With the recession still looming one might fantasize about moving into the Bank’s California home from the “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” To think that this family took in a relative to give him a better life sounds more appealing today than it sounded as I watched with friends during my teenage years. One such character that we hated to love was Hilary. Hilary played the part of the pretentious sister who was dependent on her daddy and cousin to Will Smith. After six years in this role, Karyn went on to star in such movies as “Mixing Nia.” Karyn has now assumed the role of a lifetime, Mom.
In an exclusive interview with Butterfly, Karyn shares her journey from being a star on Fresh Prince to being a star in her own family:
BN: What was it like working with Will Smith for six years? Do you remain friends today?
KP: I am happy to say that we are still friends. The whole cast has managed to stay close. We went through a very special time of our lives together and during that time we had a blast. Working with Will was such a treat. So much fun. I mostly just went to work and laughed all day.
BN: Any funny bloopers we can laugh along with?
KP: Well, they’ve shared so many of the bloopers and outtakes in the end credits of the re-runs now, but… well, I remember Will once mooned James (Uncle Phil) off camera. I didn’t see it, but James’ face said it all.
BN: Did you at any point feel as if you were being typecast after six years?
KP: I was, and still often am, thought of as a certain way (ditsy, snobby, shallow, an airhead) because of the character I played, but that’s actually kind of a compliment, isn’t it? Means I was, uh… convincing. So, I can’t get too down about that besides, I really think being on FP opened more doors for me than it kept closed.
BN: What was life like as a young star in Hollywood and why do you think so many girls fall prey to stardom?
KP: Things were a bit different during my time on the show from how they are now. The celebrity thing is far more intense now. You didn’t have paparazzi all over the place, trailing people, being so reckless and having no shame.
Many young girls get into the business because they’re really feeling their power as young women. Their youth and beauty is also very attractive to others and they are treated favorably. But there‘s no balance and their relationship to the thing they think they wanted so badly (fame, money, attention) is tenuous. They end up becoming victims of that thing they thought they wanted. But if there’s something genuine there (a true desire to act, sing, create…) and there’s a support system at home or with friends who really care about the person and are looking out for her, then “stardom” can’t take them down because they were always interested in something deeper.
BN: Is acting the path your daughter wants to go down? What are your feelings about your children’s choice of career?
KP: She’s six. I was certain I wanted to act at 6. Crazy, but true.
She has expressed an interest in acting, but, right now, we’re not going to steer her in that direction. Not shoot it down, just not encourage it so much. We’d rather support her and continue to show her all of the options out there…. And secretly pray that she changes her mind and wants to become an architect or something.
It’s such a crazy and fickle business. When you put yourself out there for the public to scrutinize, it can really mess with your head and disturb your confidence in yourself. It doesn’t for everyone, but it does for so many. I certainly don’t want that for her. And I don’t EVER want her to measure her value by other people’s standards.
BN: Did you always dream of becoming an actress and is there so much more you dream of doing?
KP: I did always dream of becoming an actress. Since I was 6. But, honestly, things changed. It’s not that I don’t still love acting. I think I always will. But I get more excited these days by what I can do through my company, Sweet Blackberry.
BN: Can you please share your project and commitment to educating kids about black history?
KP: By teaching kids about the contributions of African Americans in this country, and its culture, we show them their value in the community and that of their neighbor’s. At Sweet Blackberry, we’re committed to reaching beyond the handful of stories we are frequently taught and bringing to light little-known, incredible stories of African American achievement that risk being lost forever. And in these stories, there are great lessons about working together, understanding one another and overcoming tremendous obstacles.
BN: What is Garrett’s Gift all about? How do you hope this book will impact the lives of your own children?
KP: Garrett’s Gift tells the story of African American inventor, Garrett Morgan. Many people are unaware that a black man invented the traffic signal. Our story follows Garrett as a young boy who doesn’t think he’s good at anything and can contribute anything. He later realizes that his creative mind, that often got him into trouble, was actually the mind of an inventor, that inventing was his “gift”. And so, his “gift”, in return, was the traffic signal.
BN: How did your career shift, if at all, after you had kids?
KP: After I had my daughter, I allowed myself some time to really think about whether I was doing what I wanted to do or not. It’s important for all of us to be true, but I think with kids it’s even more important because THEY ARE WATCHING. They are soaking up every little bit of what you do and who you are and it’s going into their little computer. And they will do what you DO, not what you say. So, if we want them to be true to themselves, we have to start with doing it ourselves.
BN: Do you believe it is possible for mothers to do and have it all?
KP: Absolutely. I do think, though, that once we become mothers, we need to re-evaluate what that means to us.
BN: What’s your idea of the perfect day?
KP: A day spent on the beach with my husband and kids, not a care in the world, lots of laughing, and we don’t go home till we’ve watched the sun set.
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