The cast took vacations together, ended the series with a massive food fight and along the way became like a real family

Updated September 10, 2015 03:30 PM
Credit: Everett

It’s time to hail the prince.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air turns 25 Thursday, with the first episode of the iconic sitcom airing Sept. 10, 1990 on NBC. The show would become one of the most enduring sitcoms of the ’90s, but at the time it was a risk for star Will Smith, whose acting chops were unproven, and for NBC, which pitted the series against Monday Night Football.

The show soon found a ravenous audience – one that continues thanks to reruns, with fans still loving the story all about how a young man from Philadelphia shook up the lives of the Banks family.

In honor of the big anniversary, several of the the show’s stars are sharing their memories with PEOPLE, revealing behind-the-scene tidbits you may not have known.

1. The stars became like a family off screen

The onscreen love among the cast wasn’t fake, with them spending much of their downtime together.

“We vacationed together. We spent Christmases together. All of our families came from whatever part of the world they were from,” Joseph Marcell, who played the butler Geoffrey, tells PEOPLE. “We’d go off to Hawaii or somewhere, which Will was very kind to organize for us.”

They still keep in touch, with Daphne Maxwell Reid (the second Aunt Vivian), describing them as “a very close family.”

“We go to weddings, we go to births. Things like that,” she says. “I’m just am so proud of each one of them. It’s like being the mother to all of those kids.”

2. Will Smith got his new aunt roses

Reid joined the show after season three, following the departure of original the aunt Viv (Janet Hubert-Whitten). Reid had originally turned down an offer to audition for the role when the show started, thinking she would have no interest in a show starring a rapper. But when Fresh Prince premiered, she became a quick fan.

To get the role for Aunt Viv, she had to audition against hundreds of women – and things clicked when she finally got to read opposite James Avery (Uncle Phil), who would be a close friend until his death on Dec. 31, 2013.

“He became my second husband, with the permission of his wife,” she says with a laugh.

She says Smith made her feel very welcome when she joined, and that their off screen relationship mirrored their onscreen one.

“The first time I went to set, my dressing room was full of red roses of welcome from Will,” says Reid. “At the table read I sat down, and they treated me like I’d been in the family the whole time.”

The Series was Nicky’s favorite TV show before he was cast

Ross Bagley, who joined the cast as young Nicky Banks in season five, used to watch The Fresh Prince with his babysitter while his mom was at choir practice Monday nights. After a lengthy audition process, he finally got the chance to read with Smith, who made him feel so comfortable that he “didn’t have a nervous bone” in his body.

Will and the rest of the cast taught him about acting, and also ensured that he wouldn’t have to say anything that might be inappropriate for a young kid.

“I’d have a line in there that might have been too racy for my character. He was 5 and I was 7. I remember I had to say ‘I’m 5, dammit!’ and Will stepped in and said, ‘We’re going to cut dammit out,’ ” recalls Bagley. “We changed it to “I’m 5, you dork.’ ”

4. The last day of shooting included a massive food fight

Though there were plenty of tears shed when the cast shot their final scene, it was also a happy moment – with the stars and crew throwing cake at each other all over the set. “It was very, very difficult to get through,” Reid recalls of shooting the final episode. “Every time a scene would start, somebody would start crying.”

When a food fight broke out, it was just a culmination of years of having fun behind-the-scenes.

“We had a lot of fun backstage. They would show bloopers, but that was only the tip of the iceberg of the jokes that were going on backstage,” says Bagley. “Will was a big kid, and that was one of the times we were able to let loose. People on set weren’t worried about continuity and we could just tear the set up.”

5. The cast had no idea the show would be a hit

Marcell was a working in London when he flew out to Los Angeles for his audition. After shooting the pilot, he flew back and forgot about the show, not expecting it to even be ordered to series.

“Months later, my agent called and said, ‘Darling do you remember this thing you went to America for? Well it’s going into series and they want you in America at the end of the week.’

The series earned a following almost immediately. NBC initially agreed to just a few episodes, and after it got a big reaction, quickly ordered a full season.

“The rest is history,” says Marcell.