Phylicia Rashad Reflects on Bill Cosby’s Influence, Previews ‘David Makes Man’

By Marisa Roffman

Phylicia Rashad had no idea how big “The Cosby Show” would become as she was filming the family sitcom in the 1980s and 1990s — nor could she have imagined how its legacy would be complicated by allegations against the titular comedian.

“We were [just] having fun,” the actress said at the ATX Television Festival Friday. “We were working and we were having fun.”

Rashad, who received a standing ovation when she was honored with the “Award in Television eXcellence” at the festival, received two Emmy nominations for her role as the Huxtable matriarch on the long-running NBC comedy. But after 58 women accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, most networks pulled it from its syndication rotation. (Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018, related to a 2004 incident; he was subsequently imprisoned.)

Prior to landing the role of matriarch Clair Huxtable opposite Cosby, Rashad had primarily worked in theater, which made it so she was always on cue. “And out of that came the famous Clair Huxtable stare,” she said. But she also recalled that Cosby sought her out on-set and gave her essential advice, and was instrumental in helping set the tone on the set.

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Cosby told her, “I want you to take the time to look at me and trust the audience will be with you,” Rashad shared. “When we were taping the pilot episode, Mr. Cosby said one thing to the entire cast; he said, ‘Don’t try to be funny. Just tell the story.'”

Rashad, who also worked with Cosby on the 1996-2000 series “Cosby,” did not address the allegations against her former co-star or the fallout to the show’s legacy. And despite the rocky recent years, the actress’s lingering fondness for the landmark comedy was apparent when she admitted took a cookie jar from the set after the series finale wrapped.

“It was home,” she said of her unusual choice of souvenir. “Everyone has touched it. When I look at it, I think of the kitchen, and the kitchen is the heart of the home.”

Looking ahead, Rashad is excited about her upcoming OWN drama, “David Makes Man,” where she plays a middle school instructor to the title character. “Thematically, visually, emotionally, there has never been anything like [it],” she said.

And acting in general, after all of these years, is still bringing her joy. “My objective as an actor has been rooted in my understanding that human beings are more alike than they can ever be different,” she said. “When I’m approaching any role…I want to know that person’s heart. I want to know the things the person doesn’t say. My objective has always been, through my work, to impart that on other people.”