Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Disney Dreamers Academy
Akira Akbar has made waves in entertainment with roles in It’s us, Captain Marveland We can be heroes. She also plays the role of Ashley Banks in the hit series Peacock, Bel-Air – a trendy and significantly updated version of the fan favorite The prince of Bel-Air.
While The prince of Bel-Air took a more comedic approach to the fact that Will Smith was uprooted from his life in Philadelphia and moved to the glitz and glamor of a wealthy California town, Bel-Air brings the grit and the drama. Akbar plays Ashley Banks, Will’s cousin on the show, and she knows exactly how to execute Ashley’s new character with emotion and power.
Ashley is a young adult who isn’t going to just sit back and fit into the mold. Ashley will challenge the odds, stand up for what she believes in, and set a precedent for other young people who need to believe in themselves.
We had the opportunity to speak with Akbar about Bel-Airhis passions and why it’s crucial to update the characters with the pressing life issues we live in now.
WGTC: The original series aired before your time, but we need to know: were you a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air before you auditioned for Bel-Air? If so, which characters from the original cast stood out to you the most?
Akbar: I loved the original! My parents grew up watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and they shared their love with my siblings and me. My favorite character is Ashley, not just because I’m portraying him, although that’s pretty amazing! Ashley was the closest to me in age and watching her navigate life, family and growing up was very relevant.
Why do you think it’s important to bring updated versions of characters to the new series?
Akbar: I think it was important to bring updated versions of the new series to viewers because we don’t live in the same world. Our world has changed so much, and it’s beautiful to see updated versions of the original characters reflect that change.
What’s your favorite thing about bringing Ashley’s character to life?
Akbar: I love telling Ashley’s story. I love that Ashley represents so many teenagers today – coming together, exploring the world around them, and standing up for what they believe in. I had the chance to talk to Tatyana Ali during filming, which meant so much to me. It was a special moment for sure.
For those who haven’t done so yet, Bel-Air focuses heavily on the real issues facing young adults today. From sexuality to addiction, anxiety and violence – the idea that we need to prepare our young people for the world rather than just trying to protect them from it is definitely on display with Beautiful Air.
Ashley and Hilary are very close in Bel-Air; Has Coco Jones been a mentor to you behind the scenes like Hilary is to Ashley?
Akbar: Yes, of course, she helped me a lot. She has become a big sister to me. Coco has the best personality and energy, and she makes it easy to be on set and share scenes.
What has been your favorite scene to film so far?
Akbar: I would definitely say the breakfast scenes because that’s where we’re all together, even if it takes hours, we’re all having fun. Oh, and we get to eat, my favorite thing to do!
Which character do you feel most connected to, besides Ashley?
Akbar: I would say Will. He’s strong, he’s caring, and no matter what, he’s there for you.
Is there anything (spoiler-free, of course) you can tell us about Bel-Air’s future that you can’t wait to share with fans?
Akbar: I can’t give any spoilers, but I will say episode 10 is the one you don’t want to miss! It’s going to be awesome!
* Episode 10 is now available on Peacock.
It’s us is one of our favorite TV shows, and you have to bring a young Beth to life; what was it like to be part of this amazing series? What is one thing you will savor from this experience?
Akbar: Working with Phylicia Rashad. He is a legend and a master class in acting. I was young, but I would love to have the opportunity to work with her again. And the whole of It’s us is a real family; I felt at home.
You are so young and so talented; the road ahead will undeniably be long and full. How do you hope to impact the entertainment field as an actress?
Akbar: I would like my impact to show everyone that they can do and be whatever they want, as long as they are passionate. Discipline and passion equal excellence for me.
You are passionate about inspiring young women around the world to stay true to who they are and recognize their power; these are admirable passions for someone so young. Who in your life has helped you realize your power and your truth?
Akbar: My mother, of course. She’s strong, smart, and she loves me. She taught me a lot about life, business and how to be a nice human. Without her, I couldn’t do half of what I do. Either way, she’s always there for us.
We also heard that you love baking; what is your favorite treatment?
Akbar: I love making brownies, for sure it’s a must!
Tell us about your perfect day; if you could wake up and do anything, what would it be?
Akbar: I like peace, so listening to music, shopping online (I like fashion) and enjoying my favorite food are good days.
Akbar has just launched her career, and with the drive and talent she possesses, she will undeniably be for a long time to come. The end of Bel-Air airs March 31, so you can catch up with the series now on Peacock. A second season has been greenlit, but there is no premiere date yet.