Her wide-eyed innocence and spirited quips made little Rudy Huxtable one of the most beloved characters on The Cosby Show and brought the actress who played her, Keshia Knight Pulliam, the distinction of becoming the youngest Emmy nominee ever at the tender age of 6.
“That record still exists,” Keshia, 41, exclusively tells Closer. “People have been watching me grow up on television.”
This New Jersey native, who earned a degree in sociology from Spelman College in Atlanta, is still on television, too — she recently joined the reunited cast of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne for new episodes on BET. Keshia’s also an entrepreneur with her own line of seasonings at Keshia’s Kitchen, a philanthropist and a mother! Her daughter, Ella Grace Hartwell, was born in 2017. “I just love being a mom,” Keshia gushes. “Out of everything I’ve ever done, that is my greatest joy and my greatest accomplishment.”
Keep scrolling below for Close Weekly‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Keshia Knight Pulliam!
You appeared in your first commercial at 9 months old. How did that come about?
Honestly, it started out as a hobby. I was a friendly baby and living so close [to New York City], it was something that my mom and I did together.
The Cosby Show ran for eight seasons and was No. 1 for five. Why do you think it was so beloved?
It was ahead of its time in terms of having [parents who were a] doctor and a lawyer. It showed an African-American family in a way that was relatable to all people, no matter what your race or religious background. The ability to tell these universal stories where everyone could see themselves was magical.
How did the show’s popularity affect your childhood?
My parents were very deliberate about raising me away from the limelight. When I went home, I had chores and responsibilities. They always wanted to create a sense of normalcy for me like going to regular school. [Back then] I didn’t really realize the true magnitude of the work that we were doing.
Do you think you missed out by not having a “normal” childhood?
No, absolutely not. I had a great childhood. I have an amazing family. I’ve had the opportunity to see some amazing places and to work with great people. My childhood was different, but if you really think about it, everybody’s childhood is different. That’s part of what shapes us into who we are today.
You earned a sociology degree from Spelman College. Did you plan on pursuing a different career after college?
I was a sociology major with a concentration in film. I always knew I wanted to continue acting.
You’re back on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne as Miranda. What was it like reuniting for a ninth season after a three- year hiatus?
We’re definitely like family! Having been in the business for 40-plus years at this point, I know it’s a wonderful thing to have these sort of relationships on and off the set. We have a lot of die-hard fans. They can feel the love and chemistry among us.
Was it hard to pick up where you left off?
The biggest change is in [the children] Malik (played by Larramie Shaw) and Jazmine (China Anne McClain). The characters are older so they are dealing with different issues. I always laugh because now I know how people feel when they look at me because they’ve seen me grow up on television, too.
And now you’ve got a family of your own! Your daughter Ella is three.
Goodness, she is getting big so fast. I am just so grateful that because of what I do, she can travel with me. It’s me, her and my mom. We are the three amigos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Does she want to become an actress, too?
She said, “Mommy, can I be an actor when I grow up?” I was like, “Well, baby, you can be whatever you desire to be. I started when I was younger than you. You don’t have to wait until you grow up.”
Will you be taking her on auditions?
No, my plan is allowing her to be a child. If it organically happens, it happens. This is her stage to just explore the world and her different interests, and for me to support that.
How did motherhood change you?
It slowed me down. It’s hard to believe because I feel like I’m busier than ever! But motherhood forces me to be more present in the moment, because these moments just go by so fast. It also makes me police myself into being the best version of me every day. Because I have this little human being who is not just looking to what I say, but is watching what I do and emulating it.
Do you have any advice for other women about being a single mom?
Women [can be] such nurturers and caretakers that we almost feel guilty about making time for ourselves. But it’s really important because you can’t pour from an empty cup. That’s something I want my daughter to witness so she recognizes that it’s important for her, too.
You’ve been very active in the movement to empower young people through Kamp Kizzy, your nonprofit, and now the Fearless Fund. Tell us about it.
I got together with two girlfriends to start the Fearless Fund, which is a $5 million venture capital fund investing in women of color. We were the first fund by women of color investing in women of color. It’s all about what you can do to be a voice for the voiceless and be a part of the solution.
That’s lovely. The world could use a little more positivity these days.
I’m definitely an eternal optimist, so I try to stay focused on my blessings. Even in this time, I’m grateful because it’s given the world a chance to slow down and focus on priorities like family. Even the unrest has given us time to focus. We all have to do our part because until Black Lives Matter, all lives can’t possibly matter. It’s time to make sure we are doing things that move the needle forward.
— Reporting by Diana Cooper