The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
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Lou Smith is a guest character in Season 4 of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. He is portrayed by Ben Vereen.

Character

Lou is the biological father of Will Smith and ex-husband of Vy.

Lou abandoned his family (Will and Viola "Vy" Smith) when Will was five years old and explains his motives for leaving by saying he was scared to be a father and started to feel trapped. Sometime during the 14 year period that he was absent from Will's life, he became a trucker.

Lou drops in unannounced at the Peacock café where Will and Carlton work. Will sees Lou watching him but does not immediately recognize him. He goes over to offer some coffee, then recognizes him after Lou calls him "son". After an awkward conversation between the two of them, where Lou claims to have spoken to Will's mother recently and learned Will was now living in Bel-Air with his Uncle Phillip and Aunt Vivian, Will invites Lou to the Banks' residence for dinner but when they arrive, it brings awkwardness to the Banks residence. Vivian is less than happy to see Lou but is civil about it for Will's sake, while Phillip is downright hostile towards him. Carlton and Hilary are both excited to see their long lost uncle, and Ashley meeting him for the first time since she was a baby. Lou also meets baby Nicky for the first time ever and holds him, reflecting on how he used to hold Will the same way. Will and his father go to a carnival where Lou explains to him he wasn't ready to be a father and asks for Will's forgiveness. Will decides to forgive Lou and after he impresses Will with his skills at a basketball carnival game, Will calls him "Dad" for the first time.

When they return to the house, Will announces that he is joining his father, for the summer on a nationwide road trip in Lou's truck. Philip objects to this, not buying into Lou's supposed change of heart and subtly disses Lou that he wasn't part of their family. After Lou leaves the mansion to wait in the pool house, Will calls out Philip for dissing Lou, which finally causes Philip to blow up. Philip tells Will that Lou was still the same guy who walked out on him 14 years ago, never bothered to do so much as call Will on the phone, during that time and is now only seeing Will for his own benefit. Will remains convinced that Lou has indeed changed and stands by his decision to go with him. When Philip continues to object, Will explodes as well, screaming, "WHO CARES WHAT YOU THINK?! YOU'RE NOT MY FATHER!"

Horrified and hurt by Will's words, Philip begins wondering if he's a good father to his own children. The next day, Philip is still upset over what Will said, believing that, because Lou had re-entered Will's life, he no longer cares about anything that Philip has done for him and accuses him of being selfish. Vivian makes Philip realize that he was being selfish by trying to prevent Will from re-connecting with Lou. Philip speaks with Will and the two of them make amends. Will assures Philip that he does appreciate everything his uncle has done for him but the trip with Lou was something he needs to do for himself. Philip gives Will his blessing to take the trip and wishes him the best. Will reminds Phillip that the trip is only for the summer and he'll return to Bel-Air after it's done.

Phillip and Vivian are later playing with Nicky in the living room. Vivian questions Lou's tardiness, leading Philip to believe he left just as he predicted. However, Lou suddenly shows up at that moment, though, Philip's prediction would sadly be confirmed when he tells them he has a shipment that needs to go to Maine in 72 hours, but unfortunately, there won't be enough space to take Will, as he'll need to pick up an extra driver along the way. He even declines an offer from Philip to fly Will to Maine to meet up with him so they can still take their trip, claiming that the job could lead to another big one and he needs to "stay flexible." Vivian expresses concern for Will's reaction, saying that it would crush him. Lou acknowledges this and to that, he requests that they tell Will instead. Finally provoked for the last time, Philip asks Vivian to take Nicky upstairs so he can discuss the matter with Lou privately. Vivian asks Phillip not to hit Lou (because she wouldn't want to miss it) and heads upstairs with Nicky, telling Lou that if he goes through with abandoning Will, he will never be welcome in any of their lives ever again.

An irate Philip bluntly reminds Lou of his responsibility to Will as a father. Although Lou tries to defend himself, by saying he and Will are eventually still going to take their trip, Phil immediately shoots it down, saying that Will isn't some come-and-go object that he can use whenever he feels like it and that Lou is supposed to be there for Will, not the other way around. Lou then snaps with hostile that he didn't want this job opportunity to happen but it did. He then attempts to use his old excuses as to why he left Will to begin with, but Philip won't hear of it because fatherhood scared him too, but he never ran out on his family and continued being for them, explaining that it's what a man does. An annoyed Lou deliberately misses the point, admitting that Philip wins and is a better man than himself. He then finally asks whether or not he'll give Will the news. Phil refuses to do Lou's "dirty work" for him and Lou decides to maybe call Will from the road. Just before Lou can duck out, Will walks in with his bags packed, ready to go, forcing Lou to come clean with Will that their trip is not going to happen now, because of his job. Although he promises it will only be a delay couple of weeks or maybe a little longer and that he will give Will a call "next week to iron out the details," Will knows he is just trying to weasel out easy and their trip is never going to happen. When Lou says goodbye to Will, Will closes the bridge by addressing him as "Lou" instead of "Dad." In a state of awkwardness, Lou leaves.

Phil apologizes to Will and offers to make it up to him. Will, who denies feelings of hurt and betrayal, declines Phil's offer and claims it doesn't matter, as he doesn't need Lou. He starts by talking about all the times he never needed his father but then goes into an angry rant talking about how he would continue to succeed in life without him and would also go on to be a better father to his own children when he had them, saying that "there ain't a damn thing he could ever teach me about how to love my kids!" Will then finally reveals how broken he feels about Lou leaving him again when he says, "How come he don't want me man?", before completely breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably in his uncle's arms. This solidifies the fact that Philip, despite his often indifferent attitude and penchant for being made fun of, is Will's real father figure.

Will intended to give a gift to Lou which never was awarded, ironically a small statue showing a carving of a man having his arms on the shoulder of a child, symbolic of a father always being there for his kids.

Trivia

  • Though he is alluded to frequently within the series, he makes only one appearance on the show, in the episode "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse".
  • According to Lou, he hasn't seen his nephew Carlton since he was 3 years old, which was about 1 year before he abandoned Vy and Will in Philadelphia.
  • According to Will, when he was 5 years old, he'd constantly stay up every night asking his mother Vy when Lou would return home, unaware that Lou had abandoned them (and would continue to be unaware of it for a couple of years).
  • In his first and only appearance, it's shown Lou had truly little (if any) care for his family as he was willing to abandon his son twice, even when he was warned never to come back if he did.
  • Although Lou never reappeared after this, Will was so hurt by the incident that he developed a deep resentment towards his father whenever he was mentioned. In "Get A Job", he gets into a heated argument with Carlton, who insulted Will by comparing him to his father. Shaking with anger, he calmly but clearly stated, "I am nothing like my father".
  • In an earlier episode before Lou's appearance, when Phil suffers a heart attack and Carlton is in denial, Will confronts Carlton to go visit Phil in the hospital. Will wins the argument using reverse psychology by reminding Carlton he has a father who is always there for his children when Will asks Carlton "Do you know where my father is"? When Carlton answers in the negative, Will rebuts "Neither do I".
  • In the finale episode, Will states that Uncle Phil is the only father he ever had and Philip says, "You are my son, end of story."
  • Ben Vereen, the actor who played Lou was once mentioned in Kiss My Butler by Will to Geoffrey.
  • Will Smith described the scene where Will breaks down as one of his most difficult as a young actor, as he was unsure if he was able to properly convey the right emotions. During the shoot, James Avery pulled him aside and gave him a pep talk where he reminded Smith to use Uncle Phil as the guide for the character's reaction.
    • There is a popular misconception that Smith himself was also abandoned by his biological father in real life when he was young and had "broken character" while delivering the rant which went from being directed towards Lou to being directed towards Smith's own real-life father. In reality, Smith's parents separated when he was 13, but his father had a major impact in his life. However, he had a lot of friends who never knew their fathers and his emotions in the final scene came from thinking of all his friends who never had a father in their lives.
  • Ben Vereen revealed in an interview that he broke into tears after walking offstage when Lou leaves Will at the end of the episode.
  • In the original draft of the script, after Lou walks out, Will was supposed to be chill with it and pass it off like nothing. However, Smith knew the reality of the situation and completely improvised the breakdown.
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