Akira Akbar on Bel-Air Season 2, Working With Tatyana Ali
"Bel-Air"'s Akira Akbar on Having Tatyana Ali as a Mentor: "She Just Gave Me Such Great Advice"
Image Source: Courtesy of Maarten de Boer and Peacock
In our Q&A series Last Call, we get down to the bottom of every last thing with some of our favorite celebs — from the last time they were starstruck to the last song they listened to. This week, "Bel-Air" star Akira Akbar takes our call.
Like the rest of her "Bel-Air" costars, Akira Akbar is basking in the astronomical success of her hit Peacock series. The 16-year-old stars as the new age Ashley Banks in the nostalgic, dramatized reimagining of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," which kicked off its highly anticipated second season on Feb. 23. Being a part of "Bel-Air" has been a whirlwind experience for Akbar, and though she notes it hasn't completely changed her life, she tells POPSUGAR it has "opened up a lot more opportunities for me."
Prior to "Bel-Air," Akbar had small roles in a handful of TV shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "Criminal Minds," "This Is Us," and "Good Trouble," to name a few. She also starred in superhero flicks like Netflix's "We Can Be Heroes" and Marvel's "Captain Marvel," securing a place in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, "Bel-Air" marks her official breakout role, which is already challenging her with the tough topics the show addresses — particularly Ashley's journey exploring her sexuality.
"I've really connected with this character," Akbar says, "so I definitely think it pushed me out of my comfort zone, talking about her sexuality and everything because that's not normally something I have done on screen." The actor also admits that she's heard the feedback about her performance so far ("mostly good" but "some bad"), however, the only thing she's focused on is "portraying that character on screen for people that are like Ashley."
Fans of the original Ashley fell in love with the character how Tatyana Ali portrayed her back in the '90s. But Akbar says she's determined to bring something new to the table that people will still appreciate about her version of Ashley, a "new modern dynamic" to be exact. "We've definitely made this series a lot more timely and [added] a lot more dynamics like LGBTQ+ [representation]," the actor notes. According to her, "It's still the same Ashley," she just has some new qualities.
Image Source: Peacock
Being a teenager in the entertainment business isn't the easiest thing to navigate, especially when you're on a hit TV show — Akbar can attest to that. The actor, who attends private school whenever she's not filming, says she didn't disclose her acting career to her peers when she started going to her current school, nor did she share her Instagram page because she "didn't want them to act any different." Though her classmates eventually found out about her fame, Akbar says she tried to keep those two worlds separate, only hanging out with her cousins, who also attend the same school. "I just don't know what people's intentions are," she adds.
"She made me feel like I'm doing such a great job and she's really passing me in the torch."
Akbar keeps her circle small these days, with family and her "Bel-Air" cast, which got an exciting new addition this season: Ali, who stars opposite of Akbar as Ashley's teacher Mrs. Hughes. The actor calls the "Fresh Prince" alum's big cameo a "highlight moment" for her, though she admits it was still a "nerve-wracking" experience to portray her version of Ashley in the same scenes as Ali. "It's hard bringing a new dynamic to this iconic character," Akbar shares. "But the words [of advice] that Tatyana gave me, she made me feel like I'm doing such a great job and she's really passing me in the torch."
Ali isn't the only "Fresh Prince" actor Akbar hopes to see join the show — she says Alfonso Ribeiro, aka the original Carlton, who's now played by Olly Sholotan, would be another sweet addition. "I think Carlton and Carlton, that would be such an iconic moment."
Should "Bel-Air" get renewed for another season, Akbar hopes the series will dive deeper into Ashley's activism beyond what's explored in season two. "I also want to see her have more fun with herself," Akbar adds, "because I feel like she's so worried about the world and what's going on in [it] and trying to make it a better place that she really doesn't have time to enjoy life."
Read the rest of Akbar's Last Call interview ahead and tune into new episodes of "Bel-Air" on Peacock every Thursday.
What was the last day of filming "Bel-Air" season two like?
It was so good because the scene that I filmed with Olly was such a touching scene. And it's at the end. It's the last episode and I'm honestly so excited for people to see that. It was such a good scene, but it was also really sad.
Who's the last "Bel-Air" costar you texted?
Jordan [L. Jones]. Because we were all in Olly's trailer and I had to go back to school for 30 minutes and I was like, make sure you guys wait for me. And then he was like, "We're still here. We're still here."
What's the last thing you did with your "Bel-Air" costars off set?
We all just had a press junket on Thursday and so we were all with each other.
What's the last TV show you binge-watched?
Well, I just started watching the new season of "You" and I'm kind of binge-watching that right now.
What's the last song you listened to?
I listen to PartyNextDoor literally 24/7, so I think "Her Way."
What's the last book you read?
"It Ends With Us" by Colleen Hoover. I have two books from Colleen Hoover, but I tend to buy books and forget to read them. I also bought "Verity" [by Colleen Hoover] and I heard that that's really good, so I need to just start reading it.
What's the last photo in your camera roll?
A video for school. I'm literally doing school like 24/7, so it was a video I had to do for school.
What's the last thing you did for self-care?
I think it was the other night, I did a face mask and all this stuff. And I just kind of spent time by myself watching shows.
What's the last trip you went on?
The summer that just passed when I went to Miami, and that was with the whole cast. We were working, but we also got to enjoy the beach and everything.
What's the last gift you received?
[It] was from Adrian, actually. He gave all of us See's Candy for our wrap gift and so that was pretty cool. It was also really good.
What's the last piece of advice you received that changed your life?
It probably wasn't the last piece of advice, but I think what Tatyana told me is to stand my ground and stay humble. But she just gave me such great advice. I just thought it was super surreal getting advice from Tatyana.