After the first three seasons of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the actress who played Aunt Vivian switched from Janet Hubert to Daphne Maxwell Reid, leading to years of speculation from fans and tabloids. But the actual reason behind Hubert's departure was never explained until this week. In the wake of Wednesday's Fresh Prince reunion special, Smith sat down with psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula on Red Table Talk to suss out the roots of their animosity.
On the episode, Durvasula and Smith watched clips from the special and broke down how the relationship fell apart. Ultimately, they traced it back to Smith's difficult childhood. Will said he became an entertainer from a young age in part to ease the tension in a violent and abusive household.
"My father was violent in my house. So a part of the whole creation of Will Smith, the joking, fun, silly, was to make sure that my father was entertained enough not to hurt my mother or anybody in the house," he said. "Right? So, that plucks a childhood space of inadequacy and when someone comes at me like that, the little boy is fully in that space and I would perform and dance and tell jokes, right? People laughing and people having fun was my defense mechanism."
When Hubert didn't laugh at Smith's act, it unconsciously brought up feelings of danger. He admitted he projected the dynamics of his real family onto his television family, without understanding that was what he was doing.
"Janet was Julliard trained. Janet can sing. She can dance. She can act. She’s brilliant. And she was in the parental figure, so my little boy desperately needed her approval," he said. "I just noticed now in this moment that I fell back into my family dynamic with my television family...I needed everyone to feel joyful so that I could feel safe."
Smith added that he viewed Fresh Prince as a lifeline that saved him from drowning in debt and tax obligations as his music career flagged. The rift between Hubert and Smith—and her turning down a contract from NBC—felt like a threat to Smith's livelihood.
"I felt threatened. At that point in my career, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air really saved my life," he said. "The Fresh Prince represented life."