On the WrapWomen blog, “Bel Air” actor Cassandra Freeman discusses how she reimagined the classic Aunt Viv character.
Cassandra Freeman, a star of “Bel Air,” is the niece of one of the most significant African American art collectors in the country. Even though they were in a high position and had a lot of money, the actress’ aunt and uncle always had a sense of balance, which always surprised her. In Peacock’s remake of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” the actress wanted this trait for her character, “Vivian Banks.”
In a recent Zoom interview with WrapWomen, Cassandra Freeman said, “I wanted [Aunt Viv] to feel like she’s only one foot out of Philadelphia and she just happens to be surrounded by plenty.”
Like the original series, “Bel Air” follows Will (Jabari Banks) as he navigates a difficult route from the streets of Philadelphia to the gated mansions of “Bel Air,” where he resides with his Aunt Viv, Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes), and their three kids: Hilary (Coco Jones), Carlton (Olly Sholotan), and Ashley (Akira Akbar).
According to Freeman, “the program as a whole is attempting to offer a lot more empathy to people who maybe we just knew the surface about.” ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ is more like, let’s read these people’s diaries, while ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ is like the cocktail discussion.
The “Bel Air” actress decided not to communicate with Janet Hubert, who originated the character of Aunt Viv in the 1990s comedy, while preparing for the part. Cooper, according to Cassandra Freeman, made it clear that the actors were not there to fill the roles of the original cast but rather to create their own characters based on their own experiences.
In Freeman’s case, this involved recalling how her aunt and uncle managed to maintain a sense of reality despite being surrounded by a privileged group of friends.
Pauletta Washington and Jada Pinkett Smith, two professional women who had similar beliefs to Freeman, served as further inspirations. Despite being surrounded by such grandeur, “there are a lot of ladies I’ve met in my job that have that sensation. They’re very much anchored in where they’re from,” Freeman remarked.
Michelle Obama was another role model for Cassandra Freeman’s depiction as Aunt Viv. The actress compared Aunt Viv to Michelle Obama, saying, “I think when you first meet [Aunt Viv] she’s like a paper doll of what it means to just be flawless and have everything put together.” She alters her appearance, her gait, and her manner of speaking in order to blend into her husband’s milieu.
But I believe that throughout the course of the season, she makes the decision to rediscover who she once was and to see that it’s still possible to [change]. One Viv is the person you see when the program first starts. It is not the same person if you remain until the very end.
On “Bel Air,” which is now streaming on Peacock, see Aunt Viv and your other favorite character undergo a change. Each Thursday, new episodes are released.
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