This story has been updated with a statement from a representative for Bill Cosby.
The new Showtime docuseries We Need to Talk About Cosby is a nuanced retelling of comedian Bill Cosby's professional life, addressing both his decades of success and the dozens of sexual assaults he's alleged to have perpetrated during that time.
Written and directed by comedian W. Kamau Bell (United Shades of America), the project, which premiered on Saturday at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, spends its third hour focusing on his behavior during the peak of his career on The Cosby Show. One account in particular from that time is sure to leave viewers wondering if others on the set knew about Cosby's behavior.
Steve Watkins, the director's assistant on the pivotal NBC series, says in the docuseries that show tapings would have a general audience, often including families, "but then you'd get to this one pocket where there's about 20, 25 women dressed to the nines. They're all models, and they look it. It's like, 'Wow, what in the world's going on up there?' What we learned later [was] a modeling agency would bring these girls over, and they would talk to Mr. [Cosby]."
Sundance Institute 'We Need to Talk About Cosby' premieres on Showtime on Jan. 30.
Two actors who appeared on the show, Joseph C. Phillips and Lili Bernard, the latter of whom has accused Cosby of sexual assault, remember those women being brought to the TV dad's dressing room after the show. "There was always a long line of beautiful women, all different shades," says Bernard. "Yeah, they were lined up outside of his dressing room, poor things, going in and out."
Phillips, who recurred on the series as Lt. Martin Kendall, adds, "I guess they would read or, I don't know what went on, and then they would go out. It was just kind of like the air. You know, it was there, and everybody knew it."
One such model, Eden Tirl, appears in the docuseries and shares what it was like to catch Cosby's attention after her agent brought her to a taping. After saying a quick hello to the TV star after the episode ended, she says, "The following morning I get a phone call from my agent. 'You just got a part in The Cosby Show. He wants you next week on the show to play a cop.'" She jokes, "Now don't get me wrong, women can play cops, but dressed blues cops walking the beat in New York at 22 and six feet tall, it just seemed a little odd."
Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images Joseph C. Phillips played Lt. Martin Kendall on NBC's 'The Cosby Show.'
She adds, "This was my first television role. I had three lines or something like that. I had my own dressing room." Phillips, who again appeared on The Cosby Show about two dozen times, mentions that he never got his own dressing room. He had to share one with costar Geoffrey Owens. "One week we come in, I kid you not, we are in a closet. They put us in a storage closet," says the actor.
Sensing special treatment, Tirl says, "I knew enough to know that this is all now getting really strange, and I'm uncomfortable right away." On the first day of rehearsal, she says she was mysteriously pulled away by a man named Frank Scotti, who she'd later learn was Cosby's assistant. "He's actually escorting me off," she says, alleging that she was told that she was to have lunch in Cosby's dressing room and that no one else on set stopped Scotti to say "we need her."
Tirl says she was spared a visit by the comedian the first day, but "the second day, we're rehearsing and Scotti comes, and this time I say I will not leave the set," says the actress. "And I talked to two people, and I said 'I don't want to leave the set,' and they said, 'Just go. This happens all the time. Just go.'"
After three days of the same routine, Tirl says Cosby finally showed up in the dressing room and uncharacteristically locked the door. "He just said really pointedly, 'Eden, you know that you could have anything you wanted, right? You do understand who I am," says Tirl. "And I said, 'Bill, you are Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and you're Jell-O pudding pops to me." According to the actress, Cosby's mood changed instantly, and he replied, "Don't say that to me. They all say that to me."
SHOWTIME Eden Tirl shares her 'Cosby Show' experience in Showtime's 'We Need to Talk About Cosby.'
Tirl alleges that Cosby then had her stand up, put her arms out, and turn around before pressing himself behind her for an "acting exercise" where he mirrored her movements. "It's very oppressive, and it feels sexual," the former model says in the doc. In the end, Cosby allegedly told her, "See, this is all we were going to do. Make love. This is making love."
Tirl says her experience with sexual harassment on the set of the Cosby Show has made her suspicious of anyone involved on the show who claims they were unaware of the star's behavior. "I don't believe that that's the first time that happened. I don't believe that the people on that set didn't know what was happening." Tirl concludes her interview by saying, "A lot of people knew. Because you can't do what he did unless you have other people supporting what you're doing."
Watkins shares the same sentiment, adding, "I would love to ask some people that I used to work with there like 'What in the world did you think was going on?' You did wonder. You had to."
SHOWTIME 'We Need to Talk About Cosby' key art.
A representative for Cosby responded to the docuseries in a statement to EW that said "Despite media's repetitive reports of allegations against Mr. Cosby, none have ever been proven in any court of law." It adds, "Mr. Cosby vehemently denies all allegations waged against him."
We Need to Talk About Cosby premieres Jan. 30 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.