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Bel-Air’s Jimmy Akingbola, Jordan L. Jones, & Simone Joy Jones On Geoffrey, Jazz, And Lisa – Exclusive Interview

Bel-Air’s Jimmy Akingbola, Jordan L. Jones, & Simone Joy Jones On Geoffrey, Jazz, And Lisa – Exclusive Interview

Like its sitcom predecessor “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Peacock’s dramatic reboot “Bel-Air” revolves around what happens when West Philadelphia born and raised Will (Jabari Banks) comes to live with his wealthy relatives, the Banks family in southern California. In the original show, characters like the Banks’ butler Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell), Will’s best friend Jazz (DJ Jazzy Jeff) and his fiancée Lisa (Nia Long) helped spice up the story further, and those characters are also key parts of “Bel-Air”‘s ensemble. However, the new versions of the characters have been flipped in fresh and unexpected ways.

Jimmy Akingbola’s version of Geoffrey has been promoted from butler to house manager, but he’s also far more than that. The confidante and advisor of Philip Banks, he also serves as the family’s fixer with a mysterious backstory that makes him more sympathetic to Will’s plight. Meanwhile, Jordan L. Jones’ version of Jazz is the ride-share driver who picks Will up at the airport and brings him to the Banks’ home in Bel-Air for the first time. He quickly becomes Will’s best friend in Los Angeles and the person he turns to for advice. Most changed of all is Lisa, who in the sitcom only appeared in the fifth season. 

In “Bel-Air,” Simone Joy Jones’ version of the character is there from the very start, and while there’s definitely chemistry between her and Will, she’s also Carlton’s ex, making the situation decidedly complicated. This Lisa’s far more than just a love interest — she’s also an accomplished swimmer who’s hoping to make the Olympic team, a goal that’s more important to her than dating.

In an exclusive interview, Akingbola, L. Jones, and Joy Jones spoke to Looper about their continued love for the original sitcom and the unique situations in which the drama of “Bel-Air” put their characters.

Revisiting a classic sitcom

You’re all playing these pivotal characters. How familiar were you with them from the original sitcom when you got your roles?

Jordan L. Jones: Extremely familiar. Overly familiar. I know every episode by heart.

Jimmy Akingbola: He does.

L. Jones: 100 times each episode. I still watch it every day. We actually watched it this morning getting ready for this.

Akingbola: Yup.

L. Jones: So there it is.

Akingbola: Yep, and for me, I grew up in the UK, and it was a hit in the UK. We’d watch it every Tuesday at 6:00 PM. We’d watch “Neighbors” first, which was an Australian soap, and then we’d switch it on to BBC Two, and then we’d start singing the theme tune and eating our dinner at the same time, and nobody would call you for those 22 minutes. [I’m] very familiar, and I’m so excited and proud to be playing the G-Man, Geoffrey, in this rebirth, this retelling.

Simone Joy Jones: I got to watch it a lot [on] Nick at Nite, after all the shows would come on, when the cool shows were happening and the reruns. [The show is] in us, and … it was something where I was so excited to go back and revisit it and take what I loved and infuse it into the new characters, and it was a joy to do character research.

Less jokes, more drama

Jimmy and Jordan, you’re both playing characters who were especially comedic in the sitcom, but they’re more grounded here in a lot of ways. How did you make the characters your own while nodding to the original version?

L. Jones: I love how you said that. Literally, “nodding” is the correct word because what we don’t want to do is do exactly what [the original] Geoffrey and Jazz did, and that also has a lot to do with the writing as well. Because it’s a drama, you don’t have to really … subconsciously, I know everything about Jazz and everything, but in this, he has more depth, so it’s hard for me to be like, “Okay, how would [the sitcom’s] Jazz do it in this situation?” I’ve never seen him be in this dramatic situation.

Joy Jones: That’s a great point.

L. Jones: This is a nod to [director, co-writer, and executive producer] Morgan [Cooper], and him making this a drama and him having bigger storylines for characters that you didn’t really know their background. [It’s] not that I don’t use [the original version of] Jazz, but I’m not on set before a scene thinking about how would Jazz do this. That’s a blessing. It takes off the pressure and allows me to just do what I do.

Akingbola: Yeah, and likewise to Jordan, Geoffrey was amazing in the original and his one-liners, but me and Morgan talked about, “What does that look like in 2022?” Let’s not have him be a butler. Let’s make him an equal. Let’s make [him and Uncle Phil] best friends. He’s his advisor, and there’s beautiful moments where they’re chilling, drinking together and sharing memories from back in the day in their 20s as well as talking about Will. They’re beautiful moments to have Black men, that camaraderie, that Black love, and sharing also that Black excellence. These two men are at the top of their game.

I also spoke to Morgan about the authenticity in terms of [how] Morgan wanted him to be from East London. I was like, “Oh, funny you should say that because I’m from East London. You know me?” I’ve used a lot of my experience of growing up in East [London] and knowing some people that have moved around but never forgotten who they are. As a Black Brit moving to L.A., me and Geoffrey understand Will’s journey. We get what it’s like, that he’s come from Philly and now he’s in this new atmosphere and this new environment. Because of this, Geoffrey’s definitely got experience of the street life, but he’s also lived a certain life where he’s been in the mansions and he’s been in the corporate world. When you put that into one person, he’s so multilayered, and there’s so many places he can go, and he’s a shape-shifter. We’re going to continue the mystery of Geoffrey because we’ve got two seasons, but there’s so much beautiful backstory that we’re going to get into and share with you all.

New episodes of Bel-Air are available on Thursdays on Peacock.

This interview was edited for clarity.

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