Phylicia Rashad

Phylicia Rashad is visiting Capitol Hill this week as a spokeswoman for the Peripheral Artery Disease Coalition. Best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on the long-running sitcom “The Cosby Show” and her Tony-winning performance in the recent Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” Rashad lives near New York City and is set to perform in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” at Lincoln Center. Rashad will speak to members of Congress on Tuesday.

You’re visiting Capitol Hill this week on behalf of peripheral artery disease. What drew you to this cause?
My own family medical history and the fact that I’d never heard of it before, and when I did hear about it … I could see there was a very strong possibility that my father had it at the time of his death. PAD wasn’t being diagnosed [at that time]. He had diabetes; he was over 50. He did have blood-pressure issues. More importantly, I remember he would have cramps in his legs at night. At that time it was attributed to fatigue, from standing. He was a dentist. But maybe there was something else happening. The medical community didn’t know [a lot] about it. Blocked arteries in the legs were not being looked at. He died in 1983.

So you think he had PAD?
You look back and wonder, what if? Might that have made a difference? I don’t know, but I know this campaign can make a difference for people now. The test for PAD is very, very simple.

How do you monitor your own cardiovascular health?
I don’t have diabetes and I don’t have cardiovascular problems. I pay attention to what I eat and I exercise regularly. When you work with dancers, as I did earlier in my career, you become very health-conscious. I do go for check-ups.

What is the test for PAD?
It’s like a blood-pressure test, but it’s taken at your ankle. Physicians don’t test regularly for it.  

Perhaps Congress can benefit from your visit, because it’s full of people who don’t take care of themselves.

That’s really what I was thinking. Shhh …. don’t tell them I said that!

What do you think about celebrities taking on causes?
It isn’t enough to just take on a cause. I would never just take on a cause. I take on something that means something to me personally.

Are you a Democrat or Republican?
It depends on the candidate.

Who do you wish to see in the White House next?
I wish to see a person in the White House who is clear-minded, whose agenda is transparent, whose administration is transparent, who is more concerned with people than things, and who honors the value of human existence everywhere.

Is there anyone who embodies that?
There are a number of people who do.

Anyone in particular?
There are a number of people who do.

So you don’t want to say.

In 12th grade I had a civics teacher. We asked who he was voting for. He turned to us with a very stern look and he said, “There is a reason it’s called a secret ballot.” I remember that.

Where do you live?
I live outside New York. I’m from Houston.

What is your philosophy of life?
Hmmm … Life is a gift and I think that it affords us many lessons and many blessings. We create life for ourselves and each other through our thoughts, our words and our actions, and I think we’re here to do something and we’re here to do something good. Each day is a present.

Do people shout out “Clair Huxtable!” to you in the streets?
Sometimes.

Does it bother you?
It doesn’t bother me at all. It says to me that people were thankful for the work that we did.

You graduated from Howard. What is your opinion on historically black colleges? Should federal money be granted to them?
This is what I think about federal money — I think federal money should be used to improve the human condition. If we put human condition at the forefront, it will save us a lot of headache and solve so many problems. People first. Then money. Then things.

What do you think of Barack Obama’s candidacy for president?
It’s a good thing. I’m liking everybody. That’s the truth.

What was it like to work with Bill Cosby? Was there a lot of laughter on the set?
There was a lot of laughter. Working with him … I don’t think there are enough superlatives to describe it. It was without question one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me in life. It was a joy to be in the presence of mastery and genius and to benefit from that, because he is so generous, just generous in every way you can imagine. I just love him. I really do.

I think you’re gushing.
It’s true, I can’t even think about him without smiling. One day maybe later on I will write something about it in a journal so my children can know how I thought about it. It was joyful and creative and it was like a jam session every day.

Are you in touch with any of the “Huxtable” children?
We talk occasionally. We see each other on planes [or] in an airport sometimes and it’s always a surprise gift.

I understand you will be performing at Lincoln Center.
Yes, I will be in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” at the Vivian Beaumont theatre. I’ll be the evil queen, the woman so evil she doesn’t even have a name. [Laughs.] They just call her “the Queen.”

What are you hoping to accomplish on Capitol Hill?
To raise awareness. If they see the value in it, it will be very helpful to people.

Where will you stay in Washington?
Now you know I’m not going to say that. Come on, child.

How about food? Where do you like to eat here?
There’s a sweet restaurant called Georgia Brown. There’s some places in Georgetown I like, too. I like good, clean food.

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or email at betsyr@thehill.com