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