Acting legend Phylicia Rashad took the stage with This Is Us star Susan Kelechi Watson at the ATX Television Festival for a conversation — but before discussing her remarkable career, the Houston native was the recipient of ATX’s “Award in Television eXcellence”. After graciously accepting the award, the actress, who can be seen in the forthcoming OWN drama David Makes Man, took us on a journey of her career as Watson navigated.
Many may know Rashad from television and movies, but her theater career was just as thriving with roles in Into The Woods, Dreamgirls, August Osage County, Raisin in the Sun and others. “My understanding that my job as an actor is to really go beyond whatever is on the page,” Rashad tells Watson. She adds that her job is to find more “bring the playwright’s fruition to life.”
In 2004, she made history as the first black actress to win a Tony for a dramatic leading role for the aforementioned Raisin in the Sun to which she said, “It’s good to be the first but it’s more important not to be the last.”
In addition to being a trailblazer in the theater space, her role in The Cosby Show as Claire Huxtable became a matriarchal touchstone in pop culture. When she was taping it she never expected the sitcom to become what it became. Even though the role opened the doors for visibility, Watson asked if playing Claire pigeon-holed her and if she had to fight to be seen through a different lens.
“Yes and no,” Rashad responded. “In theater, it was not a fight. Casting is creative — at least it was. It’s getting strange now. Casting directors and directors seem to be open to the fact that you are an actor and you play different parts. There was one film — I’m not saying any names — that said they didn’t want to see me because of Claire Huxtable.”
Of course, that didn’t affect her hustle as she went on to do plenty of film and TV. She says of her latest venture, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s David Makes Man, that it is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. The new OWN series fuels her passion for working with younger talent — this includes her work with Ryan Coogler on Creed and Steven Caple Jr.’s Creed II.
“I learned as a young student that learning never stops,” she said. “I learned it from my mother, I learned it from my father. I learned from the people I grew up with — you just don’t stop hustling.”