“It’s not a reboot. It’s a reimagining”: Olly Sholotan on Bel-Air season two
Following the success of its first season in early 2022, Bel-Air, a reimagining of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, has recently aired its second season, with a third greenlit in March 2023. The Upcoming sat down with Olly Sholotan, who plays Carlton, to learn more about the creative challenges of adapting a memorable sitcom with a new tone and for a new audience, as well as the ways that his version of Carlton has developed over two seasons.
I think we can both agree that the original Carlton Banks was one of the most memorable parts of The Fresh Prince, but also that you’ve taken that character and really made him your own in some new and interesting ways. What was the biggest challenge with adapting Carlton’s character to this tonally-distinct series?
Olly Sholotan: I think the hardest thing is really just the fact that the original exists, right? I mean, look, Alfonso Ribiero, he killed that role, and he did exactly what was needed to do with Carlton when he did it. I grew up on The Fresh Prince. I’ve watched it since I was a kid. I remember when I got the audition packet, in bright red letters it said: “This is not the sitcom. Do not do the sitcom.” And I think seeing that gave me the freedom to just be like, “Hey, let’s just go for it.” I’m a huge fan of, “If you don’t take big risks, you’re never gonna win big”, and so I remember, doing the audition, I was like, “You know what? This might be the completely wrong choice. Let’s just make it an acting exercise. Let’s just go for it and hope it works.” It’s really helped to see my version of Carlton and that Carlton as functionally two completely different characters. I think they share a lot of core beliefs. I think they both are very smart, very driven. They hold themselves to a really, really high standard. But it was really important to me that I let Alfonso’s version be his version, and breathe my own life into this one.
In season one, the show did a lot of introducing the groundwork, laying down the character dynamics and establishing its own narrative identity. With that groundwork laid down, what has the experience of expanding and developing the world you’ve been a part of building been like?
OS: With season one, I would say we were trying to prove ourselves a little bit because when the show was announced, everyone was like, “What are you doing? Why would you reboot this show?” and we were like, “Whoa, wait. It’s not a reboot. It’s a reimagining.” So, with season one, there was an element of figuring it out. We knew that we had something new to say, but we were figuring out how exactly we say this new thing. What’s the tone? What’s our tempo? What’s our speed? And so, to have season one come out, be a success, realise, “OK that works,” with season two, we were able to come in and expand the world and fly. I remember throughout season two, Jabari [Banks, who plays Will Smith] and I would always say, “Yo, I miss you!” because in season one, we were in every scene together, because that was our world. Our world was so small that we had to see how these characters interacted with each other. Then, with season two, every character now has their own world-building, and that’s the beautiful thing about shows like this. As they mature, we get to see a bigger and bigger world.
Bel-Air certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to tackling tough questions and important topics. What are you hoping audiences will take away from season two?
OS: When I was a kid, I watched Skins a lot, which I know is a very popular British television show. And I remember, watching Skins was the first time that I realised that mental health mattered. And I think that that’s the power of media, that’s the power of television. It’s that for a lot of people and – I see this both in my DMs and whenever people come to me on the street – for a lot of kids, media is sort of their first experience with difficult topics, sometimes before they even experience it. And even sometimes while they’re experiencing it, media is their first other experience, if that makes sense. They get to see that they’re not alone. And I just hope that if one person can watch this show and take away that talking about your mental health matters, and can realise that [they’re] not alone really, I think I will have done my job and I think I’ll be happy. I’ll be overjoyed, actually! Playing Carlton has been just the gift of my career, and he’s become like a little brother to me, so I’m very protective of him in a weird way. And so, knowing that there are kids out there going through the same thing, knowing that they can feel a warm embrace by the show and watching this character, that would be my goal.
One thing that stands out about Bel-Air is its soundtrack. As a musician yourself, what’s your favourite song in Bel-Air’s soundtrack?
OS: In episode eight, we use a Kid Cudi song, Tequila Shots. I think that needle drop is one of my favourite needle drops. And [music supervisor] Jen Ross does an incredible job with the soundtrack for this show, so I’m honoured to be a part of it.
What are you most excited for people to watch in Bel-Air season two, and without revealing too much, where would you like Carlton to go in season three?
OS: I’m most excited for everyone to watch this finale! The finale was easily the most emotionally challenging episode for me to film. It was also the most fun just because I love a good challenge, and I think the finale is the most raw that we get to see Carlton and I think it’s now a really cool opportunity for the audience to go with him on this journey of building himself back up. Episode ten easily is what I’m most excited for. And now, going forward for season three, I think that Carlton is in this place where he’s been broken down to his core self, and the audience is gonna get to watch him build himself back up. And he is gonna stumble in some ways, he’s gonna succeed and, he’s gonna meet some people. I’m excited for everyone to watch our little Carlton grow back up.
Bel-Air season two is released on Sky Max on 5th May 2023.
Watch the trailer for Bel-Air season two here: