The first time I met Olly Sholotan was at a Tier NYC fashion show during New York Fashion Week in Brooklyn. I was already a fan of Bel-Air, so I knew exactly who he was when my friend introduced us. And, not too much to my surprise, he was the exact opposite of the character he plays in the series, Carlton Banks. A good actor evokes emotion, but it takes a phenomenal thespian to take the audience on a journey filled with mental and psychological turmoil for the first time since Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass.
During our meeting, he shook my hand and greeted me with a genuine smile that was hard to forget. Fast forward just a few short months later, I dialed into the conference line excited to speak with Olly once again.
“I'm actually in a fitting right now, so if I have to take five seconds to put a shirt on, my apologies again,” Sholotan said during our phone interview for xoNecole. He continued to tell me about the current state of his mental health before we dove into our candid conversation.
“Honestly, my mental health is doing great. Because we're about a week and a half or two weeks away from wrapping on Bel-Air, there's kind of this energy of 'Holy shit, we did it,' but we did it again—twice. I was literally just talking to Morgan Cooper (Bel-Air creator/EP) about this earlier today. I feel like as an artist, I'm in this space right now where I'm kind of becoming the artist I've always dreamed of being."
(L-R) Coco Jones, Olly Sholotan, and Akira Akbar of NBC's 'Bel-Air' pose for a portrait.
Benjo Arwas/Getty Images
The Peacock original series takes a drama-suspense-filled approach from a Gen-Z lens, in contrast to the original ‘90s feel-good sitcom. Played by Sholotan himself, Carlton is someone viewers love to hate, and the character has some of the most controversial story arcs in the cast, but what makes Carlton, Will (Jabari Banks), and the Banks clan so relatable is that we can see ourselves in each character as we go through our own journeys of discovering our own redeeming qualities.
During our Tuesday afternoon chat, we spoke about how he loves on himself while he’s off-set, why it’s important for Black men to practice self-care, and which reboot characters he would never get relationship advice from.
xoNecole: How did you feel when you were first cast in 'Bel-Air' in comparison to you now amping up to wrap up production for the second season?
Olly Sholotan: It's funny because I don't think I've ever changed how I felt. I feel the same and different in a lot of ways, and from the moment I was cast, I think that there's an excitement that doesn't ever go away. There's the realization that your life is about to change in a way that is inconceivable and that is still a feeling that I experience every single day. Every single day, when I wake up before I go to work, before I go to set, there's that pinch me, I hope I'm not dreaming kind of feeling that doesn't go away.
In that way, it's different because there's a feeling of mastery that comes with just doing it two years now. We're about to wrap on the second season. A friend pointed out the other day that I shot 20 episodes of television, which when you put it like that, it's like along the way, I'm going to learn things. I'm a much different Olly now than when I started, and I feel like I've grown in so many ways that I'm really proud of.
xoN: One thing that I love about 'Bel-Air' is that it normalizes conversations in the first season about anxiety and coping mechanisms, especially as it pertains to Carlton's storyline. What's the importance of having conversations about mental health when it comes to Black men?
OS: I think as a community in general, I don't think we do enough to center self-care in a way that isn't just 'go get mani-pedis,' but also just take care of your mental health, take care of your wellbeing. Find ways to cope with the stresses of life that are healthy. Especially as Black men, there is a pressure to suck it up, be a man, and be better. That's something that we've all experienced to a certain extent.
What I think is beautiful about my generation and in the coming generation right after me is we're really looking at that in the face and saying, "We don't have to be that way. We can be different. We can be better,” and I think Bel-Air is one of the first shows in that. We're very much trying to lead by example in showing that there are ways you can talk about mental health as a Black community, as Black men, and do it in a healthy way that's productive.
xoN: What are some self-care tools that you lean into when you're off set to make sure that your own mind is at ease?
OS: Honestly, I be taking a lot of naps. I find that when there is a problem and I take a quick 15-minute nap and I come back to it, I'm like, 'First of all, that seems a lot more doable.' I think it's less about the nap and more about the perspective. When you're hammering away at a problem over and over again and you take a step back from it, take a 10-minute walk, take a second to breathe, that makes the problem feel less insurmountable.
I recently started journaling, and it's funny because I was never a journaling type of person. I'm like, 'Why would I write anything down? I was born on the computer.' But journaling and writing down my thoughts has helped me work through them a little better.
xoN: I'm not going to hold you. The first few episodes, well, and the majority of season one, I was not feeling Carlton. He was receiving a lot of hate, and a lot of fans don't know how to separate the character from the person. How did you feel when you were receiving a lot of that flack for a character that is nothing like you?
OS: Well, I mean, it's hard not to take it as a compliment. I'm going to be real with you because it is something that we as a creative team did on purpose. Carlton as a character isn't supposed to be someone you're supposed to like off the bat, at least in my head with the way I created that character. You're supposed to be presented with this flawed human that does a lot of things that you don't like. As the series goes on, you see more of yourself in him.
You're presented with this character that you don't really like, you think he's problematic, and as the season goes on and on, you're like, 'Dang, there's parts of him in me. I exhibit some of those traits. I can be like that.'
As far as me dealing with the hate, I mean, listen, the internet is the internet. I was born in '98. I think I started using the internet when I was however old a child is sentient enough to use the internet. I think I'm no stranger to how things can get out of control. I've learned to be able to separate myself. I know that the version of Olly that most people see on screen is just not the version of Olly that exists, and I've made peace with that.
"The internet is the internet... I've learned to be able to separate myself. I know that the version of Olly that most people see on screen is just not the version of Olly that exists, and I've made peace with that."
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images
Even going beyond the character, I think that there's an element of code-switching in all facets of life. I think the version of me that exists on Instagram, on Twitter, or whatever, it's so different than the version of me that my family sees at home. It's so different than the version of me that my coworkers see. It's different than the version of me that my loved ones see. I think that we sometimes forget when looking at the internet that whatever people are judging is a version of me that isn't all-encompassing, and that's okay sometimes.
xoN: What's a piece of relationship advice that you would give Carlton that you think that he desperately needs?
OS: Love yourself, my dude, because that's the thing. I think a lot of Carlton's problems come from a lack of self-love at the end of the day. Part of the journey he goes on in season two and beyond is that it's about learning to love your shortcomings, learning to love your successes, learning to love your failures, because that is what makes it a complete human being.
I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself to be perfect. No one's perfect, and I think the aspiration for perfection while accepting very little else can get you in trouble.
xoN: Which characters on the show do you believe would give you the best and worst love advice?
OS: Oh, Jazz (Jordan L. Jones), hands down, gives the best relationship advice. I mean, Jazz, he knows everything. He's been around the block, even though I don't know how old he is in the show. He's definitely older than Will and Carlton, but he's obviously not as old as Phil (Adrian Holmes) and Viv (Cassandra Freeman). Jazz gives [the] best advice, [and] Viv, too. Who would give the absolute worst advice? I don't know. I feel like that—as smooth as he is—Will be fucking up sometimes. So, he gives the worst advice. I just know it.
xoN: Overall, in real life, what's the best piece of self-love and wellness advice that you have ever received?
OS: Funny enough, it was from Will Smith. On the first day that we all got the role during season one, we were all sitting in the production office. We were about to do our first table read and Will couldn't be there, but he sent a message by proxy. He was like, "You guys are about to embark on the craziest journey of your lives. There will be ups, there will be downs, there will be left and rights, but lean on each other and take it one day at a time."
I very much sometimes get ahead of myself. I get very like, 'All right, well what's happening two months from now, two years from now?,' but I think the advice of taking it a day at a time, just living in this moment right here, has been an incredible act of self-love.
xoN: How do you define self-love, and what does self-love and wellness mean to you?
OS: For me, self-love is anything that's sustainable. Self-love is anything that you can wake up, do, go to bed, rinse and repeat for years and years. That's what self-love is. It's taking care of your immediate surroundings. That's not only your physical surroundings, but your psychological and mental surroundings too.
"Self-love is anything that's sustainable. Self-love is anything that you can wake up, do, go to bed, rinse and repeat for years and years. That's what self-love is."
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
xoN: What can we expect from the second season? Because the kids are itching. We want to know.
OS: Listen, you know I can't spoil anything, but I can tell you season two is going to be bigger. It's going to be more exciting. We have a lot more cameos, obviously. We already know Tatyana Ali is going to be in there, which is just incredible. What a phenomenal gift of her to give us her time. She's phenomenal. She's the most giving actress. She's phenomenal. It's truly a gift to have her with us.
I think that what I can say is you can expect quite a few more Will, Carlton shenanigans. Because I think that's something from the original series that people missed in season one, and you're getting quite a little bit of that in season two. And you can also be, rest assured, Carlton will be on his best and worst behavior.
For more of Olly Sholotan, follow him on Instagram @OllySho. The second season of Bel-Air is now streaming on Peacock.
Featured image by Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “On My Mama” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour. So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
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Feature image by Amy Sussman/WireImage for Parkwood