"I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air"
- William Smith
Will is originally from West-Philadelphia but was forced to move soon after participating in a fight with a couple of thugs. Fearing for his safety his mother sent him out to Bel Air. He was born in 1973 in West Philadelphia. When Will was five years old, he was abandoned by his father, Lou, leaving his mother, Viola, to raise him in poverty. At 16, a local bully named Omar assaulted Will after he accidentally bounced a basketball on him. It is implied Omar's gang surrounds Will, and his friends criticize Will's stupidity, as well as mocking his full name - William - which Will takes offence to. They decide to start a fight with Will, but being raised in Philadelphia, Will feels as if he is tough enough to fight them. He doesn't back down, and his results in him getting beaten up by the four bullies. As he states in the intro, because of his loss - and by extension, the many dangers of living in a ghetto - Viola gives Will a ticket to Bel-Air, sending him off, and placing Will in the hands of his aunt, Vivian, and his uncle, Philip. After a plane ride and a taxi ride from Philadelphia to Bel-Air later, Will arrives at his new destination, eager to begin his new life in Bel-Air.
- Vivian: Did you enjoy the flight?
- Will: Oh, the plane ride was stupid, man, I was all over first class like...
- Philip: Excuse me?
- Will: No, I said the plane was dope...
- Philip: EXCUSE ME?!
- Will's impression to his uncle Philip upon arrival.
At arrival in the Bel-Air mansion, his rude and flippant attitude, as well as his overuse of slang terms shock his uncle, and while his aunt tries to stay neutral on the matter, it is made clear that Uncle Philip doesn't appreciate his influence over his sheltered daughter, Ashley. Nonetheless, the whole family soon becomes fond of Will. Carlton (Smith's cousin) is introduced to him by Philip, Will himself jokingly responding that he does not remember who Carlton. Carlton is later made fun of all the time by Will because of his short size and preppy nature.
They compete over many things, like impressing women in "Someday Your Prince Will Be In Effect" or basketball. Their relations together are at first sight, especially during a flashback of Will's first day at school, where his cousin attempts to get him fired because of his jealousy over Will. Carlton's relationship with Will is also highly indicative of the way they've been raised, as while Will has a life of hardship and poverty within a ghetto, Carlton was given a very sheltered and luxurious lifestyle, which Will intially considers to be superficial, and will often mock Carlton on account of him not being the idealized idea of a "tough black male."
Later, Will gets homesick so to cheer him up, his Aunt Vivian invites a friend over, named Ice Tray. The street-smart teenager still has trouble trying to adapt to the family's traditions, such as their strange way of celebrating Christmas.
Also, Smith has trouble bonding with the Banks, except for Ashley. In "Knowledge is Power", Will blackmails his cousin, Hilary after hearing she dropped out of school without telling her parents. Will becomes friends with Jazz, whom he met in "Bang the Drum, Ashley".
Will apparently spends most of his time hanging out with him and his other friends from Compton. The season ends with Hilary getting fond of Jazz (who has a crush on Hilary) after he defends her from mean insults of her boss, Merissa Redmond.
- Carlton: Will, everybody knows why you're in training. No fats, no chocolate, and no women.
- Will: Then, I should probably cancel my date with that fat chocolate woman.
- From - "My Brother's Keeper"
Season 2 begins with Will revealing to the Banks that he plans on marrying his girlfriend, Catheline. However, after an earthquake jams the door of the basement they were in, Will finds out in horror that his girlfriend used fake nails, a wig, and other accessories to look nice. Smith is disgusted and they decide to break up. Later, Ashley confides to Will that a girl keeps bullying her at school. After that, when Will asks for $200 for the Homecoming Party, Philip says that he'll accept despite the large sum because he thinks of Will as his own son. Will thinks about what his uncle said and realizes that he's turning soft, becoming more and more like Carlton, so he gets a job as a waiter at Treasure Island to earn the money like a man.
The competition between Carlton and his cousin doesn't stop, especially after Will shows great intelligence after beating Carlton in his PSAT scores. This season shows Will's gambling skills, as he rakes in $1000 in a charity casino, but also his greed when he wants to keep the money after being told that he was supposed to donate it for charity. At the season's end, Carlton bonds more with Will when they both get into trouble for pawning Vivian's bracelet for money. Having lost all $400, they decide to attend a job as stripteasers, but get caught by Vivian, and grounded by Philip. The two go back to the pawnshop to get the bracelet back, but it's too late unless they make a deal -- a dance.
- Will: [to Carlton] Do I detect a little hostility? You owe me some flowers, mister.
- From - "The Alma Matter"
Season 3 begins with Will returning from Philly after spending his summer there. However, things start to go bad when he comes home with an annoying beeper, a bad hairstyle, and a jail suit. Later on, school starts and Will is excited about Bel-Air Academy going co-ed and getting to see all the hot girls, however, he and Carlton are not too happy to see Ashley like this and forces her to change.
Later, Smith's relationship with Jazz hits an all-time low when Jazz gets him arrested for a series of unpaid parking tickets, and Will decides to break up with him, but the two became friends again when they realize that Will is going to college. Near the latter half of the season, Will gets accepted into Princeton, which makes Carlton extremely jealous, as he envies Will's natural charisma and sociability. Evidently, striving to one up Will - thinking he will be perceived as superior to Will by not only imitating him, but getting better marks on his report card in - Carlton decides to act like Will during his interview at Princeton, but things go south, and Carlton goes low enough to threaten his interviewer for Princeton with death threats, as well as proposing that he pimp out Hilary for the man, which gets him rejected and suspended from school. During the season finale, the graduation is soon approaching, and Will finds himself in a deep hole. He must make up a total of ten hours of music class or he won't graduate, and even worse, well for him, he must sing in front of everybody at graduation while on stage with little kids in sunflower costumes. Although the week is tough, Will does inevitably make it through this trying experience, walking with his friends out at graduation.
- Carlton: Will, I met the woman of my dreams.
- Will: Word? I ain't know RuPaul lived in L.A.
This season begins with Will and Carlton ready to move into their own college apartment, but Philip isn't too happy about this. Not helping Philip's possessive viewpoint of his children is Hilary announcing that she and Trevor are getting married, which causes him to think he's losing his family. However, Jazz gets Will and Carlton evicted from their apartment for throwing a wild party - which neither Will or Carlton appreciate. Carlton decides that he belongs home anyway and moves back in. Meanwhile, Will confronts Jazz for getting them kicked out of their crib and asks for the money. At the end of the second part of "Where There's a Will, There's a Way", Hilary loses her fiance in a bungee jump, and while in deep mourning, Will convinces her that the pool house will keep reminding her of Trevor and she moves out. Will requests Philip for the pool house, and he lets him stay there, with the same rent Hilary was paying.
Throughout the first half of this season, Will's relationship with his old friend from Philadelphia, Jackie (Tyra Banks), is primarily showcased, and their dynamic is a large focus in the nine episode Jackie makes an appearance in. Near the end of the season, Will's father shows up after 14 years of abandonment. Will is initially skeptical of his father at first, but eventually warms up to the idea of his father, Lou, being back in his life again. Going along with, or likely, feigning interest in Will's idea, Lou promises Will to take him on the road with him for the summer. However, Uncle Phil thinks this is a big mistake and - knowing full well who Lou is and what he has done to Will - is fully aware that Will will likely end up getting hurt by his father again. Will gets defensive about Lou, telling Uncle Phil that Lou "made a mistake", and gets mad at him for disrespecting his father. Near the end of that episode, Will makes up with Philip after what they said to each other.
At the end of the episode, Lou chooses to abandon Will again when he makes a deal with a trucker to get an "easy" $500. Will is crushed by this news. Being a "tough guy" from West Philadelphia, he tries to shrug what his father has done to him off under a bravado of coolness and indifference. However, Uncle Phil sees through this act, telling Will that it is alright to be angry about what his father did to him. That episode ends with him crying on his uncle's shoulders - his uncle showing him the same fatherly love he always wanted his father to show him.
At the end of the season, Will and his family all visit his hometown, West Philadelphia. While he's there, he goes to Duke's Cheesesteaks with Hilary, Carlton, and Ashley, and when he is recognized by other people in the restaurant, they begin to tease him for running away from a fight a long time ago. In the end, however, he decides to stay with his mother some more because he misses Philly, and then he suddenly has no intention returning back to Bel-Air at all and tells his uncle that he's not coming back.
- Will: Yo, Bellhop! If the room be bopping, don't you be knocking!
- From - "For Whom the Wedding Bells Toll"
This season picks up after the last season and starts off with Will working at Duke's House of Cheesesteaks. Will states that he misses his family in Bel-Air, but time moves on. Things are going fine for Will until an NBC executive takes Will back to Bel-Air in a van called the "Star Retrieval Unit". After that, the first episode quickly centers around Will discovering Ashley's musical talent and becoming her manager.
Later on, Will meets Lisa Wilkes, who have a strong relationship, so strong that makes Will give up his "chicktionary" to Carlton, stating that he's a one-woman man. Their relationship goes a step further when Will proposes to Lisa in a hospital. In the end, Will and Lisa have their wedding. Will discovers that there are some things about Lisa that he doesn't know about such as her favorite food, favorite movie, and even her name. However, Will learns that Lisa also has doubts about their marriage and decides that they're going to be good together. On the other hand, Lisa doesn't want to marry him, which shocks everyone. They both think they're moving too fast and should get married. However, Fred suddenly proposes to Vy, much to Will's dismay. Will gives them their bouquet and the two get married. Will is no longer a one-woman man.
This season starts with Will lying down on the couch bored because of nothing to do during the summer and because Carlton is away at Young Republican's Camp. When he sees Geoffrey and Hilary preparing flam-be, he gets interested and wants to try it, but Geoffrey tells him to get out. After they leave, Will starts playing with it but ends up burning the kitchen down.
At the start of the show, Will is characterized as a street smart, laidback, smart-mouthed, and immature teenager. Being born and raised in West Philadelphia, he is naturally a very mischievous, rebellious, and very stubborn to the beliefs he carries as a result of his upbringing. Often, Will teases his cousin, Carlton because he doesn't consider him "black", as well as for being shorter than him. For the most part, Will is a suave, charismatic young man, and is shown to be quite childish, crafty, and often self-absorbed throughout the show. Although he's been shown on numerous occasions to be just as intelligent as Carlton (examples of this being when he gets a higher score on PSAT than Carlton, or solving a rubix cube leading a Princeton recruiter to consider recommending him), he's often lazy academically, barely passing by high school, and seemingly more interested his own personal pleasures than his academic studies. Contrarily enough, Will himself states that he used to be quite indulged in studying back in Philadelphia, which does imply that Will's hardened mindset from being raised in such a crime infested and harsh environment sharpened his disdain for studying - as such things, as stated by Will, got him and his friends chased. He even suggests he may not have made it out of those situations if he hadn't been protected by his friends. Initially, Will also tries to distance himself from his uncle and cousins because he finds them snobbish and superficial. However, contrasting this, is after this scene, where Will shows a sense of humility when Uncle Phil calls him out for this misconception, stating that Will should use his intellect before he fully judges someone.
Another part of Will's personality is his sense of masculinity. Will has demonstrated on many occasions to be concerned about being perceived as proud, confident, and manly. Because of the fact that he was raised in West Philadelphia, he is quite tough, and always tries to act like the bigger man when opposed - directly or indirectly. However, it is also this tough nature that is also his downfall, as most of the time, he responds to threats saying "you wanna take this outside" - no matter who the opposition may be. His overconfidence may also get the better of him as well in some situations, as his mocking of and underestimating of his opponents doesn't help with his occasionally short tempered outbursts. He also tends to have a sense of cowardice when challenged, and will often try to weasel his way out of a fight using his street smarts and charisma, most of the time running his mouth and biting off more than he can chew in these situations. This, coupled with his afforementioned tough talk, is what often leads him into trouble. Surprisingly enough, while he will often use his sneaky and crafty nature to avoid fights, often barking far harder than he can bite, it is also shown that he, on occasion, is actually quite strong beyond his tough talk. One notable example of his strength is seen when he fist-fights a loaded gunmen whom, while Will believed it to be a ruse, did intend to rob the place with the intent to rob - and kill, if necessary. However, while he can be quick to anger, as well as quick to having outbursts, he is also quite relaxed most of the time, and despite maturing throughout the shows run, he doesn't seem to lose his laidback, carefree attitude. Will is also a lot more goofy, caring, and sweet than he lets on as well, although he usually tends to overcompensate for this under a very confident and manly bravado. An example of this is in Season 5, Episode 10, as when asked to describe Will in one word, Lisa calls him goofy, which he takes great bother to. Will also seems to have an unrealistic sense of manliness, and his overconfident, careless, and tough-guy facade more than likely a result of being raised in the rough neighbourhood of Philadelphia.
Will is also characterized by his sarcastic, referential, and witty sense of humour, which he often uses to lighten a situation, or make a humorous remark at someone's expense, and is never without a humorous response. Although, despite his immaturity and remarks at his families' expense, Will is also a genuinely kind, sometimes emotional, and very caring and loyal person. He tends to be well intentioned, and while his attempts to come off like the bigger man may come at the cost people's expense, this is usually a result of a lack of parental supervision, as well as tying back to the mentality he was raised with on the streets, rather than any genuine malice on his part.
While he may act laidback, careless, or dismissive of individuals such as Carlton, he's also perceived by his peers as a very charismatic, confident, and typically "cool" person. He is seen to make connections easily, and his laidback and kind nature does lead itself well to forming genuine connections. As seen in the multiple episodes set in Bel-Air Academy, Will is perceived to be very admirable, and is commonly invited to hang out with his peers - people even going as far as to mimic is "reversed" school blazer, which they similarly find to be cool. Supporting this, is the fact that he's shown to be quite accepting of people as well, demonstrated by his very close to his little cousin, Ashley, who he feels understands him more than any other of the Banks. Although running his mouth, and joking at the cost of his families' patience, deep down, he truly does care about his relatives, and is very generous for them accepting him into their home. Even as early as Season 1, Will seems to maintain a strong sense of loyalty towards his closest companions, as well as his mother. Furthermore, he has shown to be more than willing to defend, stand up for, and protect his family when the chips are down - even at the expense of himself, or his own street credit, which is saying a lot, especially from someone as flippant as Will. Additionally, Will is a lot more sensitive than he lets on. He is often seen crying (usually in a humours manner), or overreacting when he is challenged, or his feelings are hurt. Although he can play off as if he is indifferent, which is often times an attempt to maintain his sense of manliness, he is not above bursting into tears when deeply wounded. This is best demonstrated throughout the many times he snaps when someone insults his mother, whom he is fiercely protective of. When his cousins blame him on someone's death, he whimpers and falls to the ground - clearly feeling responsible for the death that he arguably didn't cause. The most glaring example is in Season 4, Episode 24 when - despite trying to hide it under a veneer of carelessness and humour - he breaks down and cries into his uncle's arms when his father leaves him, showing that behind his "tough man" mentality, he is quite an emotional man.
While he often behaves as if he is laidback and disinterested, he has also shown to want be very caring, and a sort of brotherly figure to the younger of the Banks children. More specifically, while he sometimes perceives Philip as being overprotective of Ashley, he, himself, can also be this way. For example, when Ashley asked Will about sex for the first time, he freaked out and said haphazardly told her that "she needed a license." Another example of his overprotective nature is in Season 6 Episode 7 when he accidentally eavesdrops on his cousin and her friends about losing her virginity. His first response is to warn her, and he does, which leads her to get furious - saying it's her life, and she can do what she wants with it. In Season 5 Episode 14, he freaks out when he catches Ashley at a party with college boys and immediately drags her home, before yelling at her, warning her about the dangers of underage and unprotected sex.
Will's father, Lou abandoned Vy and five-year-old Will. He reappears in "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse". Will first sees his father after 14 years in The Peacock Shop, freaking him out with his staring (before recognizing him as his father, Will discretely called Carlton and tells him he thinks Lou's a cop). Lou explains to Will that he works as a trucker now and has been in touch with Vy, who told him where Will was.
At first, Will is reluctant of giving Lou a chance, but after an afternoon hanging out at a carnival, and after Lou explains to Will that he wasn't prepared to be a father, Will gives in to his joy of having his father around. The two of them discuss going on a road trip to Maine. However, Lou is given an assignment and ditches Will again, for the last time.
This causes an angry and hurt Will to denounce Lou as his father and to rant at Phillip, eventually asking Phillip "How come he don't want me, man?" and bursting into tears, which causes an emotional Phil to comfort him with a hug.
Lou seemed disheartened when Will rejected him as his father, but as he left, he seemed to think nothing of it.
- Viola "Vy" Smith is Will's loving mother. They are both protective of one another and she is very proud of her son. She also keeps him in line and doesn't let him forget the manners she brought him up with. She is quite rude to everyone else, especially when her sister, Janice decided to marry a white man. She works as a supervisor at the post office.
- Carlton Banks is Will's cousin who he often teases over his short stature and not being "black" enough. Though their bickering is a common theme in the series, Carlton and Will share a close, brother-like relationship and Will is quick to defend Carlton against anyone who puts him down (For example, he is prepared to fight Top Dog in "Blood is Thicker Than Mud" when Top Dog refuses to allow Carlton into the fraternity for being a sellout.) Will and Carlton are best friends. Will also took a bullet for him, during a robbery.
- Hilary Banks is the spoiled, pretty, and simple-minded cousin of Will. She is known for her dependence on the family's butler, Geoffrey Barbara, her poor housing skills (she doesn't know how to toast bread), and her passion for shopping. Although she's very self-centered, she gets along better with Will than Carlton.
- Ashley "KFC" Banks is Will's little cousin. She has great admiration for Will, calling him "the brother she never had" (she makes fun of Carlton's girly habits). Over the years, she loses her interest over her cousin, especially when he starts getting overprotective but still remains close to him because he is looking out for her. Unlike Phillip, Will apologizes and very understanding. She has many talents, such as a formidable singing voice and dazzling beauty.
- Nicky Banks is the Banks family's youngest member. Will refers to him as "little man". He shares the same interests as Will, like basketball, and seems to like Will more than any other member of the family.
- Philip Banks is Will's overweight and short-fused marital uncle. He thinks of Will as "desperate" and refers to him to others as his "nephew by marriage". Will often gets Philip in trouble. Despite Philip being ashamed of Will's attitude, he considers him one of his own. This is made clear in "Papa's Got A Brand New Excuse", when Phillip tries to warn Will against trusting Lou again, and when Phillip is shown being clearly hurt after Will yells at him that Phil's not his father and, therefore, cannot keep him from going on a summer road trip with Lou. However, after Lou abandons Will again, Will began to see Philip as his true father figure. Even though they initially didn't get along in the earlier seasons most notably Philip ranting about wanting Will to leave, He eventually warmed up to Will becoming part of the family, becoming a true father figure and even telling him "You are My Son, Will, End of Story".
- Vivian Banks is Will's forthright aunt who seems to care about Will a lot. She would often take Will's side in some situations like when he tells her and his uncle he got a job.
- Fred Wilkes is Will's stepfather. He is the overprotective father of Lisa, the girl whom Will dating in Season 5. Though he has been hostile toward other boys who've dated Lisa, Fred took an instant liking to Will and saw him as the son he always wanted. At the end of season 5, Fred married Will's mother Vy after Will and Lisa decided not to get married. Will and Fred shared a strong father-son bond as opposed to Will's biological father Lou who abandoned him as a child because of his unwillingness to accept responsibility.
- Lisa Wilkes is Will's stepsister. Throughout season 5, she and Will were dating. They both loved each other dearly and during the middle of season 5, Will proposed to her. After some reluctance, she accepted. However, in the end, she and Will decide they were too young to get married and they were rushing too fast. They call off the wedding, giving her father Fred a chance to propose to Will's mom Vy. She accepts and the two get married, making Will and Lisa stepbrother and stepsister.
Likes and interests
Although decent in all sports, Will is arguably the best at basketball. Will played basketball since he was very little. In "Papa's Got A Brand New Excuse", Will states that he learned basketball alone without any help. In a two against two games against Carlton, he defeated him 21 to 18, with the fact that Carlton was given an 18 points head start. While the show doesn't go as far as to say he's going to get a CAREER in the sport, it is known he is very good - and much better than many people his age, although it is unknown how much of his skill can be attributed to his height.
In "Courting Disaster", Will wants to find a spot to play basketball, so goes with Jazz at school to play in the gymnasium. Coach Smiley as he dunks a basketball, amazing the hopeless school team. He offers Will to participate, to which he initially declines, but accepts later. In Will's first game, he singlehandedly destroys the opposing team 64 to 21, making Carlton jealous of his success.
In "My Brother's Keeper", he plays a game against Malibu, with their star player Marcus. Seeing that Marcus has a son to feed, Will lets past a lay-up from him and Malibu wins the game 91 to 90. Marcus later asks why Will let his team win, and he explains that he's got to make a living raising his son. Marcus tells Will that basketball isn't going to feed his family, but school studies will. They become friends at the end of the episode.
Throughout the show, Will is, like many young men his age, depicted to be a very sexually interested and flirtatious individual. As with his jokes, when Will is in the presence of women he personally finds attractive, he is never without a cheesy romantic one-liner. He finds women very physically attractive, and is often seen joking about, flirting with, looking at, or even making love with many women throughout the series. He is also usually seen with a new women per episode until Season 5, where he finally settles down and commits to a relationship with Lisa Wilkes However, while he is perceived to be charming by many women, he is also commonly rejected by women who dismiss him as desperate. As far as the extent of his interest goes, he is shown to be a very stubborn perverted individual who will go to great lengths to get with women - even to the point of breaking certain legal boundaries to get what he wants - although, this is more a result of his rebellious and stubborn attitude rather than any genuine malice on his part. This is best represented in Season 3, Episode 17, "Best Laid Plans", where Will is seen going as far as to fake a marriage with the intention of having sex with a girl who has been raised to not have sex before marriage. It should be noted that even he was unwilling to go as far as to actually make love to her, and even when discussing his actions with her, is shown to be genuinely regretful of his actions.
- Melinda ("Someday Your Prince Will Be in Effect (Parts 1 and 2)")
- Helen ("Kiss My Butler")
- Cindy ("Someday Your Prince Will Be in Effect (Parts 1 and 2)")
- Lisa Wilkes (Season 5)
- Jackie (Season 4)
- Monique ("Best Laid Plans")
- Mimi Mumford ("Clubba Hubba")
- Candance ("Father of the Year")
- Cathline ("Did the Earth Move for You?")
- Valerie ("Grumpy Young Men")
- Denise ("Cold Feet, Hot Body")
- Helena ("Boxing Helena")
- Michelle Michaels ("When You Hit Upon a Star")
- Christina ("Def Poet's Society")
- Paula ("The Cold War")
- Dee Dee ("She Ain't Heavy")
- Veronica ("That's No Lady, That's My Cousin")
- Cindy ("Just Say Yo")
- Janet ("It Had to Be You")
- Kayla Samuels ("Love at First Fight")
- Wendy ("M is for the Many Things She Gave Me")
- Janice Robertson ("M is for the Many Things She Gave Me")
- Although the character is named William Smith, in real life, Will Smith's full name is Willard.
- Will Smith chose his own name for the character as didn't want to be typecast in which people would approach him and call him by his character name, much like Alfonso Ribiero experiences now (ironically RIbiero suggested Will use his own name).
- The character was the actor's break-out role and is well known.
- A running gag is that the Banks kids, Philip and Vivian often blame Will for many trouble, a lot of which are not caused by him. Eventually, Will told his family to stop blaming him.