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joseph marcell interview


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check this out guys, i found this cool interview yesterday :pony:

The Butler did it!, 21.2.05

Forget Benson or hip hop ’s first manservant,Farnsworth Bentley.The coolest black butler ever has got to be The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ’s Geoffrey Butler.

The fictional Banks family’s British hired help was an instant hit with viewers from the moment the show made its debut in 1990. This was probably due to the character’s brilliantly written desert-dry put-downs, which never failed to put his often pompous employers in their place.

Veteran actor Joseph Marcell, 56, (pictured), who was born in St Lucia and raised in Britain, played the part of Geoffrey for the show’s entire six-year run.

Even though Marcell has appeared on popular UK TV shows such as Empire Road, The Bill, EastEnders and Brothers and Sisters, he is still mostly recognised for the role that took him half way across the world and made him as famous as ‘a rock star’, as he puts it.

People stop him in the street, kids go crazy when he enters a room and he received a standing ovation at a British comedy awards ceremony that nearly brought the event to a standstill.

This is not surprising. When Marcell first appeared on our screens as Geoffrey 15 years ago, it was a major deal. A black actor from the UK going to America to film a television show was unheard of back then.

The fact that the vehicle was credible, well-written and hilarious earned him the respect he still enjoys today. It’s been 10 years since The Fresh Prince ended but it is still one of the top syndicated shows in the US, airing in numerous countries around the world.

Repeats continue to be shown on BBC Two and Sky’s Trouble TV. Marcell, who is now a regular on the popular US soap The Bold and the Beautiful, is back in the UK spending time with his wife and 16-year-old daughter, as well as chasing up theatre and film projects. We took the opportunity to meet up with him and discuss some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of The Fresh Prince.

How did you get the role of the Geoffrey?

In 1990, I was doing a play at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn called Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The producers of [The Fresh Prince] sent me some script pages to audition to and put on tape. I did it and sent it back to them. They called back and said, "Do it again and do it this way," and I did. And then they said they wanted me in America.

How were they aware of me? Some of the people involved in the show had seen me before in America with the Royal Shakespeare Company. That’s how the whole thing fell into place.

What did you think of the script when you first read it?

I thought it was hilarious. However, I must admit, I wasn’t aware of Will [smith] at all. I had seen one of his music videos, but it hadn’t registered,I really didn’t know who he was.

How was the chemistry between the cast initially?

I think it was cast perfectly as the chemistry was exactly there as soon as sat down to read. I think it was because we were all new, and that really was all of us, including Will, because this was his first acting job.

We really liked each other and we found a way of understanding each other. We’d go to Hawaii, all seven of Will would pay. We would do trips like that regularly so we all bonded.

Did you have any idea of how successful the show was going to be?

Not at all.I just kind of thought: "Well, I can make a few bob for a couple of months and I won’t be quite as skint."

But what you have to remember is, America is not like Britain. Things aren’t done for the fun of it. It’s a commercial investment.

The people at NBC, Stuffed Dog [NBC’s production company] and Quincy Jones would not have invested something simply because it was a good idea. Somebody must have decided that the commercial possibili-ties of it were magnificent.

I think, at the time, America was looking for that kind of black boy-next- door and that is how Will appears to America.

What is your favourite episode of all time?

My favourite Geoffrey episode of all time is called The Def Poet Society. That is when Geoffrey becomes a fic-tional poet and starts spouting lines such as: "Cannons to the left of them, Cannons to the right of them". I’ve never been given a part in a verse play after that [laughs].

Another one is the earthquake episode, when Will is trapped down in the basement with his girlfriend [Tisha Campbell] and her knickers fall off accidentally. Now that was funny.

Who were you closest to in the cast and do you still see any them?

We all got on very well, but you have to remember that we were all dif-ferent ages, so the person that I am very close friends with is James Avery [Philip Banks]. We are very close friends and we still see each other all the time.

I have kind of a good friendship with Karyn Parsons [Hilary Banks] and Janet Hubert-Whitten, who played the first Vivian Banks. We are very close friends as well.

I haven’t seen Will for about a year – I saw him last Easter – but I see everybody else. We do get together. The last time we got together as a group was Alfonso Ribeiro’s [Carlton] wedding. That was in 2002.

We were all supposed to go to the US premiere of Will’s new movie, Hitch, last night but I couldn’t go because I’m here in London.

There were rumours of ego prob- lems behind the scenes.How did this affect the running of the show?

America is very star-driven and the star can fire the director or the writers. So naturally, after the third year, Will wanted to control the show. He was no longer a kid and his people wanted control.

For a lot of us, this was simply how the game was played and we accepted it. As long as I got my cheque and publicity, and all the things I agreed to, the politics of the show was not my business.

But other people wanted to be involved in the politics of the show and got burnt for it. Janet didn’t feel it should be going in the direction it was going, but it wasn’t her show and unfortunately she over-estimated her own importance.

How did Daphne Maxwell Reid, who replaced Janet as Vivian,fit in with the cast?

She was a nice, pleasant lady and we all got on well with her, but she wasn’t Janet.

Did the show open doors for you?

In America it opened a lot of doors but over here it closed a lot of doors. For people who had employed me before I’d either become too grand, too expensive or they didn’t know how to cope with me.

In America I did get typecast a few times, like when I did [Queen Latifah’s] sitcom Living Single and they wanted me to play a butler. I still did it though [laughs]. In America they can buy your pride.

The show I’m currently doing, The Bold and the Beautiful, they originally wanted me to play a butler but luckily they realised that that would be a bit silly and changed it to a confidant – a bit of a spy and not a very nice person.

It’s going fine but I’m taking a break at the moment because I had to come home.

Do you think the show set the agenda for future US sitcoms?

Oh yes, absolutely. But I don’t think either Living Single or [LL Cool J’s sit-com] In the House, which have been cited as followers and which I’ve done both of, have the same kudos, writing and charisma that The Fresh Prince had.

But they have definitely taken from the foundations we laid down. I think that’s the same for a lot of the white shows as well.

Fresh Prince is not the most original story but it’s a timeless story and the cast was set up in the way that America had never seen: a wealthy black family.

The Cosby Show was a middle-class family, but this was a family with a mansion. Cosby’s daughters were serious people; the family didn’t have a daughter who simply wanted to spend money. This was the next stage up.

What do people say to you when they recognise you in the street?

People come up to me, shake my hand and say: "Oh my God, you’re so good. You make me laugh, you’ve res-urrected my life." I have to say that 99 per cent of the time it really is amazing to me.

A few years ago I was given a black comedy award over at the Hackney Empire and I walked into the theatre and the place just erupted like I was a rock star or something.

I’m like a secret that most black people know about and a only a few white people know about, and there’s nothing like being acknowledged and congratulated by your own; it’s marvellous and it happens to me in the UK, the USA and Canada.

You ’ve worked on shows in Britain and America.How do the two compare?

The actors don’t have as much power over here as they do in the States. With Brothers and Sisters you had all these scripts that weren’t written with the actors.

It’s OK to do the first few like that, but once the roles have been occupied by actors, the writers have to come and see them.

That’s the difference between us and America. Also, there are a lot of things that would not be allowed on US TV as far as black people are concerned – The Crouches, for instance. Black people in America would not allow them-selves to be portrayed like that.

I haven’t actually seen it, but I’ve read about it and I think it’s outrageously offensive

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that was an awesome interview!! I think Joseph was spot on with his comments on Aunt Viv/Janet and his fav episode the Raphael de la ghetto 1.. his poetry reading was classic!! :lolsign: :lolsign:

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I couldn't believe it when i saw him at the London Hitch premiere, i was happier seeing him than seeing will, then man is a legend

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