Don Cheadle has been around Hollywood for the better part of three decades now. A career like that means that he has stories — odd twists of fate and funny anecdotes about life as an up and comer, an Oscar nominee, and an Avenger. On this week’s People’s Party with Talib Kweli, he shared some of those gems, from his role in Rosewood to his accent in the Ocean’s movies to his role on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
“Ice Tray is like the rocket of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” host Talib Kweli says at the 8:35 mark of the episode, referencing Cheadle’s famed gang banger in Colors. “It humanized Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in a lot of ways. They were starting to deal with Will Smith’s character and what that family would look like in a real situation.”
To put an even finer point on it, Cheadle’s character came from and eventually returned to a world that Smith’s character escaped thanks to the largesse of his extended family. It was a big issue for the show to wrestle with five episodes into its first season and set the tone for how the show would continue to grapple with race, privilege, and the Fresh Prince’s conflicted feelings about “getting out” of West Philadelphia.
It was also a funny cameo and a fan favorite, starring an actor with serious talent — three facts that the Fresh Prince‘s producers caught onto in a hurry.
“You come to a table read Monday, Tuesday rehearse, Wednesday rehearse, Thursday do it in front of a life audience,” Cheadle explained. “So by that Thursday, the producers said ‘we actually want to do a spinoff around your character.”
An Ice Tray spinoff show? Grittier and a little rawer than Fresh Prince? Could have been fascinating, right? Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
“We shot a whole pilot,” Cheadle continues, before adding the kicker. “Didn’t get picked up.”
“What was the name of it?” Kweli asks.
“In The House,” Cheadle says with a laugh. “And they kept the name of it for the L.L. joint.”
So LL Cool J got the title, the pilot was lost to history, and NBC never had the chance for a Tray-Hillary Banks crossover romance. All of which seems to have worked out okay for all parties. Still… it’d be fun to check that pilot out, right?