In The Loop With: Phylicia Rashad
TV’s most beloved mom opens up about motherhood, the joys of acting and the entertainment industry.
For Phylicia Rashad, when the final episode of “The Cosby Show” aired on April 30, 1992, her career really began to take flight. In addition to her role as Clair Huxtable, a brilliant mother, wife and attorney who proved that women really could have it all, Rashad has starred in films and has done extensive work on Broadway, scoring a win for black culture by becoming the first black woman to land a Tony award in 2004 for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.”
While acting is Rashad’s first love, it’s her prowess as a stage director that has taken over in recent years. The multitalented entertainer is currently directing a revival of August Wilson’s poignant boarding house tale “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” with the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, and we spoke with her about what attracted her to the project while also getting tips for aspiring actors and new moms and moms-to-be.
You went from starring in “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway to directing it in L.A. last year. How did acting in the play prepare you to direct it?
That was the third production of “A Raisin in the Sun” in which I’ve been involved. I have been involved with productions of “A Raisin in the Sun” since my years in college. Each production was preparation that I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t thinking about it, but that’s what was happening. Your experience of the play deepens your understanding of the play and of the possibilities of expression of the play.
What drew you to direct August Wilson’s "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone?"
It’s an August Wilson play, that’s a draw in itself. That is the draw.
The Center Theatre Group’s celebration of African American theater is unprecedented, but what are your thoughts on the current state of black theater and the opportunities for people of color on stage?
I think that we make our opportunities. I think that we’re not limited in any way; we’re working everywhere. We actors are working everywhere.
Are there any up-and-coming African American writers, directors or actors that have caught your attention?
There are wonderful directors and wonderful writers that have been in existence for quite some time. Chadwick Boseman, who is enjoying a newfound success and popularity and fame with the film “42,” is such a person. He is a writer and director and the world doesn’t know that about him yet, but it will. And there are a number of young people…they exist, we exist.
Great artists will continue with their work with or without the light of fame. That’s the nature of what we do.
When it came to navigating through your career, what was the best advice you ever received and whom did you receive it from?
My mother gave me the best advice—she told me to know my own world of being, and to stay in my own element.
So what advice can you give to those looking to break into the industry?
Before there is industry, there should be art. Focus attention to the development of one’s self and the art in one’s self.
We just celebrated Mother’s Day, and Clair Huxtable is hands down the greatest TV mom of all time. What’s the best advice you have for all of the new moms and moms to be?
Motherhood is a gift. It’s a great gift to give life. Today there are so many stresses that we live with. We’re so caught in the stresses of day-to-day living that we miss or lose sight of the beauty of what we’ve been given, what’s happening right before us in the development of our children.
Sometimes with new mothers, young mothers, the period between infancy and adolescence, that period in which a child seems so dependent on you, seems like terminable periods of time if you are dealing with the stresses of the day. If you just stop and think a minute, what great gift you’ve been given to nurture, to shape and mold human life, human existence. What a great gift the child gives you in every smile, every hug. Even though it may seem like time is passing slowly when the child is very young and needing to be fed every few minutes, that time is going very quickly, and you won’t get it back again. Enjoy that time, treasure that time, love that time and give time to your children.
"Joe Turner's Come and Gone" runs at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles until June 9th. For more information, visit the Center Theatre Group here.
Photos courtesy of the Center Theatre Group.