Will Smith cries while paying tribute to his ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ dad James Avery during the highly-anticipated reunion. He also reveals what James whispered in his ear during a pivotal episode.
James Avery was deeply missed during The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion that dropped early on HBO Max. Will Smith and the rest of the cast paid tribute to James, who played Banks patriarch Philip Banks, during the special. Will shed many tears reflecting on the impact James, who passed away in 2013, had on him as a young actor.
“James, he pushed me so hard,” Will admitted to the cast. “His thing was, I’m in such a unique position and that responsibility you must elevate your craft. You have to represent, and you are paving a way, and he just wouldn’t give me an inch.”
Will recalled the episode where his character’s father resurfaces after 14 years. Will said that he looked up to James and desperately wanted James “to think I was good.” When co-star Tatyana Ali mentioned it, Will noted that he also wanted James to be “proud” of him.
In the season 4 episode, Will and Uncle Phil have an emotional conversation about Will’s father. Will revealed to the cast that he “flubbed” his line in front of the audience. “I messed it up in front of the audience and my mind snapped,” Will continued. Will admitted that he was angry at himself, and it was James who stepped in to help. James told Will, “Get yourself together.” And then James called “action.”
“The scene that we do is the scene that ended up being in the episode,” Will said. At the end of the charged scene, Will and Uncle Phil hug each other. Will revealed that James whispered in his ear at that moment, “Now that’s acting.”
As Will remembered the story, he pulled out a tissue to wipe tears from his eyes. “People don’t even know when they’re shaping you and forming you and crafting you…” Will admitted. The cast and Will agreed that James knew exactly what he was doing with them.
A reel of James’ best moments were then shown to the cast. By the end of the reel, everyone was in tears. Will continued to cry and wipe tears from his face. The special also featured Alfonso Ribeiro, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Karyn Parsons, Janet Hubert, and Joseph Marcell.