Veteran actress Phylicia Rashad is well known for her role as the iconic Claire Huxtable, the regal, warm and loving mom on The Cosby Show that much of America could relate to. However, her latest role as Gilda in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, is the opposite. She’s the nosey neighbor whom some of the other women want to get away from but at the same time, her character forces some of the other ladies to take accountability for their destructive behavior and learn from their mistakes. VIBE caught up with Rashad to briefly chat about what Tyler Perry did to preserve but also enhance the remake of Notzake Shange’s classic choreopoem. ⎯Starrene Rhett
VIBE: Were you a fan of Tyler Perry’s work before getting involved with For Colored Girls?
Phylicia Rashad: I had never worked with him before. I’d seen his films but I had never met him before but that offer came and I said yes.
Which came first for you: did you read the book or did you see the play and what was your response to it?
I saw the original Broadway play. I thought it was amazing how such a story that wasn’t pretty was poetry. Usually poetry is about lofty things and this was the poetry of speech and the movement of everyday people. I found a little bit of it off putting to tell you the truth because it was so angry when I saw it. And I think Tyler Perry has added an element here that wasn’t in the original stage production, and that is the necessity for taking responsibility for one’s own self otherwise you’re just living to die. That’s where he wrote the line [in the film], “You gotta take some responsibility in this. Otherwise you’re just living to die.”
What do you think this adaptation will do for the next generation of women and girls who are just getting introduced to it?
I don’t know, but it’s gonna be very interesting to see. I never really like to predict such things but women and men are responding strongly to this film in positive ways. It is not light fair. It’s something that children undoubtedly need not see but for teenage girls and older.
Based on your own extensive experience with theater and film, what should people keep in mind when it comes to Tyler Perry directing this film as far as empathizing, because some people might go into it expecting exactly what they may have read in the book or saw in the play?
He wanted to honor the original work. He kept the poetry, he didn’t not create something that was at the expense of the poetry. He created stories for each woman that allowed us to see a life in them and the poetry flowed seamlessly in throughout the dialogue. It’s really remarkable and it’s never been done to my knowledge.
What are some of your favorite monologues from the play that made it to the movie?
"Toussaint" is lovely. We don’t hear or see the full of Toussaint in this film because of the children and filming with them and what that was like so it didn’t quite work but it’s okay because it still goes on. I don’t know them by title. I just know I love when Anika’s character, Yasmeen, is saying as she’s walking down the street about dancing and the music and what that was like. I like those things that are up there.
What was preparation like since the movie was so very serious? Were there times on set where you had to take a minute to relax?
You didn’t take a minute to cheer up. You just jumped in and you were there. You were there with other great people so you were not alone. You were never alone. We were with each other and we were with our director and we were with crew, marvelous crew, wonderful people who worked diligently and tirelessly to pull this off, people whose names and faces you don’t see but you cant have a film without them.
How involved was Ntozake Shange in the making of this?
Ntozake Shange had agreed to grant the rights to the film. She wrote the choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When Rainbow Was Enuf so she was very influential because through everything there was this very sincere and ernest desire on Mr. Perry’s part and all the actresses’ parts to honor her work, to bring a full measure of truth to it.
What do you want people to take away from For Colored Girls, the movie?
Things happen. Some of which you cannot control, some of which you invite knowingly or unknowingly. Consider this: Are we the things that we have done, are we the things that have happened to us, or are we something more?