The matriarch of The Cosby Show clan herself, Phylisha Rashad, portrayed Claire Huxtable and the actress is an utter delight in our exclusive one-on-one with the entertainment icon.
SheKnows: This is a unique day we live in I would think as a performer. You have the emotions of a show being out then it becoming a hit show. Years later, we have the DVD. What kind of emotions do you have as the world is getting ready to have the complete Cosby?
Phylisha Rashad: It’s unbelievable (laughs). It’s unbelievable. It’s difficult to fathom that 25 years have passed (laughs).
SheKnows: That’s very true!
Phylisha Rashad: Yeah, uh-huh. And as I’ve watched these episodes as they air they look so contemporary to me. They look so current. They look like they’re being taped now. I marvel at my good fortune in having being involved with it.
SheKnows: Even Bill’s sweaters have aged well.
Phylisha Rashad: Yes, the have. People talk about them still, don’t they?
SheKnows: Yes the do (laughing). Now, way back at the beginning, when you first all got together, did you have inkling you were on to something special?
Phylisha Rashad: Truthfully, I never considered it. I was so very happy to be a part of it, because it was good. As an actor, I just want my work to be good. That’s what I always thought about, ‘Is the work good?’ We used to have this saying in the theater ‘you work hard for the money.’ That’s because (laughs) we prayed that the audience could figure out what we were doing. We didn’t know. Things can be written that way. Here was something that was entertaining and fun and meaningful all at the same time. In a way that was not pedantic, not banging people over the head with messages, it was just easeful.
SheKnows: I also a think a testament to anything, regardless of film, stage, television – is the cast. And on The Cosby Show you had such a cast, the principals and the guest stars, my goodness. You have all had such fruitful careers afterwards.
Phylisha Rashad: There’s no doubt that it provided us with numerous opportunities. There’s much to be said about the exposure that the show afforded every actor in it because it was on every week and yes, it was immensely popular. For myself, I didn’t have to audition so much for things anymore. All of a sudden things were being offered. Film for television – offered to me. Roles in theater – offered to me. I think one audition I had was for Into the Woods. That was because people were accustomed to seeing me on television and they didn’t understand that I worked in theater for so many years prior to being on television. It was musical theater and people wanted to make sure I could sing. In fact, I continued my voice lessons all throughout the years with The Cosby Show. I even had a piano put in my dressing room. My instructor lived just blocks away. I’d have voice lessons in my dressing room (laughs).
SheKnows: Well, there you go. They say the best are always working at their craft.
Phylisha Rashad: It’s what I enjoy doing. I enjoy continuing to work.
SheKnows: I can’t help but noticed the incredible theater resume you have before The Cosby Show and since, how do you think that experience played into your ability to be so effective opposite someone as spontaneous as a comic like Bill Cosby?
Phylisha Rashad: You need to know how to follow a story and how to be in a scene as a living person – to approach that person as a living person knowing that something is going to happen. You don’t always know what’s going to happen. Just as you and I are talking – I don’t know what you’ll say next. You really don’t know what I’ll say next. It was like that working with him in a scene. I didn’t always know – I knew what he should be saying next (laughing hysterically) – but that’s not always what he would say! It was fun because one of the things you develop in theater is the ability to improvise. As you develop as an actor especially, you are always improvising. You improve so you can experience the spontaneous truth. Truth is so funny, it’s constant, yet it’s spontaneous.
SheKnows: It truly is, now speaking of truth and the now, I have to ask you about looking at a President Obama-elect, there were millions of steps along the way that led to his victory, but one of those steps, many people believe, was The Cosby Show in everyone’s living rooms in the ’80s. Do you think that’s a reach?
Phylisha Rashad: I don’t really know. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? When we look at the time that The Cosby Show occurred, Mr. Cosby had been working in television for decades had he not.
Phylisha Rashad: You could say that I Spy was the predecessor to all of this because people embraced him in that role. People embraced that show. That would be the predecessor of everything, I would think.
SheKnows: It is everything that came before.
Phylisha Rashad: Exactly. In those years, he begins his career with a unique set of sensibilities to begin with as a young comic. I remember the first time seeing him on The Tonight Show. I remember those early appearances before. Then, there he was every week. He was a human being. He was a full-fledged character, that more than anything else would be the predecessor. And to that I might add, human beings, let’s face it, we are much more alike then we could ever be different. One of the things that The Cosby Show demonstrated for me was that given the opportunity people are willing and wanting to embrace the likeness.