Phylicia Rashad is an icon to women around the world. Note that I just say “women,” not African American women or black women…The Cosby Show reached into households of every creed, and inspired people all around the world to laugh and love. It’s been almost twenty years since the show’s been off the air (how’s that for making ya feel old?). In her post-Cosby career, Phylicia Rashad returned to her first love – the theater. She turned in brilliant performances on stage and screen in A Raisin in the Sun, then made her directorial debut with a production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. Now she returns to the big screen as Ella McKnight, Common’s mother in the romantic comedy Just Wright.

When I was offered the opportunity to interview Mrs. Rashad, I literally squealed with excitement. I have held a longstanding admiration for both Phylicia and her sister Debbie Allen — confident, intelligent, beautiful, classy, talented women that they are. I didn’t get a one-on-one with Phylicia (it was a group interview, on the phone as she spent time at her mother’s house in South Carolina). Nevertheless, I was able to ask her some Afrobella-pertinent questions, and here’s what she had to say.

On the late, legendary Lena Horne: Now she was…she was an amazing human being. She was as fiery as she was beautiful. Mmm hmm. And that fire – that was a fire of intellect. A very keen intellect. She thought deeply about everything she did, and she felt deeply about everything she did. She was a person who was very loyal and devoted in her friendships. And she loved her family deeply. She was a woman who endured more than we’ll ever know – oh yes. More than we’ll ever know… And I considered myself very privileged to have met her, and to have spent time just talking with her.

On beauty advice for women who want to look as timelessly gorgeous as she does:

Sleep is your best friend, and water. Sleep and water are your best friends. I’m not a social drinker, I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. And products – I use Sphatika. Sphatika is a line of beauty products that’s all natural and it has an essence of quartz crystal in it. The products are amazing, very good for all types of skin. Very good for sensitive skin. And most effective, it’s just so natural the skin loves it. Just absorbs it. Sphatika. Google it. It’s a Sanskrit word that means “crystal.”

On Michelle Obama:

I think that Michelle Obama is a fascinating human being. She is one of the most developed human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. She is so completely comfortable in her skin. She has no hidden agenda, she’s not trying to prove any points. It’s wonderful to be in her presence…I think there are a great number of people who look at her with appreciation and respect and gratitude. I think she represents our country very well. I think she represents women of our country very, very well, because she is really what the American woman is about. The American woman IS intelligent, the American woman IS about personal development, intellectual integrity and the American woman IS mother. She is wife. She is woman. And that’s who she is. And she is that so…naturally. It’s just who she is. And if you ever have occasion to be in her presence, you know it immediately. Mmm hmmm.

On her fashion inspirations:

I look at the way a garment makes me feel. When I say the way it makes me feel, I mean…the way the fabrics make me feel. The way the cut of a garment makes me feel. Do I feel comfortable, first of all. I’m big on comfort. It’s not about being pinched up and pulled together and feeling like a trussed up turkey. Oh no, that will never do. I like garments that are extremely feminine, I like feminine clothing. And I like things that just grab me and say ooh, take me…I don’t go shopping every month. Sometimes I don’t shop for a whole year, because I have so many lovely things that I can interchange. I like to create a look. I like to create an outfit. I like to take something from here, over there and back yonder and put it together, and people say – where did you get that? Who are you wearing? I like to do that. I think it’s fun.

On hip hop:

Oh, I like ’em. I like – well. I’ll put it this way. I don’t like crass language. That really doesn’t move me at all. It says to me that someone doesn’t understand the power of the spoken word or the written word. It says to me that someone is without poetry. And I think that if those people who engage in that and think of that as the real expression, should go back and listen to some blues. Cause there’s real poetry there. My baby done left me and it’s minus 9 degrees outside. There are ways to say things that are just really really real. But I like the rhythms. And earlier hip hop I really liked alot. Remember that film Brown Sugar? Aw, baby now see I liked that. I liked that it had some musicality in it. Now all this bangin’ and clangin’, because the people have taken music education out of the school system – but you see still the creative spirit, it finds its way out in other ways. We really have to offer our young people musical instruction. Because all that bangin’ and clangin’ just says to me that music was taken out of the school system when these people were coming through. That’s all it says – it doesn’t say they’re not good people, it doesn’t say that these aren’t intelligent people – it just says that this was just not afforded to them.

On what attracted her to this role: The script was well written, I thought the concept was just great, and it was just so much fun! For the past few years I’ve been working in very dramatic productions on the stage, and this was an opportunity to lighten up again and I liked that.

On Just Wright: This is a romance film. And everybody’s gonna enjoy it. It is so good, it is so human, and so universal in its feelings. It really is… This was a great film to be a part of. The energy that was on the set transfers onto the screen. The chemistry of all the people who worked on this transfers to the screen. It is thoroughly enjoyable, and you can take anybody in your family to see it.

I was so honored to speak with Mrs. Rashad, and I wish her and this film all the best! Just Wright opens on May 14.

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