Fresh Prince star says ‘people didn’t want to employ me’ after 90s TV fame
Posted by  badge Boss on 3 weeks ago
Fresh Prince actor Joseph Marcell will play Grandad Wilfred in Channel 4 series Queenie (Picture: NBC Universal)

Queenie star Joseph Marcell has enjoyed a lucrative stage and screen career but he’s faced his fair share of hurdles along the way.

Joseph became a household name in the 1990s playing Geoffrey Butler in the NBC sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alongside co-stars , Alfonso Ribiero and James Avery as the Banks family navigated class, race and a wealth of social issues.

Now he’s returning to the world of familial woes, this time based in south , as Grandad Wilfred in the adaptation of which follows the titular 25-year-old journalist (Dionne Brown) struggling to cope after her boyfriend Tom (Jon Pointing) breaks up with her.

Although Fresh Prince (1990 to 1996) comfortably launched Will’s Hollywood career, co-star Alfonso (aka Carlton) recently admitted post-Fresh Prince fame because all people saw him as was his character.

For Joseph, however, the consequences were more of a mixed bag.

The 75-year-old actor told he was ‘luckier than most of them [because he] had a career before the Fresh Prince and so was lucky enough to go back to the classical theater.’

Now 75, Joseph thirved in the theatre world after leaving the sitcom (Channel 4 / Latoya Okuneye / Queenie)

He continued: ‘It did not affect me in that way. What the Fresh Prince has done for me is that it has gilded everything that I do now. So, it has made me a voice to be listened to.’

But the prestige has come with downsides as well.

‘In many cases [I’ve been] a voice to avoid,’ he wryly added.

‘Many people don’t want to employ me because of the Fresh Prince, because they think I might have demands, and of course, I got demands,’ he added.

Despite this, Joseph has stayed booked and busy over the years, performing Shakespeare across the globe and starring in films such as The Exorcism of God.

The role helped and hindered his career (Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

‘What it did was it made me more saleable. It made me more “box office” theater than other people.’

He then added with a good-natured laugh: ‘I mean Alfonso has done very well, he shouldn’t complain.”

Although Joseph is always looking towards new projects, not least Candice’s long-awaited Queenie adaptation, Fresh Prince will always have a special place in his heart.

The cast has stayed close over the years, showing off their decades-long camaraderie in the 2020 reunion special which also saw that caused Janet to leave the show in the first place.

‘The most special thing about the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was that we liked each other. We enjoyed each other’s company on and off the set,’ Joseph said about bringing closure for the cast.

The cast had an emotional reunion in 2020 (Picture: Getty/NBCUniversal)

‘There was this unfinished business in the background, but I think that when when [the reunion] did happen, and it happened during the pandemic, I believe that we were all in favour.

‘When Janet arrived, it was more like going back to the beginning rather than pouring oil over troubled waters, if you see what I mean.

‘The interesting thing about it all was that we didn’t know her because we hadn’t met since 1993 so we had to start again.’

He even teased a cameo in the revival Bel-Air – executive produced by Will -in which he filmed scenes alongside the new Geoffrey actor Jimmy Akingbola.

‘Actually acting on it with my special favorite, Jimmy, it’s just pure magic. Pure magic,’ he said about his upcoming guest appearance.

Now he is stepping into the shoes of the sage Wilfred (Picture: Queenie/ Channel 4 / Latoya Okuneye)

Joseph is the first to admit that much there are some uncanny parallels between Geoffrey and his new role as the patriach of the British-Jamaican Jenkins family in Queenie.

‘I end up doing the sage roles, you know, sitting cross legged on the top of a mountain and spouting aphorisms,’ he remarked.

In the episodes he is a guiding light for his wife Veronica (Llewella Gideon) and granddaughter Queenie, who must face a slew of relationship problems, work troubles and overcome her internal demons.

‘I have just about the worst Jamaican accent one can imagine,’ Jospeh joked about the audition process to land the role. But ultimately, they were looking for an ’emotional, rock tight man’ and Joseph fit the bill.

Joseph with Grandma Veronica star Llewella Gideon (Picture: Queenie / Channel 4 / Latoya Okuneye)

Joseph profoundly connected with the source material, and how it resonated with his own life as an immigrant from the Caribbean.

‘Firstly, the whole thing is in the forefront of people’s minds, and Black people’s minds at the moment,’ he said about the show’s acknowledgment of the generation of citizens who came over in mid-20th century.

‘[Wilfred] was a rebel in a way because he went on the adventure to come to Great Britain, and his care for the people in his charge, the women in his charge, was paramount.

‘This is the point of reconciliation between myself and the character. The fact that he understood his responsibilities both racially and paternally.’

In his youth Joseph’s father, a single dad raising nine children, was ‘totally against’ his dreams of become an actor, calling them a ‘waste of time’.

‘The years that it took for my father to come to terms [with my career] and then of course to celebrate it.’

Dionne Browne leads the cast of the brilliant new series (Picture: Channel 4 / Latoya Okuneye / Queenie)

Despite his long-spanning career, Joseph reflected on how few stories there are that offer ‘an appreciation of Black British life’.

‘The last one I was lucky enough to be a part of was Empire Road,’ Joseph said about the 1978 BBC series that depcited African-Caribbean, East Indian, and South Asian residents living on the eponymous street.

‘It’s something the Americans are good at and we’re not. The time has come and the marvelous thing is, especially with Queenie, that it’s not a man’s world. Candice is a tremendous dramatist, just extraordinary.’

Particuarly during a time when real-life representation is under threat, having TV shows filled with nuanced Black British characters has never been more important.

Joseph explained: ‘To have these characters, albeit fictitional, allows us to have people to look up to. Because who would we have at the moment? is not allowed to stand in the election [].

‘All our heroes are being destroyed all the time. Thank God for the television where you have these people who are solid and actually understand who they are and what their purpose is.’

And for Fresh Prince fans excited to see Joseph back on screen, he guarantees you’re in for a treat.

‘[Queenie] is a serious look at the Fresh Prince. It’s about how a family operates. It’s about how a family supports each other. It’s about how a family fights. It’s about love and forgiveness.’

All eight episodes of Queenie will drop on Channel 4 on June 4.