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In Conversation: Olly Sholotan (Bel-Air S2)

Joy-Zahara-Bina caught up with Bel-Air star Olly Sholotan who plays Carlton Banks in the re-imagining of 90s sitcom 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'.

I absolutely love Bel-Air by the way. You're doing an excellent job. It's been absolutely inspiring to watch and encouraging. Yeah, you've got me all the way sucked in. The first question I wanted to ask actually is bit loaded. I felt like in the first series, I feel like he's [Carlton] trying to conform and fit in. And I feel like, from the second season, he's gradually starting to embrace his authentic self with help of Will, because Will has been authentic from beginning till now. I feel like now, Carlton is trying to find a sense of belonging, instead of just fitting in. So how has that transition been for you as an actor?

Oh, wow. That's a great question. I mean, you know, I think the it's interesting, right? Because Because first season, as an actor, you we all sort of going into the first season understood that, hey, the world is going to be really, really interested in what we do and how we set ourselves apart. Right. And so, you know, I think going into it, there was this pressure to kind of figure out what who Carlton was like, right now and right then. But in a way, it sort of helped that he, as a character was finding himself and finding his way and, and just, like you said, working to fit in into Bel-Air Academy. So in the second series because Carlton has a better sense of self and is finding his own version of what being Carlton means. It was great coming at it as an actor, because, you know, in a way, I kind of mirrored that. Between the first season and the second season, there's just been, I always say, I feel like in the last two years, I've grown seven. So taking my experience and putting it into Carlton was just a really cool gift.

(L to R) Jimmy Akingbola, Cassandra Freeman, Adrian Holmes, Jabari Banks, Akira Akbar, Olly Sholotan, Coco Jones

I often say Carlton has kind of become like a little brother to me, because in a lot of ways, he reminds me of a younger version of myself, because I think so much of his downfall is he holds himself to an impossible standard, and he doesn't settle for less than greatness. And, you know, I think that as Black people that is a it's both a strength and a curse, right? Because I think it's what makes us so relentless, and it's what makes us so incredible. But at the same time, there are a lot of downfalls. And there are a lot of sort of personal demons that you can end up fighting that I'm glad I figured out and I'm excited for Carlton to figure out.

Have you ever had to like, have you ever felt like you didn't belong? And how did you navigate that?

I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and then I moved to Nigeria, where I grew up because my family's Nigerian. I grew up in Nigeria until I was 10 and then I moved to the States when I was 10. And you know navigating that was so interesting because I felt this pressure to especially when you're young you feel this pressure, to not stand out, to fit in. And I think so much of my growth and my journey growing up was learning that in a lot of the ways the things that made me different, right, the things that that, you know, made people look at me a lot ended up being my strengths, you know, because I'm also a musician and even in my music, I remember growing up, I never I never wanted the kids in school to know that I listened to Afrobeats or P-Square.

A lot of musicians I grew up with and and as I aged, I learned. Now you know, Afrobeats is one of the most popular genres in the world, so I think growing up for me was was accepting the parts of myself that made me stand out that I thought, you know, seemed weird, but turns out they were really big strengths and have led to a lot of success.

I know you made a playlist for Carlton for season one. So I wanted to know if you did the same thing for season two, and if you don't mind sharing what some of those songs were?

Oh, absolutely!

Oh my God. As I'm answering this, I'm on my phone, I'm loading up the playlist. I'm such a musical person. I'm a producer, I'm a singer, like music was so much of my lifeblood since growing up. And so for every character, I always make a playlist going into it. And actually, what's interesting is the Carlton season two playlist, there's a lot of the songs from the first season because I think Carlton at his core is still the same right? He's still the same speed. He's the same tempo, he's the same texture. But you know, in my personal life, there are so many things have happened, since since we started filming season one aired, my life has changed so much and along the way I've discovered so much new music.

I have had so many life experiences to new songs without saying too much. 'Open Arms' by SZA and Travis Scott, that that song feels like a warm hug. I know whenever I have some of those more emotional, raw scenes that song just you know, not not only does that song take me to where I need to be, but it also comforts me after.

'Superhero' by Metro Boomin was a recent addition to the playlist actually.

If you were to create a highlight reel for each of the characters what soundtrack would you use? Because the soundtrack of the first series is excellent, shout to Jen Ross, Terrace Martin and Robert Glasper.

I want to use one of my songs, obviously, but if I had to pick a song for Carlton, it would be 'Trauma' by Party Next Door. No, it'd be a mash up between 'Trauma' by Party Next Door and California by Berhana. Because I think those songs encompass the the pendulum of Carlton's journey so far. Hopefully in season three, it's gonna get a little more upbeat.

What song would you choose for Hillary?

'Streets' by Doja Cat. *Damn Papa you a rare breed. No, comparing.* Come on!

And Ashley?

Let me let me pull up my playlist. It would definitely be a SZA song. Um, oh, you know what? No, no, no, no, I'm going to alter that. It would be Chloe Bailey. It's off her recent album. 'Feel Me Cry'.

And finally for Will?

I'm gonna cheat a little bit, I'll go with 'Family Ties' by Baby Keem. When Jabari first moved to LA, Universal had moved him out here ,and he was out in the hotel, and he and I, we had met at the table read on Thursday. I was like, "Hey, Saturday, I'm gonna come pick you up at like, 10am. We'll drive around for an hour. I just want to get to know you".

Now we're like cousins for the next you know, two years at least. Like I picked him up at 10am, we ended up hanging out until 12am, Baby Keem's album had just come out that fall, and we were just bumping 'Family Ties' on repeat the whole day. So whenever I think of Jabari, I think of that song. It feels like a Carlton and Will bonding ritual.

**this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity**

Bel-Air Series 2 is now available to watch on Sky Max


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