Though she’ll be forever known as the iconic Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show, there’s definitely a whole lot more to actress and director Phylicia Rashad. Most recently, she put the final touches on a new play she’s directing which premieres this month at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Immediate Family. And there's more.
In addition to directing plays and acting in films such as Good Deeds, Change of Plans and the upcoming Gods Behaving Badly, she will be a regular on the new NBC suspense drama Do No Harm. Rashad also recently performed together for the first time with her daughter Condola Rashad—who was has been making quite a name for herself on Broadway and was nominated this month for a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway play Stickfly.
Below EBONY chats with Rashad during a break in rehearsal about Immediate Family, her daughter Condola and the general state of television today.
EBONY: You’ve been directing plays now for about five years. What lead you into that direction?
RASHAD: Well, honestly I was asked to do it. The first time was an invitation to direct August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at the Seattle Repertory Theatre and it’s my favorite play of all time. No one had ever written anything like that before. And then the next invitation came just last year to direct a production of Raisin in the Sun in Los Angles. And actually there were three incarnations of it. The first production was at the Ebony Repertory Theatre, then there was a reprise at Ebony Rep and then there was a third one at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. And then came this invitation for Immediate Family. And this invitation was particularly interesting because after working the two previous plays I asked myself what would it be like to work with a new play with an emerging playwright. Hmmmmmm.
EBONY: So what do you get out of directing? You could have done it once and said O.K that’s it, but you obviously get something deeper out of it.
RASHAD: I learn something all the time. I’m learning more about the craft of theater and I’m learning a lot as an actress. Like, for example, most of time we work harder than we need to,bBut it is work. It’s definitely work. And this play Immediate Family is a definite workout. You have to have muscles to do it. But it’s another kind of skill. A skill that develops over time.
It’s all the same to me, it’s acting. It is what it is. You have to prepare. You have to prepare the same way though the methods may be different.
EBONY: There are many new plays that go begging to be produced. What drew you this particular one, Immediate Family?
RASHAD: Paul Oakley Stovall, the playwright, was someone who I met recently and we worked together on Ifa Bayeza’s play Charleston Olio at the BB King Museum in Mississippi. So he told me that he had written some plays and would like to share them with me and would I like to read them? I said yes, so he send me these two plays. Months pass and he sends me an email saying: “Oh, by the way did I tell you that I wanted you to direct this play?” I said “No you didn’t” and he said “Well, I’m asking you would you like to direct this play now?”
EBONY: And when you’re in the rehearsal phase of putting a play together what do you discover during that process?
RASHAD: You discover so many subtle connections that run through it. If the playwright knew every little thing about his play, why bother? There must be discovery all the time, otherwise why bother to do it?
EBONY: To go off into another subject, and I know this is a dumb question, but you’re no doubt proud of your daughter Condola?
RASHAD: (laughs) Yes I am. I am very proud.
EBONY: Did you try to discourage her from going into the business or was she one of those lucky kids who had parents who said, do whatever you want to do as long as it makes you happy?
RASHAD: Well, when she very, very young she asked for instruction. She asked for a piano teacher, a dance teacher and a reading teacher. She asked for those things when she was three years old. And then shortly after that I took her to see a performance at the Alvin Ailey. She was dressed in her pretty little dress and we want backstage, because I knew some of the people in the company back then, and she looked around and she said: “When is it going to be my time, Mommy?”
She wasn’t just growing up watching television and films. She was growing up watching me work. Actually work in the theater. When I did Into The Woods she was barely two, but she was in the theater with me. She was always with me. She was on the set of The Cosby