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TV Interview

What happened to Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

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Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey the Butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

© NBC Universal / Chris Haston


We all know what happened to Will Smith after The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And at the end of last year we discovered that his co-star Alfonso Ribeiro (aka Carlton) was clearly still a busy man as he headed into the jungle to munch on some kangaroo balls in I'm a Celebrity.

But whatever happened to Geoffrey, the Banks family's long-suffering stiff upper lipped butler? Scratch your heads no more, because Digital Spy has caught up with Joseph Marcell to chat about trips to Brighton nightclubs, Turkish fans and why his lack of sex appeal is holding back a reality TV career.

Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey the Butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

© NBC Universal / Chris Haston


Joseph, how often do you start interviews with people calling you Geoffrey?
Almost every other day. I walk round London and people are shouting, "Geoffrey, Geoffrey, Geoffrey". Last year I was in Turkey and it was the same thing. I was in Romania and it was the same thing. Austria same. Germany. Wherever I go in the world, it's astonishing.

It does feel like it's on in every hotel TV I've ever been to around the world, no matter what the country.
Isn't it astonishing? I think Quincy Jones and NBC came up with an extraordinary idea and they saw the possibility, but most of all Will Smith and of course Andy and Susan Borowitz, who created the whole thing. It's just magic - pure magic. These people had the foresight and I wish I had it!

Did you know it was going to be big when you signed up?
Oh no, I had no idea.

Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey the Butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

© NBC Universal / Alice S. Hall


Can you remember how you got the part?
I was actually working on the first British production of an American play called Joe Turner's Come and Gone.

I got a call from my agent saying they wanted me to put something on tape so we arranged it and I sent it back that evening. They got it on Wednesday at about 10am and they said can I be in Los Angeles by that afternoon. My agent said he can't be in Los Angeles for two weeks as he has got a play so they said, 'OK, when he's done we want to see him'.

I finished the play, I flew out to Los Angeles, I arrived at my hotel and my phone just started ringing. Everybody knew who I was and I didn't know anybody. The first person I met was actually James Avery and then I went upstairs to meet Will and all the producers and Debbie Allen, who directed the first episode, and I was in awe of all the important people, and I went outside to have a cigarette with James Avery. I read it again with Will and we got on really well.

So I got the job and we did the pilot and I came back to England thinking not very much of it. I went back to do a televised educational play up in Milton Keynes which took about a month to record, and whilst I was doing that I was told that they wanted to do a full series of Fresh Prince.

Fresh Prince of Bel Air Cast

© Rex Features


What was the reaction like to the show's launch?
It opened at 8pm on a Monday night on September 8, 1990. Monday night was entirely American football traditionally. None of the other networks bothered to put anything up against football because everybody went to see football so we came on and as luck would have it, or design - I don't know which - people decided to leave the football for 28 minutes and came and watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And that is how it has been ever since.

It was a phenomenon, it was totally unheard of that people would leave Monday night football. And as you know in America nothing succeeds like success and the rest is history.

Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro and DJ Jazzy Jeff on the decks behind during filming of the Graham Norton show.

© PA Images / Ian West

Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro reunited


Will Smith was like a rock star in the '90s with all his screaming fans. Did you get in on any of that action?
I get that in 2013! I was touring with The Globe in a production of King Lear, which we are taking to America this summer, and we were at the Brighton Festival. At the end of the festival we went to a nightclub. And I tell you, when people realised who I was and word got out, 280 people stood up and sang out, *starts singing* "This is the story all about how, my life got flipped-turned upside down".

I just thought, 'Bloody hell'. It seems to be a legend of generations.

Why do you think it has endured?
People introduce it to their children and I think it is because it is a family show. There are no other family shows where a father, mother, brother and sister can sit down, relate to someone and not be embarrassed by the risqué things. Yet it is still funny and exciting at the same time.

James Avery as Phillip Banks and Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

© Getty


Your co-star James Avery died at the very end of last year. How close were you two?
For me it was an awful loss because we have been very, very close friends for the past 23 years. When we met we both had credentials of being classical actors, so we had something in common and we were actually just about to start doing some masterclasses at a university in California together.

I was in California at the end of October last year and it looked as though he wasn't well so his wife and I took him to emergency medicine, casualty. We got in and he got a little better. Then they decided he needed a triple bypass, which was to alleviate his pain, and discomfort and he recovered fine enough from that. I came back to England in November and I keep in touch with his wife Barbara, and then on December 31 I got an email saying that he had passed away. I guess that is just life and you just have to accept it.

Has there been any talk about some sort of Fresh Prince tribute for him?
There has been. I did some stuff on CNN for him and there has been other stuff on other channels. But we are hoping that the powers-that-be will do a tribute compilation of stuff that you haven't seen. But that might not be for another few months. Will is in favour of that.

Alfonso Ribeiro before the Bush Tucker Trial

© Rex Features / ITV


Did you catch any of Alfonso Ribeiro in the jungle?
Ha, ha. No, I didn't see it! I was in Brighton at the time, but everybody told me about it. When I saw him in January we did talk about it. It was mentioned.

Have you never been approached to take part in any of those sorts of shows?
No, I have never been approached. Actually, I was approached by a Dutch company to do something about horses, because I'm mad about horses. But that fell through. I'm too dull. I'm not a 'celebrity'. I'm too much of a working stiff of an actor. They need somebody with sex appeal."

I reckon you'd be a pretty good dancer on Strictly...
I can do anything if I have enough time but I don't know if my old bones could take it. Who knows! You don't know until you have tried it!

Joseph Marcell in Death In Paradise

© BBC

Joseph Marcell in Death In Paradise


We're going to see you on UK TV again this week in Death in Paradise. What are you doing? Who are you playing?
I play a man called Alexander. He is very well off and develops property on the island and it would be the equivalent of an industrialist. He lives well but he is very fixed in his ways, not a stick in the mud but a traditionalist. It was a very exciting character to play actually, a decision maker as it were.

The basic story is around his inheritance - he has decided to divide his life's work among his children and there you have the drama. Who considers themselves the favourite, who might not be the favourite and how he surprises everybody.

And where else can we see you in 2014?
I'm currently in a production of Gaslight, which we are doing at the Salisbury Playhouse. That is playing until March 1. And then my King Lear is coming back to The Globe in London in August and then we are going to America with it after that.

Death in Paradise airs on Tuesday (February 25) on BBC One.

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