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May 03, 2023

'Bel-Air' actress Jazlyn Martin discusses her experience as the 'new girl on the block' and her hopes for next season

The Los Angeles native played Jackie in the Peacock drama's record-breaking second season, which finished airing last week

TV Peacock
jazlyn martin bel-air Ser Baffo/PEACOCK

Season 2 of Peacock's 'Bel-Air' introduced fans to protagonist Will's complicated new love interest, Jackie, played by Los Angeles native Jazlyn Martin.

In its second season, "Bel-Air," Peacock's modern reimagining of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," continued to bring the drama and angst as well as several new faces.

One new addition to the cast is Jazlyn Martin, a 25-year-old Los Angeles native and UCLA student whose previous acting credits include “This Is Us” and “All American: Homecoming.” Martin plays recurring character Jackie, a 17-year-old Afro-Latina raised in South Central L.A. by her uncle, Doc (Brooklyn McLinn), who coaches the elite basketball team that protagonist Will (Jabari Banks) joins.

"I feel like people don't really know who Jackie is yet," Martin said on Monday. "I think we've seen only a glimpse of her."

Sparks fly between Jackie and Will, but the budding romance gets complicated when Will finds out that Jackie and her uncle may have some secrets of their own. Further muddling things is the fact that Will and his ex Lisa (Simone Joy Jones) are still figuring out how to navigate their new status as "just friends."

Fans of the original "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" sitcom may recognize some aspects of Jackie's character.

The Peacock series is no stranger to callbacks to the original TV show, with many characters loosely based on their namesake "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" counterparts and original cast members popping up for cameos. Martin's Jackie gets her name from a character that Tyra Banks played in the '90s sitcom.

"Bel-Air" has had a successful run so far, becoming Peacock's most-watched original premiere when it debuted last year. Season 2, which premiered in February and culminated in an explosive season finale last Thursday, has become Peacock’s most-watched original sophomore series to date. The drama has already been renewed for a third season with Peacock.

The modern reimagining of the hit '90s sitcom follows West Philadelphia teenager Will, played by actual West Philly resident and University of the Arts alum Banks, on a complicated journey from the streets of his hometown to his luxurious new home with his relatives, the Banks family, in the posh Los Angeles Bel-Air neighborhood. Among the executive producers for the series are Morgan Cooper, who created the 2019 trailer that inspired the rebooted series, and Will Smith, who starred in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Martin — who is also a professional dancer and classically-trained singer and musician  met with PhillyVoice via Zoom on Monday to discuss her experience joining the show, what it was like working with the cast and her visions for Jackie's future.

Spoilers are ahead for "Bel-Air" Season 2, which can be streamed now on Peacock.

PhillyVoice: Obviously in Philly, we love "Bel-Air," with all its Philly connections ... So I guess just as a fun question, I was wondering, have you ever been to Philly before?

Jazlyn Martin: I haven't. I've never been to Philly. I have some family in Philly. So I've made plans to go but I've never actually went.

How did you get involved with "Bel-Air"? I know you've been in popular series before, but how did this one come about?

This one was my first audition with my new agent actually. And he just sent me it, and he's like, "Alright, here you go. Let's start it off. Let's see how you do." And I sent in the self tape and he called me, he's like, "They want you to do a chemistry read with Jabari."....So then I did that. And then a few days later, they called and were like, "You're Jackie."

That's so exciting! What was it like working with Jabari and the cast in general?

It was so much fun; it did not feel like work. It felt like every day I was always so excited to go to set, because it's just so much fun. It's like a big playground where we get to pretend to be someone else. And yeah, it was so much fun. They're so welcoming and warm.

Was it intimidating at all coming into the cast with them already having been established (from Season 1)?

Yes, for sure. Because I was like, alright, I'm the new girl on the block. And they already have built that connection and that foundation and I'm just stepping in. So it was definitely, I don't know if intimidating is the word. I would definitely say it was like, "Where do I go? Where's my place?"

Did you have any favorite moments from set or even favorite scenes to film this season?

Oh yes, definitely the drunk scene (in Episode 207). I loved doing that scene. I don't drink, like Jackie. So it was really fun to really pretend and be all loosey-goosey. Yeah, that was definitely a fun scene to shoot. Especially because we were overlooking L.A., too.

jazlyn martin bel-air jackieSource/PEACOCK

According to Jazlyn Martin, her favorite scene to film during Season 2 of “Bel-Air” came during Episode 7, when her character Jackie has a bit too much to drink.

So what was it like working with Doc, your onscreen uncle, and forming that family type of relationship on screen?

I love Brook. Brook's great. We joke all the time. But on screen, I feel like you didn't see much of the relationship. And I think that was for a reason. I think Jackie's had to be independent and strong her whole life. And I feel like Doc is there. He's kind of stepped up, but he's not really taking care of her, you know? I feel like he did what he had to do because he thought it was necessary, but he doesn't have any kids of his own. So I feel like he's learning how to do this, too. But at the end of the day, he's surviving and doing what he needs to do, and he's like, "Jackie's good. She's got herself," even though I don't have both parents in the picture, like I need some love.

I was really surprised by a lot of ways that it ended. What what were your thoughts on the finale? Were you surprised reading it? 

Reading it, I was kind of like, you see, we're not bad. Because everyone's like, "Oh my God, I don't trust Jackie, I don't trust Doc." And I'm like, at the end of the day, he's just helping underprivileged under-resourced Black and brown kids getting opportunities, and that was the big reveal. And (Doc) says, you know, "I'm similar to Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes), he's just doing it differently." And I think that's very, very true. So, I was kind of like, okay, these people can see that we're not out here on the streets doing crazy stuff.

When you talk about the public reaction a little bit, were you on social media at all seeing what people thought of your character and Will?

You know, the first episode I did, and then I was like, I'm not going to do this. Because one, it's either going to feed my ego or just diminish my self-esteem. And I just didn't want to contribute to that. But, if I was on Bel-Air's Instagram, I would see things they would say about Jackie, and I'm very defensive about Jackie.

Obviously, the show is renewed for another season. And you probably don't know much about what's going to happen yet. But do you have any hopes for Jackie, for your character? Do you think there's more to explore with her?

Yes, I think there's so much to explore. I feel like people don't really know who Jackie is yet; I think we've seen only a glimpse of her. And I feel like people either see her as a "hood girl" or people just see her as a girl with too much baggage or a pretty girl and that's all she is; she doesn't bring much to the table. And I feel like I would love to explore the humanness of her. Especially her background with her mom and dad not being in the picture, and explore why she is the way she is. I think Lisa ultimately is the good girl, right? She's the voice of reason. And people are rooting for her, of course, but a part of me is like, is it because Jackie has so much baggage, she doesn't deserve to be loved? 

bel-air jazlyn martin jabari banksGreg Gayne/PEACOCK

Jazlyn Martin joined “Bel-Air” Season 2, and sparks quickly flew between her character, Jackie, and Will (Jabari Banks).

I think Will and Jackie are similar in the sense (that) they're trying to break generational trauma, with his dad abandoning him and then my parents not in the picture. I think they're both on the same journey of feeling worthy and feeling lovable. So I would love to explore that common ground between them.

Yeah, I would love to see that too ... I'm really excited to see what happens next! Was there anything else that we didn't cover that you wanted to say?

I would just say be kind to Jackie. Because I think we're very quick to judge what we don't know. And I think a lot of the times that people who are in pain are more deserving of love, and need it more. So yeah, just see the human in her.

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