Will Smith and 1st Aunt Viv, Janet Hubert, reunite after 27 years: 'It's healing'

"After 27 years, being here today and having the conversation that Will and I had together, it's healing," Hubert says.
Will Smith sat down with former "Fresh Prince" co-star Janet Hubert for a new reunion special.
Will Smith sat down with former "Fresh Prince" co-star Janet Hubert for a new reunion special.HBO Max

Thirty years after Will Smith left West Philadelphia to become "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," the cast of the beloved NBC sitcom gathered for an HBO Max special that features plenty of behind-the-scenes tidbits, and one very special reunion.

Banks family matriarch Aunt Viv was originally played by Janet Hubert, but she was replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid after the show's third season in 1993, and reports of a feud between Hubert and Smith have circulated over the 27 years since.

"We never really together publicly talk about Janet, and what happened, and for me it felt like I couldn't celebrate 30 years of 'Fresh Prince' without finding a way to celebrate Janet," Smith tells co-stars Reid, Karyn Parsons (Hilary), Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton), Tatyana Ali (Ashley), DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jazz) and Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey). Smith then shows the group footage of a recent meeting with Hubert in which they resolved their decadeslong dispute.

The "Fresh Prince" cast in season one: Karyn Parsons as Hilary Banks, James Avery as Philip Banks, Tatyana Ali as Ashley Banks (l-r, back) Janet Hubert as Vivian Banks, Will Smith as Will Smith, Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey, Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks.NBC

In the clip, Smith acknowledges to Hubert, "I don't know your story," before Hubert and Smith each explain their side in direct-to-camera interviews.

"Something I would like to clarify is, during that third season, when I got pregnant, there were a lot of things going on in my life, and in Will's life as well," Hubert says. "There was some friction because I was pregnant, home life was not good at all, I was no longer laughing, smiling, joking, because there were things going on that nobody knew about. The cast had no idea what was going on."

"During that time of her pregnancy, I wasn't sensitive, I wasn't perceptive, and you know, now that I've had three kids, I've learned some things that I did not know at the time, and I would do things very differently, but I can see where I made the set very difficult for Janet," Smith says.

"They offered me this really bad deal in the third season," Hubert says. "They said, 'You've got two months and two weeks of work, and you cannot work anywhere else.' So that meant my salary was cut, I had a new baby and a husband who was out of work. So, I said no, I did not accept their offer. I was never fired. So the misconception was always put out there."

"When I left the show, I had this new baby and no one," Hubert tells Smith. "My family disowned me; Hollywood disowned me. My family said, 'You've ruined our name.' And I wasn't unprofessional on the set. I just stopped talking to everybody, because I didn't know who to trust because I had been banished. And they said it was you who banished me."

"I was 21 years old," Smith tells Hubert. "Everything was a threat to me."

The "Fresh Prince" cast gathered for a new reunion special on HBO Max.HBO Max

"What you didn't realize either is that I was going through a lot at home," Hubert tells Smith. "You didn't know. You guys didn't know — very abusive marriage."

"I can see now, the level of pain and the level of struggle that it was for you just to show up every day," Smith says.

HBO Max

"But you took all that away from me, with your words," Hubert responds. "You know, words can kill. I lost everything. Reputation. Everything, everything. And I understand you were able to move forward, but you know those words, calling a Black woman difficult in Hollywood is the kiss of death. It's the kiss of death, and it's hard enough being a dark-skinned Black woman in this business. But I have felt it was necessary for us to finally move forward, and I'm sorry that I have blasted you to pieces."

"Thank you for sharing that with me," Smith tells Hubert. "I didn't know that. When I look back now, it's obvious that you were having a hard time. And I felt like you hated me. I could not do a 30-year celebration of this show and not celebrate you, celebrate your contribution to this show, celebrate your contribution to my life." The pair then embrace.

"I have to say, after 27 years, being here today and having the conversation that Will and I had together, it's healing," Hubert says afterward.

Hubert is then shown reuniting with the rest of the cast — and even meeting Reid for the first time.

The special also includes a moving tribute to late actor James Avery, who played family patriarch Philip Banks.

"He was my teacher; I learned what it means to be an artist from him," says Ali, who calls Avery "the heart of the show."

Other topics covered include the cast's audition tapes, and the relationship between Will and Carlton, of which Smith says, "It became clear very quickly that that was the most powerful comedic asset of the show."

"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion" is out on HBO Max now.