Nicole Ari Parker really arrived in 2000 when she played Denzel Washington’s wife in Remember the Titans. Since then, she’s appeared in Brown Sugar and King’s Ransom on the big screen, while enjoying recurring roles on a couple of TV series, Soul Food and Second Time Around.
In 2001, the Baltimore-bred beauty eloped with actor Joseph Falasca, though their union would last just eight months. Four years later, Nicole married her Soul Food co-star, Boris Kodjoe, and they already have a couple of kids, Sophie and Nicolas.
Here, she talks about her latest movie, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, an ensemble comedy about a Hollywood talk-show host who finds himself cut down to size when he returns to his Georgia roots for his parents’ 50th anniversary. Directed by Malcolm Lee, the film features Martin Lawrence in the title role.
KW: How are you and Boris balancing raising children with your acting careers?
NP: Before we had kids, we would dream about having two kids, and we would say that we weren’t both going to work at the same time. And we had this whole ideal game plan which we’ve totally thrown out the window. We both got work, and we both just jumped right in. We took the kids with us. They’re young enough right now that we can do that. To answer your question, we’re winging it.
KW: What interested you in playing Lucinda?
NP: Honestly, for me, it was a lot of fun to play the sweetheart, because, as you know, for a long time, I wasn’t a sweetheart on television. But I did marry a sweetheart. [Chuckles] Here, I got the opportunity to be the nice girl. And for me, that was a blessing.
KW: Tel me a little about your character.
NP: Well, I think the Lucinda aspect of the movie just adds another layer to the Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer) and R.J. (Martin Lawrence) battle, because I was another thing that they had competed over from childhood. Clyde always liked me, and kind of pushed that in R.J.’s face. R.J. never really spoke up about it, and this is one opportunity where I’ve come back into R.J.’s life. We haven’t seen each other in a really long time, and we catch up about what we’ve been doing. He’s gone off to become this huge star, and I’ve still had a simple life. We just meet up again, and I show up with Clyde, and that sets the stage for more competition. It just feeds the whole fuel.
KW: How was it working with Martin Lawrence?
NP: Really good. A lot of big stars, they don’t want to stay for the coverage when the other actors are shooting. But he stands by the camera and feeds us his lines, every time, like he was still doing a performance on his close-up. It’s been really amazing to have all that support . It’s been a really wonderful experience.
KW: What was it like being on a set with so many comedians?
NP: It was interesting to watch because everybody has their own style. Everyone had their own magic. I have so much respect for what they do, and for how they kept their own thing going within the family theme of the movie. But for my character, for me being the straight man in the film, you start to get a little delirious between takes and think that you’re funny and a comedian, too, because you’re surrounded by Mike Epps, Ced, Mo’Nique and Martin. And so you’re thinking, “Yeah, on my close-up, I’m going to say something funny, too.” But it was amazing to watch them in action. I was blown away.
KW: We’re they competitive with each other?
NP: Yeah, they were totally competitive. But it was the best kind, because they were inspiring each other, and helping each other improve their jokes. They still knew they were making a movie and stayed with the same theme.
KW: How about working with a legend like James Earl Jones?
NP: I think I stared at him most of the time. I was just in awe that I was in the same frame with him, given his body of work. I was also in awe of his stature and his strength, because in real-life, he’s bigger than his persona, even at his age. His still enormous and has got that charisma.
KW: As a serious Shakespearean actor, did he seem uncomfortable around so many comedians?
NP: Not at all. He even had jokes when he was hanging with Mike Epps. At first, I kept hitting Mike under the table, because he was saying things like, “That [N-word] – ” or “I told that mother-[expletive] – ” I had to remind him, “Mike, James Earl Jones is here today. You don’t talk like that in front of James Earl Jones. Have some respect!” But Mike would say, “Oh, James, you know you’re a player.” And James was a remarkably good sport about it.
KW: What is Malcolm Lee like as a director?
NP: Malcolm is very focused, no matter what is going on. No matter how crazy it’s getting, he’s calm and very secure in the shots he wants to get, even if we’re all exhausted. Even if we’re in the 14th hour of a 12-hour day, he finds a way to bring the energy back, and get us all rallied up to stand in the rain and keep going.
KW: This film is being released in February, Black History Month. What do you see as the significance of Black History Month?
NP: I think it’s important to find a way to make Black History Month less of a history lesson and more of a way of life. We need to inspire not just the young people, but the older people, too, because after school, the young people are going home to their moms and their dads. So, everybody has to be inspired by who they are, who they can be, and what their purpose is in this world. We have to start with history, but I think we have to bring it right into the moment, and make the best of our lives right now. That’s how things can change, and take it out of February, and into the whole year.
KW: Jimmy Bayan, realtor to the stars, wants to know where in L.A. you live.
NP: We live in Atlanta full-time now. Boris was shooting two films down there, and I’d just had my baby. We’d been staying in hotels for maybe seven months, when I decided to call a real estate agent and look around. And we found our dream house! And that’s how we’re rolling right now. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, but with the kids, it’s just so nice to chill and not be so Hollywood all the time.
KW: Well, thanks for the interview and best wishes to you and Boris and the kids.
NP: Thank you.