Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe first met on the TV series Soul Food and have been one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples ever since. Now, Parker is making her Broadway debut as Blanche DuBois in Emily Mann’s revival of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, at The Broadhurst Theatre, opposite Blair Underwood. During Kodjoe’s recent visit to New York, the couple sat down with TheaterMania to discuss their work, their life, their two children, and opportunities for actors of color in theater and Hollywood.
THEATERMANIA: Nicole, has it been a big adjustment for you to be on Broadway?
NICOLE ARI PARKER: I think my instrument as an actor has changed a lot from the first day of rehearsal. I’ve had to be really disciplined about my vocal work and our director, Emily Mann has really pushed me to be more available to the audience. Now I’m conscious that I’m on stage, and there are people in the balcony. Theater is my first love, but I just haven’t done it in a while.
TM Did you find the same thing, Boris, when you did Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway a couple of years ago?
BORIS KODJOE: Oh, absolutely. When you perform on TV or on film, it’s completely different. I had a great teacher in James Earl Jones, who played Big Daddy. I couldn’t imagine being on stage with a better person for my first time. It was so empowering. He talked to me every single day, and not just about the play — about life and about his experiences — and that was a huge inspiration to me.
TM: Boris, you went to the first few previews of Streetcar. Did you hear the audience talk a lot about the race of the cast?
BK: Not really. It’s a great piece, by a great classic writer, with a great cast that people enjoy watching because they are just phenomenal. It has nothing to do with the fact that Nicole’s black or Blair’s black — it’s just a great piece of theater that everyone can appreciate.
TM: Do you think there are more opportunities for actors of color to take on roles that they never would have been considered for before?
NAP: Once there are more African Americans and Asian Americans behind the scenes as producers, writers, and directors, I think more inclusive casting will happen. We have a black producer on Streetcar, Stephen Byrd, and that’s why I’m on Broadway right now. He had the vision, he had the focus to get the money, and he’s an incredible fighter, and that’s the only way it could happen. There was no chance for me to play Blanche DuBois on Broadway until somebody like Stephen made that happen. And that’s just the reality of the situation today.
BK: I think she’s right. I also think that in Hollywood there are a lot of white executives who are completely oblivious to diversity because they live in their own world, and their own world looks like what they put on television. Once there are more diverse decision makers, then things will change.
TM: Boris is still living in California with the children. Why didn’t you all just pack up and move to New York?
BK: They have their own life, with school and sports and music and arts, and we wanted to keep that stable. And also, we knew what it would take for Nicole to really do a good job in this show. She might go to sleep at 3am, and the kids are up at 6, and they don’t care if she slept two hours. So I think it was important for us to support her and step aside so she can get the preparation she needs to play this part.
NAP: Doing this show would not be possible if Boris didn’t agree to take care of the kids. Everyone keeps asking “are you exhausted” or “how do you stay on stage for 3 hours, 8 shows a week,” but this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t care if I’m delirious or have the same clothes on for three days. But the only thing that’s ever kind of made me a little uncomfortable these past few weeks was not seeing my kids. But I know they’re happy and safe and Boris brings them to see me as much as possible, and when school’s out they’ll come here for a while. We’re working it out.
TM Do your children understand what you two do for a living?
BK: Not really. When I was on Undercovers, we were driving in the car, and there was a picture of me on a bus, and my son said “Daddy, how did they get a picture of you!?” And Sophie said “Mommy gave it to them.” They had no idea. And they still don’t understand why people randomly walk up to me and say “Oh my god, it’s Boris Kodjoe.” And I just tell them “look, they’re just being nice.” We can keep up this charade maybe another two years, until they figure out what’s going on.
TM: Would you encourage them to become actors?
NAP: No, because what you will learn by the time you’re 40 is that it’s not show art, it’s show business. And while I put my daughter and son in theater camp, because I think theater is fantastic, what I’m really saying “no” to is the business. It’s very hard on a young person. I have a real no-nonsense dad who taught me how to be resilient at a very young age. But I don’t know how tough they are yet. Their life has been pretty easy. I would hate for Sophie to go on a commercial audition and be told no because she’s not cute enough or something.
TM: Do either of you remember the first time you were really hurt by a rejection?
NAP: Yes, and I was very shocked. I was flown out here by the network for a TV pilot for Aaron Spelling, and I remember literally leaving the audition and knowing I had the job. And when I got back to the hotel room, they called and said it went to the other girl. And I remember crying in the bathroom! That was my first lesson in “you just never know.” It’s not how pretty you are or how talented you are. It’s that if these five people on this day in this room like you, then you get a job.
TM: So is there something you two want to work on together?
BK: Yes, we’re working on a romantic comedy that we’re gonna do together. Stage could be fun, too. We like working together.