Will Smith (character)
|The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character|
|First appearance||"The Fresh Prince Project"|
|Last appearance||"I, Done (Part 2)"|
|Portrayed by||Will Smith|
|Family||Vy Smith-Wilkes (mother)Lou Smith (father; only seen once))
Fred Wilkes (step-father)
Lisa Wilkes (step-sister)
Phillip Banks (uncle)
Vivian Banks (aunt)
Hilary Banks (cousin)
Carlton Banks (cousin)
Ashley Banks (cousin)
Nicky Banks (cousin)
Helen Smith (aunt)
Janice Smith (aunt)
Concept and characteristics
The character of Will Smith is loosely based on the life of actor Will Smith. Smith's charming and mischievous personality earned him the nickname "Prince," which eventually became "Fresh Prince". Smith became a successful rapper, but lost most of his money because of poor budgeting. When NBC signed Smith up for the sitcom, he was almost bankrupt, and it immediately launched his acting career.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
When Will was five, he was abandoned by his father, and was raised in poverty by his mother Viola in West Philadelphia. When he was 14, he engaged in a physical confrontation at a basketball court with a local bully named Omar (Will explains Omar as "the dude who be spinning me over his head in the opening credits"). Because of this and other dangers of living in a ghetto neighborhood, Will's mother feared for his life and decided, as the theme song explains, that Will would be moving with [his] auntie and uncle in Bel-Air." The character was born July 3, 1973, 17.
Following Will's arrival in Bel-Air, he was a great distance from home and was considered an outsider by many people in his Bel-Air neighborhood. Early on, he had a picture of Malcolm X on his wall. He often disagrees with his cousin Carlton, whom he sees as not quite "black" enough because he does not talk in the fashion like other blacks from his perspective. Despite their differences, Will grows extremely close to the Banks family. Will was often depicted as being immature, egotistical, and hedonistic. He was a frequent womanizer who shows more interest in his own personal pleasures than his academic studies, although at times he has shown surprising moments of intelligence and academic success; in fact, he got the highest score on his S.A.T. scores and was offered a scholarship to Princeton but turned it down. Will is, however, good-hearted and never means any malice. He had more negative actions because of his immaturity and lack of foresight, rather than unkindness. In the show, Will's age changes very slowly throughout the series; for the first three seasons, he is said to be 17 and does not turn 18 until the fourth season, and was 19 by season five; however this would eventually contradict the season one episode "Lucky Charm", in which Will says his birthday is July 3, 1973 (given that Will does not turn 20 until the sixth and final season, which aired during the 1995–96 television season). Although he often teases the Banks, especially Carlton and Philip, he cares for them deeply and always tries to make up for what he does wrong. He is closest to Ashley, (who said himself in "Will Gets A Job", that if he had a choice in which of Uncle Phil's children he'd be like it would be Ashley) who admires Will and is more understanding of the different lifestyles they have.
While Smith sometimes perceives Phil as being overprotective of Ashley, he himself also can be; when Ashley asks him about sex, Will became shocked by Ashley's inquiry, which led him and Carlton to go to a clinic to talk to a doctor about how to discuss sex with Ashley. His father, Lou, who had abandoned him at childhood, returns in one episode. His dad promises to take him on the road with him, but later drops Will, which makes him upset. It was by then he realized Philip was the closest to a father he ever had.
Though Will often teases his Uncle Phillip due to his weight and age, he genuinely respects Phillip as a father figure and fiercely defends him when his image or integrity are attacked by outsiders. In an episode, Will is shot at a bank protecting Carlton from a robber. Carlton then feels that Will could have died because of him. During one of Will's visits back to his old neighborhood, he confronts the old park thug, Omar, to restore his damaged reputation. When Will challenges him, he is startled when a reformed Omar refuses to fight back. Omar shuns Will, and through him Will gradually realizes that his reputation is not important. At the conclusion of the show's run, the Banks family decided to settle in New York, while Will remained in Los Angeles to finish his last year of college. Will eventually has become considered a close member of the Banks family and a better man throughout the series end.
UGO editor Bryan Enk praised Will Smith's role as the character, stating "Rarely has there been a television series so perfectly tailor-made for its star than The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air [...] Fresh Prince fit Will Smith like a glove; it was obviously a showcase for him, but his co-stars were just as good, and Smith never hogged the spotlight (or the camera), allowing each cast member to shine in every episode."