Adrian Holmes on Bringing Uncle Phil Into the Present on Bel-Air

Bel-Air, a reimagined take on hit 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is a compelling one-hour drama set in present-day America. Executive produced by the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, this series gives a more complex spin to this tale of a teen who goes from the streets of West Philadelphia to live with family in an affluent Los Angeles enclave.

Adrian Holmes, the award-winning star of Canadian police drama 19-2, steps into the role of Uncle Phil, one of the most beloved TV dads of all time. In a recent conversation, Holmes shared with us his reaction when he was cast on Bel-Air, the way the series is developing the relationship between Will and Uncle Phil, and how Will is helping his uncle reconnect with a part of himself that he’s lost touch with.

First, I absolutely have to know what your reaction was when you found out you’d be playing a new version of one of TV’s most iconic dads.

I was in a vacuum for the first five minutes, and then sound started to come back in and I was like, “Oh, my God, this is happening.” Even when I told my friends, they didn’t even get it. It took a minute for them to process it. They were like, “No, really? But seriously, stop messing around.” As the song says, my life got flipped, turned upside down for real in a beautiful way. I’m so grateful, so honoured, so blessed to be given this responsibility and to play such an iconic, nostalgic, beloved character. And James Avery left a beautiful blueprint for me to tap into so that I can be my best self in this role.

Jabari Banks as Will and Adrian Holmes as Uncle Phil on Bel-Air

I have to say that I appreciate the subtle ways that they’re developing the dynamic between Will and Uncle Phil. They’re peeling it back layer by layer. Have you enjoyed that aspect of playing your character and how he’s finding common ground with his nephew?

It’s a one-hour drama, so we have a long runway. There’s a lot of stuff that we have to address, and we’re doing it bit by bit. Will, coming in from Philly, it’s definitely a bit of a whirlwind, when he comes through the gates of Bel-Air. Philip had to pull a few strings and break some rules to get Will out of jail. If that gets out, it could put a monkey wrench in his whole project. He has to be very careful that Will acts accordingly, and that he doesn’t make the waters, too choppy. Uncle Phil is trying to be that anchor, that real support, the strong patriarch, and the voice of reason. He’s the moral compass for Will, which I love.

Will challenges his uncle, but I also get a sense that Phil is learning as much from his nephew as Will is learning from his uncle. Would you say that Will is helping Uncle Phil reconnect with a part of himself that he may have lost touch with?

Absolutely. Will is actually like a mirror of Philip in a way because Phil comes from humble beginnings. He knows that hard work works. He didn’t achieve his success overnight. It required a long haul and a lot of hard work. He sees a lot of himself in Will, especially how he was when he was younger and the changes that he had to make. Things could have gone left real easy for Phil. Fortunately, he had some good people around him, and within himself a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. He’s trying to be that guide for Will, to let him know, “Hey, I get it. I understand where you’re coming from. I get your struggles because I’ve been there.”

Also, Will shows Phil how to let loose a little bit, and to connect with his authentic self. When you’re career-driven and in that corporate world wearing suits all the time, you can forget who you are because you have tunnel vision. You’re focused on work and your career. Will helps Uncle Phil to loosen his tie a little bit.

Uncle Phil sits at a desk in his office

Besides the scripts and working with the creative team and your co-stars, were there any specific things that you did to help get into the mind of this character?

When we started getting the ball rolling, creator Morgan Cooper gave us all playlists for our characters so we got to get a feel for the roles. It was great for me because the playlist that I received was like my personal playlists, so it confirmed that Uncle Phil and I have the same taste in music. Morgan is such an artist and a visionary and helped us all understand the assignment and the responsibility that comes with it.

Can you share what’s on Uncle Phil’s playlist? Would you say he has an anthem?

He loves his hip hop: A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School, Nas. He doesn’t have one particular anthem, but hip hop is the soundtrack of his life.

Adrian Holmes as Philip Banks on Bel-Air

Are you able to tease anything about the rest of the season, or is there something you want to share about this experience overall?

Things get really hot, and the show keeps getting better and better. That’s a testament to the writers and the creators. For me, this has been a tribute to the late, great James Avery, Rest in Peace. I admired him and his work. He was such a force and an incredible presence. If I could have a fraction of what he possessed, on our show, I’ll be happy. It’s surreal and a dream come true. God is good and again, hard work works. This isn’t something that happens overnight. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and all the roles that I’ve played over the years have led to this moment, so I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m grateful for the journey and it’s been amazing.


Watch Bel-Air Monday nights on Showcase in Canada, or stream it live and on-demand with  STACKTV and the Global TV App. If you’re in the US, you can watch it on Peacock.

Images Courtesy of Peacock

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