Olly Sholotan has turned the role of Carlton Banks upside down, in the best way possible.
The 23-year-old actor plays the privileged and out-of-touch cousin of streetwise Will on Peacock’s dramatic reimagining of The Fresh Prince story, Bel-Air. But he’s taken the role a step further than the polo collar-popping, Tom Jones music-loving trust fund kid we used to know and love. Sholotan’s Carlton is elitist, vengeful, disconnected from his Blackness, and struggling with addiction.
Sholotan’s performance has caused quite a stir on social media since the show’s February 13 premiere, with many users lamenting how much disdain they’ve formed for a once-beloved character – a true testament to the effectiveness of his nuanced near-villainous performance.
Though he realizes he’s stepped into some pretty large shoes by reimagining one of the most beloved TV characters of the 1990’s, Sholotan say he actually finds comfort in having such a monumental performance serve as the base for his own.
“I always say that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants,” he told ESSENCE ahead of the show’s Super Bowl Sunday premiere. “I think that really reframed the way I thought about it. I don’t have to think of it as if I’m donning this coat that might be too big for me and I have to see if I fit in it. But rather, I’m building upon an incredible legacy that’s been set.”
Bel-Air finds Carlton putting on smug airs to mask his feelings of jealousy and heartbreak while managing a diagnosed mental health condition. It’s a seemingly drastic turn for the character, yet firmly rooted in plot points the original Carlton tapped into in the story’s original mid-90’s iteration.
“I think having [Alfonso Ribero’s original Carlton Banks] in the back of my mind has liberated me because I don’t have to try to recreate that.”
Instead of recreating that lovably goofy Carlton, Sholotan takes him to a raw, dark place.
“I love that for Carlton, we look at substance abuse, which is something that is pervasive for a lot of kids today, and also mental health. He struggles with anxiety. If one little Black kid can feel seen, that warms my heart and I feel like I’ve done my job.
Coco Jones, who portrays Hillary Banks, agrees that anyone can feel seen and represented by the trials and tribulations of the Banks children – regardless of their rich background and privileged upbringing.
“Because this is a more transparent and more raw, authentic, and at times ugly and scary and intimidating storyline, and the risks that we take…yes, we come from this area code, but even though we’re supposed to be these bougie kids, the storylines and things we go through, anyone goes through them,” she said. “There’s a storyline for everyone no matter your area code.”