How'd Karyn Parsons Get Her Gig On 'Fresh Prince'? Brattiness Parsons played Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The role first called for a model type, but Parsons says she couldn't do that. So, she says, she made Hilary self-centered: a "real brat."
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How'd Karyn Parsons Get Her Gig On 'Fresh Prince'? Brattiness

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How'd Karyn Parsons Get Her Gig On 'Fresh Prince'? Brattiness

How'd Karyn Parsons Get Her Gig On 'Fresh Prince'? Brattiness

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Time now for the latest installment of our series My Big Break about triumphs big and small. Karyn Parsons played spoiled rich girl Hilary Banks on "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air." But before she was rubbing shoulders with Will Smith on the hit '90s sitcom, Karyn Parsons was just another struggling actress in Hollywood, working as a hostess, taking acting classes and going on lots of auditions.

KARYN PARSONS: The very first thing I got, which I can't call my big break, because it was a horror film called "Death Spa."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEATH SPA")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the health club where you'll sweat blood.

PARSONS: It was a haunted gym (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEATH SPA")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: It's the place for a killer workout.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (Screaming).

PARSONS: And mind you, it was a big deal to me at the time, but it was also kind of, you know, like not a whole lot of people saw it, thank goodness.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV THEME SONG, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

PARSONS: When I got the addition for "Fresh Prince" - the first time, I think it was called "The Untitled Fresh Prince Project" or something like that - I remember my first reactions being oh God, it's a sitcom with a rapper. Like, what's that, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV THEME SONG, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

PARSONS: When I was first auditioning for Hilary, the character was written as a model type. So my first reaction to it was oh, well, this is ridiculous. I'm not going to get this. I'm not a model type, you know? This is silly. And so I did what I could do, which was I kind of turned her into a little bit of a real brat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) Dad, I need $300. What dog did he steal that sweater from?

(LAUGHTER)

PARSONS: Yeah, she didn't turn out to be a model type at all. Maybe a wannabee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) I haven't been this happy since I bought my Giorgio Armani suit.

(LAUGHTER)

PARSONS: Once I got the part, I still went back to my hostessing job because I didn't know what was going to happen with that show. And I remember Will and a bunch of guys would come by and make fun of me outside the window and laugh at me. Will would say what are you doing here? What is wrong with you? And I'd say I don't know what's going to happen.

So I just - I stuck with my job, you know, keep your day job - for a while. And then, of course, we got picked up and that definitely changed everything. My favorite scene was when they found out that Hilary dropped out of college. Will finds out and he ends up blackmailing me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

WILL SMITH: (As Will Smith) Did you memorize that little list of things I gave you to do at dinner tonight?

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) Yes.

SMITH: (As Will Smith) Well, just to be on the safe side, let's have a little pop quiz. Anytime anyone says Hilary, what do you do?

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) I bark like a dog.

(LAUGHTER)

PARSONS: The dinner table scene was hilarious and really fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

SMITH: (As Will Smith) Hilary.

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) (Barks).

SMITH: (As Will Smith) Hilary.

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) (Barks).

SMITH: (As Will Smith) Hilary.

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) (Barks).

SMITH: (As Will Smith) Hilary.

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) Stop it.

SMITH: (As Will Smith) Hilary.

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) Stop it, stop it, stop it. I can't take it anymore. I dropped out of school - there.

(LAUGHTER)

PARSONS: It was fun to play that girl. It was fun to just be so self-absorbed that you say those ridiculous things. That was definitely my big break. That was a life-changing moment for me, and I believe for all of us on the show.

I definitely wouldn't be who I am now if I hadn't had the experience of playing Hilary Banks. I sometimes talk in Hilary's voice but not on purpose. Often, I meet people at the store or on someplace in the street and they say, you know who you look like? And then once I speak, they say it's you. I knew it because of your voice. And I'm always like no you didn't. It wasn't my voice. I don't talk like that.

RATH: Actress Karyn Parsons. Today, she runs an organization called Sweet Blackberry, producing short films about unsung heroes in black history. You don't have to be the star of a '90s sitcom to have a big break. Email us your story at mybigbreak@npr.org.

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