She seems to be known mostly for the men in her life: Bill Cosby, with whom she co-starred in NBC's hit sitcom The Cosby Show, and now Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, with whom she's appearing on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun. But Phylicia Rashad is winning plaudits on her own, most recently a Best Actress Tony Award. She spoke with TIME's Richard Zoglin.
DID YOU HAVE ANY TREPIDATION ABOUT DOING A RAISIN IN THE SUN ON BROADWAY? I did. I didn't want to do it because I didn't like the play. I always thought the woman [matriarch Lena Younger] was a brick. But [director] Kenny Leon said to me, "Rashad, read the play." Because it had been years. I was reading things that I had not heard before.
HOW DO YOU LIKE WORKING WITH SEAN COMBS? He is a magnificent human being. He is a joy to work with, a consummate professional. He is always working. Always working to be better.
HE HAS BEEN CRITICIZED FOR BEING IN OVER HIS HEAD A LITTLE BIT AS AN ACTOR. DO YOU THINK HE IS IN OVER HIS HEAD? He thinks he is. And I think he is very courageous. He's got great instincts. He's not a trained actor, and he is not an actor with years of experience on the stage. But he is an actor. And he brings a quality to this play that is earnest and raw, and there's truth in that.
BILL COSBY CAUSED A LOT OF CONTROVERSY WITH HIS SPEECH A FEW WEEKS AGO IN WASHINGTON CRITICIZING SOME BLACK PARENTS FOR NOT INSTILLING PROPER VALUES IN THEIR KIDS. DID YOU AGREE AT ALL WITH HIS COMMENTS? First of all, let me just say that everyone in Constitution Hall applauded him. All right? And I think it isn't a great idea to take people's statements out of context. He's not criticizing black parents. What he's looking at is the change in values in our society and culture. What he's addressing specifically, and this is true for our nation, is that education is not valued the way it needs to be for the sake of our young people and our nation. And I think he's right about that. Teachers are not held in the same regard as they were when I was in school. He's not wrong about that, and he's right for asserting that parents have to advocate for their children.
HAVE YOU TALKED TO HIM ABOUT IT? I told him that everyone I have spoken to who was there--and these people are diverse in their interests--says he said what needed to be said.
YOU HAVE WORKED WITH COSBY ON TWO DIFFERENT SHOWS. WHAT'S THE SPECIAL RAPPORT YOU HAVE? We have fun. And I just always feel like I am right there with him. Working with him was like dancing--dancing with a great partner.
WOULD THERE BE ANY CHANCE OF A COSBY SHOW REUNION? WOULD YOU EVER PLAY CLAIR HUXTABLE AGAIN? You know what? That's not going to happen. Everybody is in a different place now. I will say this to you: when I was working on The Cosby Show, I always felt very respected. I felt respected by Bill. I felt respected by our producers and our directors, and I mean respected as an actor. So it was a little bit surprising to me to understand that there were casting directors in other areas who didn't regard me as an actor. They thought of me as a TV personality. Now I'm regarded as an actor.