IN CONVERSATION WITH OLLY SHOLOTAN
Olly Sholotan stars as ‘Carlton Banks’ in Peacock and Will Smith’s Bel-Air, a reboot of the classic hit series ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’. He is also a singer and music producer, whose work has been featured in various short and feature films. He will next be seen in the upcoming film ‘Gigi & Nate’ opposite Marcia Gay Harden, Josephine Langford, Diane Ladd and Jim Belushi.
Olly, you’re the new ‘Colton Banks’ in the reboot of one of the classic TV series ‘ Bel-Air’. How was it filming a reboot of such an iconic and successful show?
When doing something like this, there’s always the voice at the back of your head that’s like “What are we taking on”? This is a lot, we’re really setting ourselves up for something, but I’m a person that loves challenges and this show, in its inception and its concept and its delivery, is such a challenge because we’re taking this iconic TV show and doing more with it. I think what’s been really cool is rather than looking at it like “Oh, this is a challenge that I can’t face”, sort of coming at it from the standpoint of I’ve been gifted the opportunity to follow in this legacy, I’ve been gifted the opportunity to continue along in the history of something so rich and impactful. So I’m excited to carry on that legacy.
Did you watch the original show before you started filming?
I was born in 1998 and the show stopped airing in 1996. So I never got to catch it weekly as it came out, but growing up, I saw re-runs here and there. What was very funny was that since I didn’t watch it in order, there were a lot of jokes that I just kind of missed because so many of the jokes are recurring bits. But it’s been really cool, since getting to be in the show, to now actually go back and watch it in the order that it came out. For the first time I watched it as a kid, but not in the same capacity as everyone, so it’s really cool to watch it now as an adult.
What is the most iconic thing from the original to you?
I have two favorite episodes slash scenes. One is where Carlton overdoses on speed, I think. It’s just this beautiful moment between Carlton and Will and you see them really connect and really care about each other. And I think that was just beautiful for the nineties to show, black masculinity and show these two men connecting. I thought it was really powerful. And also the episode when Carlton rushes to the black fraternity and they’re like “Hey, we’re not gonna accept you. You’re not black enough”. And Carlton essentially is like “There is more than one way to be black. Hw dare you tell me that I’m not”. That scene just spoke volumes to me and especially with what I’m focusing on in this version of the character, it felt like magic to watch.
What’s the biggest difference between the reboot and the original?
First of all, time. The original was 30 minutes. We’re doing an hour for each episode, but also the tone is so different and it’s interesting to me how tone can affect so much of narrative. So in the original, it was 30 minutes and it was a comedy. And tone wise, no matter how deep and how sad something got, they kind of always had to hit it with a joke. But what’s really been cool is with this we’re able to explore those same ideas, but then just sit in the, I keep calling it the muck. So I’d say that tone is the biggest shift cause it’s grittier, it’s a lot darker and it’s in a lot of ways a lot sadder.
Why do you believe the viewers from the original have to tune in and watch the reboot?
It’s a great show. But then on top of that, I think it’s an opportunity to get to look at these characters that you know and love under a new light and under a new perspective, under a new lens. We’re looking at Carlton as a preppy, black Bel Air guy. What does that look like in the nineties? What does that look like today, factoring social media, factoring substance. I think it’s the most fascinating exploration ever.
You graduated UCLA School of Film, Theater and television. Is that when you discovered your love for acting?
According to my parents, as a kid I would jump on tables and dance all the time. Whenever we’d go to restaurants, it was really embarrassing for them. I think they always said that from that moment, they sort of knew that this kid is gonna do some sort of performing thing. I have Nigerian parents and the common joke with Nigerian parents is that if you’re not gonna be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, what are you doing? But I remember my mom told me that in that moment she was just like “This kid is not gonna be any of those things”. So, obviously I’ve been able to do this with a lot of support and fostering of my craft from my parents.
I think the moment when I really started to take it seriously was in high school. My sophomore year, I had transferred to a performing arts high school in Houston. It was the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Funny enough, it’s actually the same one Beyonce went to. While I was there, I was allowed to foster my creative intuition. I was allowed to foster my artistry and from then I just kind of kept going with it and went to college for it. And here we are today.
You are also a singer and music producer. Your work’s been featured in various short and feature films. Tell us more about your music and your own independent label, Lamintin Records.
I sort of got into music, because I was in college and I realized that so much of acting is a lot of waiting for the right audition. You wait for the right part, you wait for the right script. And what I loved about music was that I could do this on my own time. I’ve always loved music growing up. Every time we’d come home from church, I’d run into my parents’ bedroom before they got there and I’d watch every Michael Jackson music video there ever was. Then in college I realized that I can always write music. Even if I can’t necessarily act right now because I don’t have a project on my hands, I can write music. And then I was like “Okay, well now I want to turn this music into a thing”. But also I’m a very impatient person, so I don’t like waiting for people to give me permission to do my art. So I just learned how to produce and decided I’ll just learn how to mix. It was sort of this thing I kind of got into as a means of self expression in a way, that I ended up learning every level of it. The first movie that I did, I ended up getting a song placement on there. Currently, I really like the independent route, cause it just gives me a lot of flexibility with what I can do with my music.
I also think, in my music, I’m still finding my sound. If you take a listen to my first EP ‘Soulful Gazing’, all five of those songs sound completely different. I’m really proud of it, but I’m still an artist that is figuring out what exactly do I wanna say with my music. So I love that being independent allows me to just be like “I’ll make a pop disco record today. I’ll make a rap, reggae song today”. Currently music is sort of my way to work through everything going on in my brain, which is a lot.
With having two passions, music and acting, which one would you love to focus more on in the future of your career? How do you think a balance in doing both can be achieved?
I think the most beautiful thing about the era that we exist in is that as creatives we don’t have to limit ourselves to one or the other. Especially with the format of our show, I’m not filming it the whole time of the year. Since we wrapped, I’ve truly spent every day in my studio, working. As far as which one to focus on, I don’t know. I think that there are also really interesting ways to marry both. I think they are interesting whether it’s musicals, whether it’s something like the ‘Black Panther’ soundtrack or something like the ‘Spiderman’ soundtrack, where the music sort of takes on this new character in the film.
As far as which way to balance both, to be honest with you, I don’t know the answer to that yet. I think that my journey now, at this stage of my career, is figuring out the answer to that. My journey is figuring out how do I take these two things that I love and do them both to the incredibly high standards that I have set for myself and do them effectively. I always joke that I’m like four years old, the grand scheme of the world in life, and so I think that I just have a lot of growth and learning to do and I’m very welcome to and excited for that.
You grew up in both Texas and Nigeria. What do you love most about Nigeria?
I was born in Atlanta and then we moved to Nigeria and then I lived in Nigeria for about a decade until I was 10 and then moved to Houston. A really interesting amalgamation of places. Nigeria is such a beautiful country with beautiful people. The food is fantastic, but also Nigeria is so deeply cultural. I don’t think that there is a single place, at least in my life, more grounding than Nigeria. It just sort of has the sense of home for me, even though I think I became a person in Houston because Houston was where I went to middle school and high school. That was sort of where I formed my adolescence and formed my ideas of world. But Nigeria will always feel like home no matter what. And also the music coming out of Nigeria right now is absolutely incredible. I’m so proud of every single Nigerian creative that’s making waves in the world.
Would you say music is the thing that you are most proud of about your nigerian roots?
Yeah, I’d say the music and art. The creativity in general coming out of Nigeria, because Nigeria is not a country with necessarily old entertainment industry. The entertainment industry in Nigeria is relatively new, it’s very young. And the fact that so many of these creatives are achieving such incredibly artistically fulfilling works with not a lot of resources, I’m just so proud of it.
The world is facing many different issues, from environmental, cultural and social on. What is the one issue that ignites you the most and you would love to raise more awareness on?
I think that mental health is something that we don’t talk about enough and it’s something that is, to my understanding, the worst that it sort of ever has been. Actually last year was the first time I did a donation drive for The Loveland Foundation and I’d like to do this every single year. They subsidize therapy and mental health resources for women of color in general and specifically black women. I think that access to therapy is so very important.
Mental health resources in America are abysmal, therapy costs a lot of money. The people that need the most access to it are usually never able to afford it. So I think that is something that I would really like to raise awareness for. And I would like it to be fixed very soon.
Mental health problems are not an illness. The same way that you go for a yearly doctor checkup or you go for a dentist checkup, I think it makes sense to just have a therapist and it doesn’t necessarily need to be like you’re working through a trauma or anything deep. It’s just having a professional to sort of check in with. I think it’s an incredibly healthy thing to do.
In your free time, where would we most probably be able to find you?
I don’t really have free time these days to be honest with you. So I guess, in my free time, you’ll probably find me in my studio. Or you’d probably find me in the gym, but again, is that even really free time? But, I did actually take up boxing recently, which I think is probably my current only leisurely activity. Or you’ll see me at a concert. I’m really into concerts now.
Soon we’ll be able to see you in the upcoming film ‘Gigi & Nate’. What can you tell us about this film?
It’s such a beautiful movie. I don’t wanna say too much about it, but it’s just this gorgeous movie and Charlie Rowe, who who’s the main character in it, delivers such an incredible and beautiful performance. I think that everyone can expect something that’s really heart wrenching and wholesome and just lovely to experience, which is very vague. But you you’ll see what I mean when you watch it.
What other projects are you most excited about for 2022?
The thing I’m most excited for right now is being in my studio. I’m kind of pumping out a record number of songs, for me at least. I’m not putting anything out yet. I’m just working on a lot of music. So I guess the thing I’m most excited for is to see if a musical project comes out of this period in my life. To see if after making a hundred songs, I take a step back and I’m like “These four would go great on an EP” or “These 10 would go great on that”. But I don’t wanna make any promises though, we’ll see.
Interview by JANA LETONJA
Talent: Olly Sholotan
Photographer: Ben Cope
Stylist: Daniel R Jones Jr.
Styling assistant: Michael Lund
Grooming: Taylour Chanel
Hair: Michael Russaw
Casting: Timi Letonja