Malcolm-Jamal Warner Says His "Cosby Show" Best Friend Was His Rival in Real Life

The actor who played Theo Huxtable explained why the two actors didn't get along during the show.

They played best friends on one of the most popular comedies in TV history, but behind-the-scenes, there was tension between these two young stars. Malcolm-Jamal Warner starred on The Cosby Show as Theo Huxtable for all eight seasons, from 1984 to 1992. In early seasons of the show, Theo's best friend was Walter "Cockroach" Bradley, who was played by Carl Anthony Payne II. Payne appeared in a dozen episodes spanning from Season 2 to Season 4 before leaving the show for good.

In a new interview, Warner opened up about he and Payne not getting along behind the scenes and the reason why they butted heads. He also gave an update on where they stand today. Read on for more.

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Warner and Payne were in contention for the same role.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Carl Anthony Payne II on "The Cosby Show"
Viacom Enterprises

During a Jan. 12 interview on The Breakfast Club (via Atlanta Black Star), Warner shared that he and Payne both auditioned for the role of Theo.

"The original callbacks for Cosby, they flew in an actor from Chicago and flew in an actor from New York," Warner said. "Carl was the actor they flew in from New York. So, had I not auditioned for the show, Carl would have played Theo." Earlier in the interview, Warner had said that he was "literally the last person they saw" when it came to the first round of callbacks for that character.

Warner said Payne had a big ego.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner being interviewed by "The Breakfast Club"
Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM / YouTube

While Payne didn't get the lead role of Theo, he was cast as Theo's good friend Cockroach. Host DJ Envy said of the situation, "I gotta look at you every day and see you took my part." Warner added, "And then I gotta come back and play your best friend."

Warner said that he thinks their rocky working relationship partly stemmed from this. "I think on one hand, that may have had something to do with it—that was part of it," he explained.

However, he also thought there may have been some personality factors as well. "He had a huge ego," Warner said of Payne. "And I didn't come from that kind of place. The way I felt then and the way I do now, you know, based on my career, if anybody should walk around with a huge ego it should be me. And if I don't roll like that, I have very little tolerance for people who roll like that. So we never really—we just really never got along back then."

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They settled everything when they got older.

Carl Anthony Payne II at the HCA TV Awards Broadcast & Cable in 2022
Leon Bennett/FilmMagic via Getty Images

Warner said of his relationship with Payne, "We're cooler as adults than we were during the time." He added, "As adults, we've been able to sit down and have conversations and we're in a very cool, grown-man place now."

While Payne didn't last long on The Cosby Show, he went on to become better known for another sitcom. The actor starred as Cole on Martin from 1992 to 1997.

Payne has said that he was devastated to lose out on the part.

In a 2019 interview with Comedy Hype (warning: strong language in the clip above), Payne talked about auditioning for The Cosby Show and being sure he was going to get a main cast role.

"I actually auditioned for the part of Theo," he said. "And they flew myself, Malcolm, and this other dude … They flew us all to California." When the casting was announced, Payne said, "I was sitting right next to Malcolm, and I just knew I did a great job, and they was going to say 'you.' And they looked at me and pointed to him. And I was like [gasps] … It was like I got punched in the stomach by Floyd Mayweather."

Payne shared that Bill Cosby assured him that he wasn't turned down because he lacked talent, so he continued to audition for small parts on the show before getting the role of Cockroach. "I remember the last audition, I was like, 'If they say no again, I'm never coming in for this show again' … And it just so happened to work out," the actor recalled.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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