Of all the people who’ve spoken publicly on the departure of Janet Hubert from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air over the years, Joseph Marcell, who played Geoffrey, has nothing but positive things to say about his former co-star.
“My relationship with Janet was very, very close. I respected her. I thought she was truly excellent at what she did,” he said during an interview recently with the guys of the Hip Hop Uncensored podcast.
So when asked what created the behind-the-scenes drama that would eventually lead to Hubert not coming back after 73 episodes and being a fan favorite, he respectfully stated that he felt his old friend had a hard time dealing with Will Smith being the focus of everything.
“The show is called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the leading actor, the name that comes first is Will Smith and that’s how it is and that’s how it should be,” he said. “I feel that perhaps Janet was not able to deal with that.”
At the time that the NBC hit began, Smith was a popular rapper, but not an actor. Hubert, who graduated from Julliard, had studied and worked as an actor for some time, along with James Avery and Marcell, though they were all new to episodic television. Marcell implied that she wanted more (of what specifically is unclear) as the show became a hit.
“Success corrupts. It eats at you,” he said. “Success doesn’t bring contentment and satisfaction. It brings in most cases, in all of us…it brings out an avarice. It brings out the question of how much is enough?”
Eventually, things between Smith and Hubert got worse and worse, and Marcell would find himself in the middle of it, trying to encourage both parties to hear one another out as word was getting around that there was a desire to get rid of her.
“I was in London and I got a call. I got a call from Will, and I got a call from James Avery and I got a call from Janet. Will was asking me what do I think. Should Janet leave? Should he get rid of her? Should he support her? I said you have to do what you have to do and if you must speak to Janet, you must sit her down and the two of you iron out your differences and come to a point of reconciliation.”
He claims that he also told Hubert to be honest about whatever it is she wanted and/or needed, but to realize Smith’s importance to the sitcom.
“Janet called me and I said, ‘Janet, sweetheart, you have to look at it the way it’s set up. It’s Will’s show and he’s given you as best, I’m sure he could give you more, but you are the female lead of the show. You really are,’” he said. “‘Ask for more money, just don’t create a political impasse where in the end, you are the one who’s going to suffer.’ And those were the words I used. And that was it.”
He found out soon after from Smith that a deal, or “compromise,” couldn’t be reached with Hubert. Smith and show heads were moving on without her. Marcell said she had a change of heart days later and wished to accept the offer that was discussed, but was told that the offer was no longer on the table.
Marcell said during his interview that he made it clear to cast members that he didn’t want to be a part of any negativity directed at Hubert at that time, and it seems he’s not for it in the present day, either, despite the things she’s said.
“I will do nothing to cut Janet’s legs from under her. I will say the truth but I will not put the knife in her,” he said he told the late James Avery. “I will not go to whatever meetings or debriefs and say terrible things about her because that’s not how I operate. She’s a worker like me and I support her.”