Nicole Ari Parker has it all: The blazing career, the doting husband, motherh ood and peace of mind. After praying for a role that would make the Black community proud, she landed the lead role in the defunct Showtime series Soul Food. The popular and steamy drama not only brought her much success and lifelong friends in co-stars Malinda Williams and Vanessa Williams but her dream man in Hollywood hunk Boris Kodjoe.
Though she’s now added the life roles of mother and wife to her resumé, Parker has no plan to ride off into the sunset and retire anytime soon. The actress is still lighting up the screen after much success with the romantic flick Brown Sugar, and is now trying her hand at comedy alongside Martin Lawrence with her latest film Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins now on DVD, and an upcoming project with Damon Wayans.
Essence.com caught up with the Tinseltown honey to discuss why jealously isn’t her style, how working with husband Boris Kodjoe went from ‘torture’ to her happily ever after and the crazy rumors that keep her laughing.
Essence.com: Congrats on your continued success! After playing a conservative lawyer on Soul Food you ventured into the world of comedy co-starring in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins with Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, Mo’ Nique and Mike Epps. What inspired you to take the leap?
Nicole Ari Parker: I love Malcolm Lee and jumped on the opportunity to work with him as a director. When I found out who was in the cast I was like, Oh my God, I have to do this movie! I’m known as “Ms. Dramatic Role,” so I really loved having the opportunity to not only try to be funny but to work with funny people. Mo’ Nique is so funny and Mike Epps? You can’t even stand still working with him because you just fall over with laughter. And then Martin was so elegant and graceful. Everybody set each other up with jokes and let everyone have their moment. Mike Epps would go off on a tangent in a hot minute. Poor Malcolm, I don’t even know how he edited it. I think in they’re going to have a lot of extra scenes for the DVD. It was just so much good material.
Essence.com: You definitely held your own, especially having to play the love interest between Cedric the Entertainer and Martin. Did you ever find yourself trying to crack a joke?
N.A.P: (Laughs) Oh please. They were like, “Come here boo, just sit down.” But, I just booked this pilot with Damon Wayans, so I must be doing something right in the funny department.
Essence.com: Ohhh nice! Tell us a little more about the project
N.A.P: (Laughs) I don’t think I can. I just needed to let you know that I’m really funny for real. (laughs)
Essence.com: (Laughs) Well, You’ve worked with Martin before on Blue Streak, so how was this experience different?
N.A.P: With Blue Streak, I was new on the scene and I didn’t have that big of a part, so this was a great opportunity. Oh and I got to kiss him and that was really sweet. Martin is so sweet and generous. It was the little things. He stuck around for my close-ups on set and a lot of big movie stars don’t do that.
Essence.com: Now speaking of kissing, is it true you and Boris have a no-tongue rule for kissing on screen? Should other actors in relationships try that too?
N.A.P: It’s partially a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, like we’re joking and everyone just ran with it. But in a marriage, you make up your own rules everyday. Nobody can tell you how to be a good wife or husband. Boris and I don’t take anything for granted and hopefully we’ll have a lot of years to be able to sit back and say we did it.
Essence.com: It’s amazing to see you guys. We fell in love with your characters and each of you individually on Soul Food. On your website it says growing up you were one of the few women of color at your school and yet you had this dream of being Willona from Good Times. Was playing the sassy Teri an actualization of that dream?
N.A.P.: Teri was kind of just a gift from God. It just dropped in my lap. I remember I wrote in my journal “God, just give me the opportunity to do something for my people and about my people that’s uplifting.” I believe that we have to be so race-conscious in this day and age. Sometimes good Black shows don’t get their fair chance and it lasted way beyond what most Black dramas do. I’m so glad it had such a great impact.
Essence.com: And fans still watch it and fall in love with the characters all over again.
N.A.P.: People still call from across the street “Hey Teri!” And I’m still friends with everybody. Malinda [Williams] is getting married now. I’m one of her bridesmaids. Rockmond [Dunbar] is directing. Vanessa [Williams] just finished performing her one-woman show. Boris is starring in a movie with Bruce Willis. So many wonderful things came out of that cast.
Essence.com: Definitely and even a husband for you! When you first met Boris, did you have any idea you two were going to be a power couple in Hollywood?
N.A.P.: It really was a fairytale. Well, we were in a professional relationship that we didn’t want to ruin and we were both in relationships, so we couldn’t just jump in the bed (Laughs). When we talk to young people about taking their time, I can say that for real. So for about two years, we were just co-workers and we got a chance to talk.
Essence.com: Wow! So when did you fall in love?
N.A.P.: It was love at first sight. It really was. I didn’t even know what to do because it hadn’t happened in a grown-up way ever before. I just let it play out. I took the risk of losing him even, because I really wanted to take my time. You can’t just go out of one relationship and jump into another one, so I had to take my time and get myself together and not take bad habits into the new relationship that was standing before me, and it was great.
Essence.com: So once you guys did become a couple, was it easier to play each other’s love interest on screen?
N.A.P.: Oh, yeah. Do you know how much fun it is? We had the best time on our sitcom so it was just great. I’m sorry Second Time Around [the couple’s 2004 UPN sitcom ]didn’t last. There’s so many politics involved, you never know the real reason something gets cancelled. They said that it was because I got pregnant but then someone else said it was because the humor was so sophisticated, which is ridiculous. But bigger things came out of it.
Essence.com: We know it was love at first sight for you but we’re sure a lot of women must approach you and confess the same feelings for your husband. How do you deal with all the women fawning after your hubby?
N.A.P.: Well first of all, we met each other as famous people, so we were both used to taking pictures and all the things that come along with being a celebrity. In terms of the obsessive love for my husband, it’s really on him. Women really love him and it’s like, I completely understand girl, he’s fine! (laughs) And I love him and I know him, so what they’re feeling I feel ten thousand times more. But the real reason that I don’t trip is because of him and the way he carries himself and the way he keeps his priorities straight. All you can ever go by is how your man treats you and how he makes you feel. And Boris makes me feel like the best thing ever and I appreciate him and love him for that.
Essence.com: That’s beautiful. And it was fun for your fans to see you in Brown Sugar together where you weren’t each other’s love interest. How was that experience to have his on-screen love interest be Sanaa Lathan?
N.A.P.: Well, by the time Brown Sugar came around, I definitely knew that he had to be my boyfriend (laughs). Soul Food was over and we were like, “We have to make this happen.” But it wasn’t until after September 11th and we finished shooting that movie, that we got together and decided, “Let’s do this.” So Brown Sugar was torture!
Essence.com: (Laughs) Well, everything definitely worked out. So what is the craziest rumor you’ve heard about yourself?
N.A.P.: Well, recently I heard I was pregnant with our third child. I have one little pooch-y stomach in a picture and all of a sudden I’m pregnant. I’m like, This is how women become anorexic. Can a sistah not suck in her stomach for one moment, please? I also heard I was White: “Boris Kodjoe has married a White woman.” And then I heard we’re getting a divorce.
Essence.com: Wow! Well, you definitely have the people talking. So how has motherhood with daughter, Sophie, 3, and son, Nicolas, 1, impacted your career and outlook?
N.A.P.: I’m just so in love with my children and I feel like they have stretched me places where I never knew I could go. I’ve got so much responsibility now with my marriage, my children and my career. I feel like a better person because I have to be. The most important thing is to keep grounded in your spiritual life and to remember what really is priority.
Essence.com: Definitely! The strong Black woman’s mantra. And what do you hope to accomplish in this career and life?
N.A.P.: I just want to touch something deep in the heart of humanity. I don’t know if that’s in movies, producing films, or writing a book, but I’m concerned about our spiritual well-being as a human race. I want to impact people in a way that makes us all reach for our best.