Pulliam, 23, spent a third of her life playing the precocious daughter of Cliff and Clair Huxtable (Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad) from 1984-92. Rudy was so cute -- smart, funny, reasonably well behaved -- there was hardly a family in America that didn't want a child just like her for their very own.
At 6, she was nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actress -- the youngest actress ever nominated for an Emmy.
She starred in a handful of TV movies -- "The Little Match Girl" (1987); "Polly" (1989); "Polly: Comin' Home!" (1990) -- but put her career pretty much on hold when "Cosby" left the air.
In May 2001, Pulliam graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta with a degree in sociology, and a concentration in film -- and now she's back before the camera, ready to pick up more or less where she left off.
Pulliam's first major post-college project is "What About Your Friends: Weekend Get-Away," a coming-of-age drama airing Friday night on UPN.
She stars with Angell Conwell ("Baby Boy") and Monica McSwain ("American Pie") in a story about three friends -- tight since grade school -- who travel together to a weekend college scholarship retreat and learn some lessons about friendship and responsibility.
The lead characters are black, but -- like "The Cosby Show" -- the movie is designed to appeal to a multicultural audience.
"It's a positive upbeat story that everyone can relate to," said Pulliam.
Also like "Cosby," the movie -- both as entertainment and as message -- takes a "kind and gentle" approach to its subject matter.
"It has a message but it doesn't try to beat you over the head with it," she said.
Pulliam is not that far removed from the time when she was choosing colleges, so she said she related very well to the movie's themes -- including the issue of handling those first opportunities to exercise independent judgment away from home.
"It's a time of choice, moving out of your parents' house and your future lies in your hands," she said.
As a child star, Pulliam faced challenges that got the best of a lot of other performers. She credits her family with helping her keep everything in perspective
"My parents have always insisted that I stay level-headed," she said. "My family has always stressed the life lessons to make you a productive member of society, not just in the realm of entertainment."
Pulliam concedes she didn't even have a sense of "The Cosby Show's" place in U.S. cultural history until she got to Spelman.
"When I was doing it I didn't quite know the magnitude to which the show had affected TV and the country in general," she said.
She began to get the picture when the show came up for discussion and examination during her sociology classes.
For her senior thesis, Pulliam studied the blaxploitation films of the 1970s that made stars of such actors as Richard Roundtree ("Shaft") and Pam Grier ("Foxy Brown"). She came away from the experience with mixed feelings about the cultural phenomenon.
"It was a real eye-opener watching these films," she said. "You become appalled with the profanity and some of the images -- but it's a double edged sword. These were the first films that brought all African-American casts to the mainstream. Had there not been Foxy Brown you might never have had Pam Grier."
Pulliam also discovered "more positive" black-oriented films in her research, but she said they were not "glorified" the way the blaxploitation films were, and as a consequence were not seen by many people.
Pulliam said there is some talk about turning "What About Your Friends" into a series. If that happens, she intends to produce and direct some episodes.
But she said she has always prepared herself for the possibility that she might wind up doing something outside of the entertainment field.
"It's something you have to think about," she said. "You have to live your life. I'd love to open a restaurant, or get into investment properties."
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