Keshia Knight Pulliam Does Not Regret Being Your Favorite Child Star

Photo: Robin L Marshall/WireImage.
Britney Spears shaved her head. Demi Lovato punched her backup dancer and then went to rehab. Drew Barrymore had to overcome a drug addiction before she could move forward with her career. All of these infamous Hollywood tales support a theory that being a child star only leads to destruction and chaos in people’s lives. However, there are some exceptions to that rule, and Keshia Knight Pulliam is one of them.
The 38-year-old came to fame as Rudy — the spunky youngest child of Heathcliff (Bill Cosby) and Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) — on The Cosby Show. In 1986, at only 6 years old, she was the youngest actress to ever be nominated for an Emmy in acknowledgement of her performance on the show. She donned the role for all eight seasons of the show. And then, with the exception of a few movie and television parts, Pulliam was gone until she snagged a lead role in Tyler Perry’s House of Payne in 2007. Like a lucky charm, that series also ran for eight seasons, and Pulliam was there for them all.
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Pulliam chose a route that not many others in her position would have. She opted for a normal high school and college experience over a life in the spotlight. However, not even the most level-headed celebrities are immune from scandal. She ruffled more than a few feathers when she adamantly defended her former boss and co-star Bill Cosby in the media storm that unleashed to cover the dozens of sexual assault claims made against him. And last year, her estranged husband Ed Hartwell filed for divorce only a week after Pulliam announced that the couple was expecting their first child. Her relationship drama has resulted in another media spectacle that has been hard to watch, even from afar.
Despite all of this drama, the woman I meet in November at the W Hotel in Atlanta’s Midtown area is hopeful, optimistic, and beaming with the glow of being a new mom. We were both panelists at the Fearless Reloaded conference, a one-day conference for women, and I was surprised to learn Pulliam is planning on releasing her own line of spices. It turns out she’s quite the cook. She’s also determined to give her infant daughter Ella an even better life than she had. And Pulliam’s life has been pretty cool.
I chatted with her after her panel about growing up in the spotlight, avoiding the trap some of her peers fell into, and what’s changed since motherhood.
Refinery29: Let's talk about being a child star and why some people think it's a sort of curse. We've seen some examples of people growing up in the entertainment industry and having public scandals and difficulties. How would you describe your own transition into adulthood with that background?
Keshia Knight-Pulliam: “I've had a great transition and a great life. I took time off from this. I've been in the business since I was 9 months old. I decided to go to college and high school uninterrupted, and I'm glad I made that decision.”
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Why did you do it?
“It never occurred to me not to, honestly. Acting has always been one of the many things that I do, but it's not the totality of who I am and it never has been.”
So being a child star has been more of a gift than a curse for you?
“Absolutely! It's been a blessing. I've had the opportunities that many people pray for and never have. It’s once in a lifetime to be on a long running hit sitcom — and to do it twice with the House of Payne for five years as well. I've had an amazing career and life. It's continuing, and blossoming, and growing, and transitioning. I’m just embracing the journey.”
What was college like for you?
“I loved it. I went to Spelman. It was my only choice, and it was a great time. It was an experience like no other. I feel like from the standpoint of being an African-American woman, there's no better place to be to get empowered and to be in this environment where you're celebrated to such a high level. Not only celebrated, but you're just poured into in addition to being educated and being ready for any and everything that the world brings.”
Your friend Tahira [Joy, founder of The Cut Life] told me that you have a podcast.
“I do! Kandidly Keshia! It's funny because I just crossed my 100th episode threshold. When the opportunity came up it was so out of the blue. I was like 'Me? Are you sure? You're going to let me talk about whatever I want each week? Are you sure about that?' So I was like, hell yeah. Absolutely. It's been a really fun journey and an amazing vehicle for people to get to know me and not just the characters that I play. It’s a different side of me, and it's definitely candid. We talk about everything from whats going on in my life, to motherhood, to my friends — I don't know how I talked them into a dating podcast, but they just let me set them up. Tahira is on that one and it's hilarious. It’s just a good time and I love it.”
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What has changed the most about you since becoming a mom?
“That I'm a mom. I'm still the same person. I don't feel that I'm this alien now because I have a child. Your priorities definitely shift and it's no longer about you. You have this little human that you're responsible for and that you love beyond... you don't even know that you have the capacity to love something so very much. But I really think that's it. I feel like you're still the same person. It's just another layer that's added onto you. I love it. I love being a mom. It's the greatest blessing, gift, job, and responsibility that I've ever been given. Family has always been important to me, I'm the youngest of four. Oh five, my little god brother is sitting here. We come from a big family. That's just what we do. We're still very close-knit and tight. We laugh together. We enjoy life together."
What is the last show that you binge watched?
“Insecure. When I was pregnant I fell in love with that show. I think I died laughing. When you're pregnant you pee on yourself because you laugh so hard, and when she did that ‘Broken Pussy’ song I died! I was like ‘Who does this? And who comes up with this? I fell in love at that moment. This is so real, even the conversations she has with her friends and stuff.”
What was the last thing you ordered online?
"Girl I am Amazon Primed out! Let's see. It was probably some baby detergent or something. I order everything from pancake mix..."
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Oh you're one of those people who gets the essentials online.
"I am. Have they sent you a drone yet? No! And they probably shouldn't because one of my brothers might shoot it down not knowing what the hell it is flying. But I love it. Online shopping as a mom — I loved it before, but it's become a new thing."
What was the last thing you've done to completely embarrass yourself?
"I don't know. I don't really embarrass easily. Some people don't know that I'm silly with kind of a fun quirky sense of humor. I can't even think of the last thing I did to embarrass myself. Can you think of it Tracy? [Note: Tracy is her friend, who is standing nearby. She remembers. It was Pulliam’s birthday.]
"Oh my god! This was back in April. It was my birthday. Ella was four months old. I had not been out at all, had not had a drink in a year plus. All I know is it was bad. I forgot that I hadn't had a drink in so long. And I am a cheap date. [laughs] You waft alcohol my direction ,and I'm drunk. We'll just leave it at that."
Did you go out or was it a house party?
"No I went out. This was in public. It was so much fun, though."
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