Note: This is Karyn Parsons' story, as told to ABC News. For six seasons, from 1990 to 1995, Parsons starred as Hilary Banks on the groundbreaking show, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Today marks the 25th anniversary of the show's first episode. Since then, Parsons, 48, continued to act, but also moved into the world of writing and producing. She's also is the founder and president of Sweet Blackberry, an organization, whose mission is "to bring little known stories of African American achievement to children everywhere." Many of the organization's inspiring stories are now featured on Netflix. Parsons has remained close with the family she, Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro [Carlton], James Avery [Uncle Phil], Tatyana Ali [Ashley] and others built on "Fresh Prince." This is Karyn's story from day 1.
My head still spins. I still find myself going, "How on earth did this happen." It's crazy, you are just auditioning, doing your thing and you stumble on to something like we did. I still remember Will saying, "First thing you realize is you can't go to the mall." I laughed. Little did I know.
The Grueling Audition Process
My God, it was forever. I auditioned for everybody for "Fresh Prince" -- the casting director's assistant, the casting director, the writers, the producers, Quincy Jones, who was amazing, then the studio and the network.
When I auditioned for the network, that's when it's down to you and the other person you're up against. They are all there. Two Uncle Phils are there, two Carltons, two Ashleys, basically two families.
The actress I was up against, she had done a film and was a really pretty, really nice girl. I was mortified. I had actually seen her in a movie she had done. I remember Janet Hubert [who played Vivian Banks] being there and she was up against Denise Nicholas from "Room 222" and "227." They had originally asked for a Denise Nicholas type to play Aunt Viv, and she's actually there! Janet was like, "What am I doing here?"
But in the end, they didn't offer Denise the part and Janet ended up turning out to be right for the role.
They Almost Cut Carlton and Hilary
I was also told later on that Brandon Tartikoff, who was the president of NBC at the time, had said, "I don't really understand the sister character, I think we should probably lose that character."
Luckily, the team was like, "Wait, wait, wait till the this actress comes in." They meant me.
So, I came in and did my thing and after, he was like, "Oh, I get it."
Also, Warren Littlefield, who was the VP, he didn't get Carlton. There was a period that was really tense. They were going to get rid of Carlton. In the writing, the character was changing a lot and it wasn't really clear who he was.
But Alfonso came in there and put his foot in it, and made that character what it was. It's hard to tell, because he played such a goofy character, but Alf, he's so sharp and so talented. He crafted that role into what it is today.
How I found Out I Got the Job
I was working at Delmonico's Seafood Grille in L.A. I had just started my shift and I got a phone call. It was my agent.
At the time, when you got a job, my agent would call you and put you on hold. When they picked up, they'd put you on speaker and everyone in the office would ring a bell to let you know. They put me on hold, and they came back, "Ding, ding, ding!" through the whole office, with everyone screaming "Congratulations!" I was floored.
Believe it or not, I actually continued my shift, but not for long. I was so excited and when a friend of mine came in, I told her what happened. Finally, my boss was like "Get out of here!" I split and I don't know where I was or what I did, but I was so excited.
First Table Reading and First Impressions of the Cast
I knew who Will was because he was the "Fresh Prince" already, he was this accomplished rapper. But he shows up and he's just this cute, floppy, puppy-like guy. He was just so sweet and such a nice guy. We clicked right away.
We all liked each other quickly, really quickly. There was no bad energy anywhere. Excitement at having a new job transitioned quickly into "Oh, I like him, I like her! I like these people." As the first week went on, we were just having a blast. You do the pilot and you are having so much fun and it's so great. Then bye and "Let's hope it gets picked up!"
You honestly never know.
After the Pilot
I went back to my job at Delmonico's. I know what you're thinking but I was being practical.
I remember being there on Sundays, going over the books, sitting at the bar, and Will and his friends coming to the window and making faces at me. They would make fun of me. Will was like, "What are you doing here?! Why are you here?!" I didn't know what was going to happen. I was keeping my job just in case.
But when we got picked up, I was done.
Then we came back to do the show for the first season, all that magic was there and more. It wasn't hard to play family with these folks. James was immediately dad. I loved Tatyana from the moment we met. Alfonso and I became such running buddies. We carpooled together, too. When he bought his house, I liked his house, so I bought a house right down the street. I remember James taking us to where he was going to buy his house. Janet running around with tons of energy. It was great from the beginning.
We were always very affectionate with each other. People always hugging up on somebody.
The Family We Built
I love them so much. Even all these years later. They are just good people, they love me and I love them dearly.
I got to see Tatyana recently and I accidentally called her Lana once, who is my daughter, because I have such deep love for her. She's great and Alf is great.
When Alf got "Dancing With the Stars," we went and visited him. Tatyana went more than once, because she lives in L.A. But me, Joseph Marcell [Geoffrey the Butler] and Tayana went to the show and watched him, cheering him on. When it was announced he was going to be on the show, I knew he was going to win. When he does something, he does it all the way. He commits every inch of himself.
I am going to L.A. soon for this Hollywood Comic Con and I'll get to see them. I hope I get to see Will, but if he's working it gets hard. Whenever I do see Will, I'm always holding on to him, going, "I'm not going to let go of you, cause I don't know when I'm going to see you again." He's just my Will, he's the same person, but he's also busy and a year goes by like it's nothing. It's hard.
When Daphne's around or Joseph, I see them. If James were here, I'd def see him when I'm back in L.A. I know them so differently that everybody knows us.
[James passed at the end of 2013 at the age of 68.]
Joseph used to stay in James' guest house for periods of time. And when James and I lived in the same neighborhood, I used to run into him in the supermarket all the time.
I would drop the kids off and go to the store. We both were there one day and I ran into this guy, who just started jumping up and down, freaking out, "Oh my God, I just saw your dad down there!"
My Life Now and Sweet Blackberry
[Karyn started Sweet Blackberry to instill a sense of culture and heritage into her children, as well as others. In 2005, the organization launched with the story of Henry "Box" Brown, a man who shipped himself, in a box, from Virginia to Philadelphia to freedom in the mid-1800's. Numerous other acclaimed films have followed, narrated by the likes of Queen Latifah and Chris Rock. Last year, Parsons had a Kickstarter to tell the story of Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina. All her "Fresh Prince" family chipped in with perks to amaze. A voicemail from Will's wife Jada or Alfonso, even an opportunity to watch old episodes with the cast. It was a success and the film is now on Netflix with other Sweet Blackberry projects.]
They are all supportive and always will be. Last year, they were just like, "What do you need, what do you want?"
We are even doing a cast lunch to benefit the foundation soon. Everybody is on board, it's really exciting.
Now, we are working on our next story. It's going to be the story of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female aviator to get her international pilot's license. Her story is remarkable and doing what she did in the time she did. So going against the conventional way of thinking. We are in the very early stages. I'm hoping to reach out to talent soon. We had Chris Rock in our last one.
Advice to My Younger Self
If I had to give advice to myself 25 years ago, I would say, "Make it a habit to be entirely yourself." When you are younger, you can sometimes try to please people, you don't even realize it. So, be true to yourself, always. I would tell my younger self to make an effort then, so it becomes a habit.
The mom in me would also say, "Spend your money wisely." I'd limit my trips to Barney's and invest in real estate.
Finally, "Take advantage of the situation, when you are on a successful show, surrounded by people who love you." People are receptive to you and what you have to say. It's nice to know what you want as much as possible, as early on as possible. Young people now, they get involved in producing, writing, they do that while they have the attention. It's not always easy to do that later.
I got into producing later, but when I was in the moment on the show, I was really in the moment. I should have struck while the iron was hot, get in then and meet people then. In my downtime, I found myself writing a lot, coming up with ideas for things. Some of those ideas from back then, I still look and say, "That's still a good idea." I would tell myself, enjoy it have fun, but be smart. If you can step back a bit and say, "What else do you want?"