Twenty years after groundbreaking series The Cosby Show ended in 1992, Tempestt Bledsoe has returned to NBC in the Jimmy Fallon-produced sitcom Guys with Kids to play Marny, the working mother of four kids and wife of stay-at-home dad Gary, played by Anthony Anderson. Slated for Wednesday night, the second episode of Guys with Kids kicks off September 26.
Bledsoe’s Vanessa left an indelible mark. Smart — wise beyond her years, even — Vanessa possessed the many positive qualities a lot of people recognized in their own daughters, granddaughters, sisters and nieces. But, as thankful as the Chicago native is to have been the vessel for Vanessa Huxtable, that role was far from her last act. Shortly after the show ended, Bledsoe helmed her own self-titled talk show. In the last decade especially, her career has been a mix of acting and reality gigs. Actually, the FOX reality series Househusbands of Hollywood that she starred in alongside her longtime love Darryl Bell, better known as Ron Johnson from A Different World, bears a great resemblance to Guys with Kids. She also hosted Clean House.
theGrio caught up with her to discuss her return to NBC, playing a mother, Debbie Allen’s reported resurrection of A Different World and, of course, the enduring legacy of The Cosby Show.
You are back on NBC. What has returning to NBC been like for you?
It’s been really great so far. Everyone has been very receptive. The audience has been really supportive of the show. Twitter has been ablaze. All of the NBC executives are very excited about what they’re seeing. Working with Jimmy Fallon has been great. It’s really just an ideal situation and ideal timing as far as just the stars aligning and everything aligning perfectly.
With Marny, you’ve taken on a different mother role than we’ve seen on television.
Traditionally yes [that’s what we’ve seen], but I think it’s a really good thing because there are so many families that are operating differently than, say, their parents did or their grandparents did for so many different reasons, whether it’s the economy, the cost of childcare. Instead of having both parents in the workplace, sometimes simply it’s more effective to have one parent stay home because childcare costs have spiraled completely out of control and you find that you have a parent working solely just to pay for the childcare so that they can go to work. I know several families that were in that situation and just said look it makes more sense for one of us to stay home and care for the children and know who is taking care of them and whoever can get the bigger the paycheck and that can be the woman or the man. It came down to that situation with Gary and Marny. It just so worked out that it was him [who stayed home].
What do you think of this arrangement?
I think it’s really great to see a father parenting the children especially [since] we have four boys and all of them are under 7. Every time I see Anthony wheeling the twin boys around and the two little boys trailing behind him, it’s the cutest picture in the world. It makes me laugh even before he opens his mouth. It’s just so adorable.
When you’re playing Marny, do you ever think about Clair?
Me, no, but everybody else does. If I had just had one more kid, and there’s actually a show coming up where they contemplate whether they actually will have a fifth child, but we often made the joke that there is another kid hiding somewhere under these pile of toys or in this drawer and it’s going to be perfect; it’s going to all come together. But the fact that I play a mother their minds automatically goes to that and that’s great. If I can do half the job she did, I would be hitting it out the park so that would be great.
Has being a part of The Cosby Show set such a high bar for you that the roles you have gone out for or subsequently been offered in your adult life just don’t compare?
Yeah. I think that happened for all of us. We were brought up on a set that is just incomparable as far as what kind of set you would want kids to be on. It was the best set in the world. We were very protected and sheltered. The Cosby Show changed America’s opinion on so many different topics and opened so many people’s eyes and, so, you really learned immediately the power of what you were doing, that there was a power in portraying a role and you were made aware of the effect that it could have on people so it does raise the bar. But, if you are not concerned about your image and portrayals, you can always work, but I certainly have been concerned about that.
Other child stars, regardless of color, have had great trouble transitioning into adulthood. Generally, though, we don’t just hear crazy stories about the kids from The Cosby Show. Why?
It started with our parents. We all had very strong family units and our parents were determined to see us through this experience whole and healthy. We were just brought up with incredible examples, especially with Phylicia Rashad and Dr. Cosby, as far as seeing as how they carried themselves and how they lived their lives. Just blessed and lucky.
You started very young. What made your parents think this was okay at such a young age?
I started modeling when I was about 3 and sung jingles on the radio for years. Cosby was actually my first acting audition. My parents were divorced when I was quite young so it was really all my mother’s doing. My mother was a teacher in Chicago, at Warren Elementary, and she was just very astute at identifying what children excelled at and she saw that I was just a natural performer.