It is officially the holiday season and with that comes the time to gather around with your family and friends to spread laughter, cheer, good eats, and an all around good time. While this year's festivities may have to happen virtually, one of TV’s most loved families is coming together in person for a special reunion that will be one for the history books.
The cast of the 1990s NBC comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel Air will sit down for a reunion special airing on HBO Max on Thursday (Nov. 19) for a candid conversation celebrating the 30th anniversary of the show’s premiere.
“So many people that I would see in the streets would say to me that 'you raised me,'” Daphne Maxwell Reid said speaking to BET.com about the show’s lasting impact. “[They would say that] 'you helped me get through a tough time. You were the parents that I was hoping to have.'”
Maxwell Reid had a formidable career as a model and actress before getting the role of Aunt Vivian Banks for the final three seasons of the show. Controversy around her recast of Aunt Viv over actress Janet Hubert has lingered for years, but the reunion finally puts this and other questions to rest. BET.com caught up with Maxwell Reid to find out what it was like to connect with her castmates after all these years and how she is managing amid the coronavirus crisis.
BET.com: You’ll go down in history as one of the most iconic mothers on television playing Aunt Vivian on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” for three seasons on the show. Now, you’ve all come back together for this unscripted reunion. What was that like? Is the same chemistry there after all these years?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: We were so happy to be all together again. I’ve done television for maybe 45 years and I’ve had lots of television families, but this one stuck. This is truly a family. This is births, deaths, marriages, babies, all sorts of things that we have shared since we’ve been together in the 90s. I love them as I love my family. We’re just that close.
It’s hard to explain how to catch lightning in a bottle and how that show was of its time in its context. But it was iconic because it spoke to everybody’s families with a truth and a positive sense of our culture that we were able to imbue in those wonderful stories. We were blessed to have great writers and producers who listened and accepted the nuances that we put forth.
BET.com: In the midst of the pandemic, you have done something wonderful for those in need by creating these beautifully distinctive face masks with a pocket containing a HEPA filter. How has it felt to be able to give back in that way?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: It’s always great to give back to the community in any way that I can. I do it on a lot of different levels. Making the masks was part of the design desire that I have inside of me. And it took a couple of tries to decide how I wanted to make these masks, which pattern was best, which was the most versatile to fit the most people. And what supplies I needed to make it work.
I wanted them to be able to be worn and washed and to look nice for a long time. These are not disposable and there is an art in creating them. Getting those HEPA filters out of their encasement is part of their ritual of making sure that people are protected while they’re wearing my masks. People should think about not just protecting themselves, but also consider the people around them as well.
BET.com: 2020 has brought us some amazing highs and significant lows but we now have a new President-elect and Vice President-elect in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. What does it mean to you to see Harris, in particular, become the first Black and South Indian American woman to join the White House as Vice President?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: Well, it’s about *blanking* time. Let’s get into making this a normalcy, not such a wonderful first! Until we are [fully] seen by the majority population or now the minority population, we’re still going to have to bump into these walls and ceilings. I don’t mind the fight, but it sure is refreshing when we get a win.
BET.com: You are also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Inc. and Vice President-elect Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., what does this mean for the Divine Nine?
Daphne Maxwell Reid: Our sorority sisters, our brothers and the whole Divine Nine will be dancing for the next four years. We know that it takes an effort to do this and it takes concern of everybody to make sure that America moves forward continually. We have helped build this country from day one. And we need to start paying attention to the people who are leading us. We finally got one, so Hip Hip Hallelujah!
BET.com: The holiday season has officially kicked off and you’ve just released a special new cookbook, “Grace, Soul & Motherwit” which you also call a mini memoir. What’s your favorite holiday recipe and how did you curate all your recipes for this special project?
Daphne Maxwell-Reid: Curating took about 40 years and these are recipes that I have garnered from people I work with and the people who were in my life during that time. I kept collecting these recipes and they were on my computer and about three or four years ago, I decided I had to get them off of my computer. I didn’t want to just throw out a cook because I’m not a chef. I have no credentials to be writing a cookbook. All I could do is share stories and share my recipes and share my thoughts on this food. So I decided to do a mini memoir and kind of explain to folks what being together can do for a family.
One of my favorite funny recipes is my husband's [actor Tim Reid] king crab legs that he cooks in beer, which is wonderful. They taste very good, but in between the cooking, you have to drink some of that beer. It's a funny, little recipe but it comes out well.
I want people to understand that cooking doesn't have to be chef cuisines. It just needs to taste good and come from your heart.
All of Daphne Maxwell Reid’s designs and cookbook can be found at daphnemaxwellreid.com
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
(Photo Kwaku Alston/HBO Max)