'Bel-Air' Actress Simone Joy Jones Talks Protecting Her Spirit While Being In The Limelight
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'Bel-Air' Actress Simone Joy Jones Talks Protecting Her Spirit While Being In The Limelight

Her middle name is exactly what she is and exactly what she brings to our television screens. Introducing Simone Joy Jones, who most of us may know as Lisa Wilkes in the Peacock original series Bel-Air, the highly-anticipated reboot of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air executive produced by Will Smith himself. Bringing a new zillennial twist to the beloved story of Will Smith’s relocation from West Philly and adaptation to the Cali life, Bel-Air gives our favorite on-screen family the same love and warmth that we remember while also experiencing a new level of grit, depth, and angst as our characters love, fall out, and grow with one another.

Originally played by Nia Long, Jones takes on the role of Lisa, Will’s (Jabari Banks) first love interest at Bel-Air Academy as well as the former fling of Carlton Banks (Olly Sholotan). Rather than just being introduced as a beautiful lover, Bel-Air gives Lisa more screen time as we get to know her as a Gen-Z’er balancing athletics, academia as a scholarship student, young love, and family drama. This is a new side of Lisa that viewers are more than excited to get to know in this reimagination of our favorite 90s sitcom.

“It's so important to tell stories like Bel-Air and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air because they're Black stories; they're our stories,” Jones told xoNecole about the cultural relevance and impact of the original show and its Peacock reboot. “They're not so polished, which I love about them. The relationships are really complicated and beautiful, and I think that mirrors real life. The best part about telling stories is telling them authentically and giving them some high stakes to really watch somebody go through it.”

Jones spoke with xoNecole contributing writer D’Shonda Brown about the second season of Bel-Air, how she uses her music as a form of self-care when she’s in her mode as S!MONE, and when she feels the most confident off-screen.

xoNecole: How does Simone Joy Jones the actress differ from S!MONE as the artist and the singer?

Simone Joy Jones: Simone Joy Jones is all of the things, and I think she is ethereal. I think she does what she wants. She's passionate about storytelling and people and how those connect. Because Simone plays so many different characters and embodies so many different things, I thought it was important to have another name to go by when I do my music so that you know it's Simone's exploration through music.

That's why I did that, just to give a little bit of separation because sometimes you feel a little bit tied to a persona, and I never wanted to be tied to a persona. I wanted to be free to explore and also have some separation between my acting career and my music career, or whatever S!MONE decides to do.

xoN: Why is it important for you to give Lisa more of a story arc in the 'Bel-Air' reboot than in the original series?

SJJ: It's extremely important, and it's fitting in the setting because everyone in the cast has a four-dimensional world. It's only right that Lisa gets one as well and gets to live as an authentic person - not just as someone who is loved, not just as someone who shows up in the world. It definitely works out because the Bel-Air world has space for all of that. The original was in the sitcom format, so you can only do so much when you have 30 minutes and you want to laugh and be in a world that goes wrong and has fun but always comes out on top.

"It's only right that Lisa gets one as well and gets to live as an authentic person - not just as someone who is loved, not just as someone who shows up in the world. It definitely works out because the Bel-Air world has space for all of that."

Here, we're talking about reality and when people don't always come out on top, and they have to really work through stuff. It's only right that we have Lisa work through some stuff and come out in a real way.

xoN: Because Lisa is an Olympic-trained athlete, did you feel like you had to challenge your physical fitness and wellness ahead of the show, or was it already up to par?

SJJ: Oh my gosh, listen, in the audition process, they were like, Can you swim?, and I was like, Yes, yes, I can swim. They're like, No, we're not joking with you. Can you swim? And I was like, Yes. Well, not only do I have to know how to swim, which I already did, I have to be a very strong swimmer so I went out and practiced. That's the reason I got a place that had access to somewhere I could swim, but I ended up not swimming as much as I thought I was going to swim.

Thank God I was prepared, and in the new season, we do swim a little bit. As an actor, I always want to be physically prepared for whatever I have to do to make sure the character is authentic.

xoN: If you could give Lisa a piece of love advice, what would you tell her?

SJJ: Oh my God, that's so funny. When y'all watch this season, you're all going to laugh. Lisa has this line where she was just like, "Ugh, I can't believe I'm that girl again; the girl who's just waiting for something to happen." It's something like that when she's talking to Will and she just feels really embarrassed, and I think we've all been there. I wouldn't even give her the advice to avoid it. I would give her the advice to feel the feelings, and then when it's time, you get back up on the horse and you love just as hard.

xoN: How has being a full-time actress and artist challenged you as an adult in the limelight and overall defining what adulting means to you?

SJJ: It's completely shaped how I'm an adult and living life because not only is acting and being a musician public, but it's also very vulnerable. Being a sensitive person and a sensitive being, I feel like sometimes I have no skin, and then to have no skin in front of a bunch of people all the time is a huge skill and learning. I've been learning how to protect myself. Also, having armor on without having a wall up is something that I've been working on.

Actually, the guy who plays my dad on the show, Joe Holt, he was like, "All the praise isn't real and all the hate isn't real," like don't take any of it. That really helps because at first, I was like, "Oh, look at what somebody said. That's so great." Then I was like, "Oh, look at what somebody said. What the hell?" It's like that's a lot to take in for anybody. Just learning to be a solid person as I go through adulthood because there's only a certain amount of people who have an experience like this. Hanging on and taking advice from people that I really trust who are going through the same thing, who really have a good head on their shoulders, has helped me a lot.

Amy Sussman/Getty Images

xoN: How have your self-care routines changed for you since you became a full-time artist and actress for 'Bel-Air'?

SJJ: My self-care routine has changed completely. At first, when I started Bel-Air, I'd just moved to LA. I literally had an Airbnb out here, because I'd just graduated college. I was cast on a Friday and I started work on a Wednesday. I was in a new city, new era, I had an apartment with nothing in it. I was literally having the best time going to sleep on my couch, so my self-care routine was non-existent because I had so much to do and not a lot of foundation.

Now, my self-care routine fits me for who I am, and it continues to evolve with who I am. Last summer, I went to Greece, I actually studied yoga and that's been one of the things that has helped me in a journey physically, keeping my mind and body together, and also just finding some stillness. My self-care routine also includes making sure I get outside with my friends [and] I drink a lot of water because I have great skin already thanks to mom and dad. It's always changing, and it's making sure I have time to do the things that make me happy and the things that make me grow.

xoN: What's your morning routine when you wake up and start your day, and how does it differ from when you have a full day on set?

SJJ: On set day, I get up [and] I have a little gratitude dance. I'm usually dancing in the mornings. I'm a big morning person, so I make sure to look at myself in the mirror and be like, Okay, let's go. You got this. It's a good day. I walk to yoga because I have a yoga studio right by me. I'll come back and I'll make some avocado toast. That's been my thing. I'll usually have a thing for two weeks and then I'll be sick of it.

I shadow the director sometimes because I'm on my directing journey. That was a big part of last year too. I co-directed a short with my two songs, Angel Ether. I wrote those two songs because I had a visual vision for them and I wanted to try that out. That's what my days have been full of - making sure I grow in some sort of way. When I'm on set and when I have an early call time, I listen to Erykah Badu's But You Can’t Use My Phone mixtape when I'm on the way there because I'll travel.

Then the day is pretty much always Bel-Air and usually, it’s the whole day. I’m usually having a great time on set and it’s a great environment. How I take care of myself is sometimes I'm like a super social person, but I recharge by myself, so I'll make sure I have the time. I'll say hello, I'll touch base. I'll make sure everyone's good and I'm good. I make sure I know my lines, and then if I'm feeling a little bit like, Oh, my extrovert self is dying a little bit, I'll go into my trailer and take a beat, and then I'll come out and do what I do.

xoN: When it comes to you and your music, aside from being part of 'Bel-Air' as Lisa, how do you mentally prepare for a music performance? 

SJJ: I've been a performer all my life. I've come from stage and musical theater, and so I feel like I'm a veteran for taking care of my voice and preparing my body because that's literally the tool that you use. Preparing for the stage, it's [about] staying hydrated. It's making sure I'm in a great mindset to connect with people when I'm on stage.

I learned my lesson one time when I just spent the whole day doing my hair and makeup and not really worrying about my body and how I interacted. I just sat on stage and it was a little bit stiff, and I was like, Learned my lesson. You thought you could get away with not warming up and taking care of yourself. I make sure that my whole body is warmed up, so a lot of times I'll run, work out, do yoga, or make sure I sweat and then make sure I'm really open and in touch with my body and my breath.

xoN: How would you say that music helps with your mental health, and how is this an escape for you?

SJJ: They're literally directly related because when I feel in a great mind space, then I feel very open. Sometimes it's free-flowing out of my body, like if I'm writing for another artist, if I'm writing for myself, if I'm just in the studio trying to catch a vibe. I'm working on playing instruments, too. If I'm not in a great head space, I go to music to massage some creativity out, or I go to music to soothe.

xoN: When do you feel the most confident?

SJJ: I feel the most confident when I'm prepared, so it could literally be any situation. We have this scene where I'm swimming, talking, and falling in love and also falling apart but when I get up there and I'm absolutely sure that I know my lines and I know everything, it's a great day. I have no anxiety, I have no nervousness at all. I'm very happy because my work ethic in preparation definitely came from Carnegie Mellon and playing sports as a kid.

I noticed if I'm without that, I'm nervous, I'm scared because I don't know what I'm doing. If I know what I'm doing and I'm prepared, I'm usually great to go because I'm a strong believer in you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to your level of training.

For more of Simone, follow her on Instagram @simonejoyjones. Bel-Air is now streaming on Peacock.

Featured image design by Qori B.




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