It has been—and I can’t believe I’m about to write this—31 years since Saved By the Bell made its small-screen debut. And now that Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie, and Lisa are technically all grown up and able to have teenage kids of their own, a reboot is most certainly in order. Enter Peacock’s sequel series, which promises plenty of nostalgia (yes, they are still hanging at The Max!) mixed with a fresh and diverse storyline for 2020. The good news: The original cast is back in an array of guest-starring and recurring roles. More good news: We get a whole new class of Bayside high schoolers to love. That being said we have to talk about Belmont Cameli.
Hailing from the Midwest, Cameli is making his acting debut as Jamie, a star football player and son of “Jessie” Spano (Elizabeth Berkley). Offering moments of hilarity coupled with a lot of heart, Cameli’s performance immediately stood out to me while viewing early episodes of the show. “He has this emotional intelligence that pulls his friends together and keeps everybody even keel,” says Cameli of the loveable character. The role served as a crash course in acting for the newcomer who arrived in Los Angeles just over a year ago and landed the show shortly thereafter. Excited to get to know the young star—one who we will surely be seeing more of—a bit better, I jumped on the phone with him to talk about everything from landing on the fast track to Hollywood to bringing a beloved show back into the spotlight. He even shared his funny rule of thumb for thrift shopping, which had me taking some notes. Keep reading for the full interview.
Photo:Lindsey Byrnes. Wardrobe: Sandro cardigan; Calvin Klein tank top; Levi's pants; Omis Studios chain.
First things first, I love the name Belmont. Where does it come from?
Belmont is a family name, actually. My grandfather was Belmondo, and when and the rest of the family came over from Italy, he Americanized his name to Belmont and my parents were nice enough to pass it down to me.
I want to talk about your journey into acting. I hear things happened very quickly for you.
Yeah, absolutely. A few years ago, I was a freshman in college studying business. I had a number of epiphanies about what I wanted my life to look like and where I wanted to draw fulfillment from through my work, and I realized a career in business was not going to align with my ultimate goals. So I left school and I started taking some acting classes at community college. I knew I wanted to be a part of the film and television industry. I wanted to be an actor and ultimately write and direct, but I didn’t really know the best way to enter the industry. I started modeling, which allowed me to get comfortable on sets, meet some people in the industry, and travel. I had some really great experiences doing that, but it was sort of a means to an end. The goal was really to begin acting. After I was taking classes, I was lucky enough to eventually gain representation and I just started auditioning. I dropped out of school and just started teaching myself the craft and about the industry and just learned as I went along.
A little over a year ago, I moved out to Los Angeles and started auditioning out here. When I got the audition for Saved By the Bell, I was actually back home, so I put it on tape with my best friend in my basement. He was actually far more nervous than I was when we put it on tape, which was funny. I was telling him, “Just say the words—I don’t need you to do anything spectacular.” The rest of the audition process was really exciting because it was all so new for me. I had been on TV one time before, but it was a very small part. The character’s name was “cute guy,” so there wasn’t a ton for me to work with there. I loved the character and the direction that Tracey Wigfield was taking him in, and the new show was very exciting to me. Ultimately, I ended up getting it and it’s been a very quick and wild experience. I’m very grateful to have come this far so quickly.
Saved By the Bell was a big deal for me as a young adult, but I imagine it was a little before your time. Do you recall your first encounters with the original?
Some of my first encounters with the original were around the time of auditioning because I hadn’t grown up watching Saved By the Bell. I got Boy Meets World as a kid, and I was a huge Drake & Josh fan. When I got the audition, I was like well, I got to watch the show, so I went back and I watched a lot of the episodes and familiarized myself with the scope of the sitcom and how vast it was. It was all over the world, so it was very exciting to be attached to a project that was so huge and [at that time] a fundamentally new kind of sitcom on Saturday mornings. I went back and I watched a ton of episodes to try and get a gauge on the old characters and the original cast and how that would translate into a new show in 2020.
Photo:Lindsey Byrnes. Wardrobe: Ralph Lauren tank top, Levi's pants; Omnis Studios chain.
This sequel offers nostalgia for original fans while also speaking to a new generation. What are you excited for audiences to see with this show?
I think the show does a great job of translating the original show into a more relevant landscape. The humor has evolved much like the format of the show has. It was originally a multi-cam setup, now it's a single cam. I’m excited that the humor is a little bit edgier and the show tackles a lot of relevant issues like it did in the original. Issues like identity and socioeconomic disparities and family and relationships. It’s really ingrained in what it’s like to be a high schooler in 2020, which is just funny in itself. I’m really excited about the hilarity that ensues under Tracey Wakefield, our showrunner’s direction. It’s very funny.
Elizabeth Berkley, aka Jessie Spano, is your mom on the show. What was it like working with her?
First of all, Elizabeth Berkley is just spectacular. It was very surreal meeting her—and the other members of the original cast—in real life. Elizabeth, specifically, was a huge help to me just getting acclimated in the industry and in Los Angeles as a city and as an actor on a show. She was very gracious, and in preparation, we spent a lot of time together. I met her family, and she has a little son with whom I got to spend some time with. And then we discussed the relationship between Jamie and Jessie and Jamie’s upbringing and what that would have looked like and the relationship they have as a family dynamic and all of that good stuff. We really got to chop it up and get into all of these hypotheticals about how these two characters progressed to get to this point in the story. That was very fun for us to unpack.
What were the Jessie Spano characteristics you wanted to bring to Jamie?
Well, there is this resounding emotional intelligence with Jessie’s character. She is very keen, especially in the new series because she is the feelings counselor, so she is very keen on relationships and expressing emotions. So that is something that was handed down to Jamie. It shows in his relationships with his friends. He has this situational awareness, even though academically, he is lacking in a comedic sense. He has this emotional intelligence that pulls his friends together and keeps everybody even keel. That’s kind of the Jessie Spano magic right there, is the ability to keep everybody together and focus on the goal.
Photo:Lindsey Byrnes. Wardrobe: Levi's jacket and pants; Ralph Lauren tank top; Omnis Studios chain.
Do you have a favorite memory from filming this project with everyone?
I don’t know if I have a favorite. The whole filming process was surreal for me because I had never done a project of this scope before. I really treated it as an introduction to the industry and as a film course. Every day on set I was constantly learning, and Trent O’Donnell, one of our directors who is just phenomenal, would always be teaching me writing, camera tricks, or this or that. And so I really just got to experience my first show as a student. It was a really wonderful and collaborative environment where I was learning from my castmates day in and day out and also from the crew and the amazing writing team. I got to absorb everything. Every day was truly a blessing, and I think I grew a lot over the course of filming.
You modeled for Abercrombie & Fitch following in the footsteps of other actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Emma Roberts, and Olivia Wilde, to name a few. Obviously, fashion is a part of your job as a model, but what’s your personal relationship to style? Has it been influenced by your work at all?
I, for the life of me, don’t know if my style is influenced by anything but my own musings and my impulsive fashion sense. My relationship to style is very simple. I like a retro look. I am a huge thrifter, and I have this rule of thumb where I will go into a thrift store and I’ll just pick something I like as soon as I walk in, purchase it, and leave. I will do that multiple times and I just get one thing at a time. So most of my wardrobe is thrifted clothes, some hand-me-downs, and stuff that I’ve traded with my friends. When I get dressed, it’s entirely dependent on the mood that I’m in. My wardrobe informs my mood and vice versa. It’s a very internal affair.
I love that you just go in, buy the first thing you like, and you’re out!
I can’t stick around and sift through everything because I’ll end up finding something I like more. I’m very indecisive, so I have this system and I stick to it. As soon as I see something I like, I go to the register, check out, and get out of the store.
Photo:Lindsey Byrnes. Wardrobe: Etro top and pants.
Is there anyone who you think is doing interesting things fashion-wise?
I think the fashion space today, especially for men, is very exciting. I love everything that Harry Styles is doing right now. I think that guy can pull off literally anything. I would love to emulate a similar fashion sense as him. I think right now there are a lot of different avenues you can take. I think today there is this “anything goes [approach]” for men’s fashion, which is very exciting.
Pivoting back to the acting space, who are the creators you really look up to?
Well, an artist I would love to emulate is Donald Glover. He is somebody who is transcendent in his art. It takes all formats. He did Community, which was a phenomenal comedy sitcom, and there is his music and standup. It’s something I would like to do with my career, which is to have a diverse approach to the arts. I also think what Shia LaBeouf is doing right now is fantastic. He has really found his voice and has been working on projects that are personal, passionate projects. I’ve been a huge fan of his my whole life, but to watch the progression of his career is very inspiring. What he’s gotten to do as a writer and as a director and how he wears multiple hats is very inspiring to me as an actor starting out.
You are about to have this big moment with Saved By the Bell, but what’s next? What are some goals you are working towards at this moment?
Twenty-twenty has been a very bizarre year. I cannot wait to shoot out the end of it into 2021. I’m looking to get more involved and to continue learning as an actor and as a participant in the film and television industry. I would love to work on some characters that are maybe a little closer to my age range because, you know, Bayside is high school, and delve into some more diverse characters and just let the train continue to move. I’m very eager about this upcoming year and working now that I’ve had the opportunity and gained the knowledge and experience on Saved By the Bell to apply to future projects and to continue developing and growing and working on my craft.
Saved By the Bell is now streaming on Peacock.