‘This Is Us’: Susan Kelechi Watson Explains How Phylicia Rashad Paved The Way For Characters Like Beth Pearson

The ‘This Is Us’ star reunites with her former Howard University teacher for an emotional episode of the NBC drama.

Susan Kelechi Watson as Beth, Phylicia Rashad as Carol, Melanie Liburd as Zoe.
Ron Batzdorff / NBC

The ‘This Is Us’ star reunites with her former Howard University teacher for an emotional episode of the NBC drama.

Phylicia Rashad is known as one of television’s most iconic moms, and now she’ll take her turn playing a mom once again on NBC’s top-rated show. Nearly 30 years after The Cosby Show wrapped its eight-season run on NBC, Rashad returns to the Peacock Network to play Carol, Beth Pearson’s mom on This Is Us.

In a flashback-filled episode titled “Our Little Island Girl,” This Is Us fans will finally learn backstory of Randall’s wife, Beth (played by Susan Kelechi Watson), as she heads to Washington D.C. to care for her mom. Her mother has hurt her hip during a workplace accident.

In a new interview posted by Pilot Online, Susan Kelechi Watson revealed that her TV mom, Phylicia Rashad, served as a strong role model back in the day.

“There was this part where Beth says, ‘You know, I’m strong because of you.’ And I thought of the legacy of Phylicia Rashad and what she has left us all with, and continues to do, obviously, with her work on The Cosby Show as Clair Huxtable, and on and on and on. She was my example of representation back in the day.”

Kelechi Watson went on to explain that she felt as though she has a deep, unspoken bond with Rashad when working with her on This Is Us.

“When I sat with her, there was this, sort of ancestral, spiritual exchange in that moment. I think Beth is here because of you, because people like you have walked through the door and made a path that now people look on a show like This Is Us on NBC, and it’s not a strange thing to see a black woman roll through with box braids and a suit on, talking about, ‘I’m going to work and holding down my husband and my family and my kids,’ and this is not going to be strange.”

The This Is Us episode also marks a reunion between Susan Kelechi Watson and Phylicia Rashad. The future This Is Us co-stars first met years ago, when Rashad was teaching master classes at Howard University — where Watson was a fine arts major, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Phylicia Rashad became a household name in the early 1980s when she played Claire Hanks Huxtable — the wife of Bill Cosby’s Cliff Huxtable — for eight seasons on The Cosby Show. Claire was a mom of five and attorney living with her physician husband and their family in an upper-middle-class Brooklyn neighborhood. The hit sitcom spent five seasons as the number-one rated comedy on NBC, and revived the sitcom genre of the era.

Phylicia Rashad will play a very different motherly role on This Is Us. The “Our Little Island Girl” episode, written by Eboni Freeman, tells the story of Beth — or Bethany Clarke, as she was known as a young girl — and her strong-willed mother (Rashad). Her mother forces Beth to give up on her dream to become a professional dancer.

This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman previously told Philly.com that it was a no-brainer to seek out Phylicia Rashad for the role as Beth’s mother.

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“Phylicia was somebody that from the moment we cast Susan, we were like, if we ever get to [introduce] Susan’s mom, it’s got to be Phylicia,” Fogelman said of the Emmy-nominated actress.

This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown, who plays Randall Pearson on the NBC drama, also told the Hollywood Reporter that Susan Kelechi Watson’s powerful scenes with Phylicia Rashad should get her noticed by awards show voters. While he admits his TV wife has already been “killing it for the past three years,” Brown says Beth’s showcase episode — and Kelechi Watson’s “strong assist from Dame Phylicia Rashad” — should be all it takes to score her an Emmy or Golden Globe nod this year.

In addition to Phylicia Rashad, Carl Lumbly (Alias) guest stars as Beth’s father, Abe Clarke, on the upcoming This Is Us episode.

The This Is Us episode “Our Little Island Girl” premieres Tuesday, February 19, at 9 p.m. on NBC.