Cooper is the next Ryan Coogler!
How different is this role from your previous body of work?
Very different! I love comedy, and I recently played Idris Elba’s brother in the Starz/SkyTV comedy “In The Long Run” this show was hilarious and set in the ’80s. I played a funny and charming DJ from Serre Leone who loved women and was trying to find his feet in the UK after moving there in the 1980s. In some ways, he was a bit of an African Will Smith character now that I think about it. A fish out of water story… check it out if you haven’t watched it. Idris and I have a lot of fun!
Are you excited for audiences to see this new take of Bel-Air?
Yes, I’m super excited! Bel-Air will feel deeply nostalgic for fans of the original series and will be highly entertaining. I will say this… you don’t have to have seen the original show, but after watching Bel-Air, you’re going to want to binge it asap!
Catch Jimmy Akingbola in Bel-Air, airing 13 February 2022. The series broadcast on NBC’s Peacock.
(Portrait images taken by Joseph Sinclair)