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Up close with ‘Baggage Claim’ star Boris Kodjoe

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Up close with ‘Baggage Claim’ star Boris Kodjoe
Paula Patton (L) and co-star Boris Kodjoe (R) in Baggage Claim.

Mention the name Boris Frederic Cecil Tay-Natey Ofuatey-Kodjoe and most people say, “Huh?” If you mention the name to African American women of a certain age, their hearts skip a beat and their eyes glaze over. But there’s more to the 6-foot-3 Kodjoe than meets the eye .

Kodjoe is one of four children born in Vienna, Austria, to Ursula, a German psychologist, and Eric Kodjoe, a physician from Ghana, West Africa. When Kodjoe was six, his parents divorced. He grew up with his brother Patrick and his two sisters Naja and Lara in the city of Freiburg, located in southwestern Germany. At the age of three, Boris was exposed to the world of tennis. He subsequently became one of the best players in the country and headed to the United States to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University on a tennis scholarship in the fall of 1992. Kodjoe earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1996.

The Ford Modeling Agency discovered him while he was still in college and he joined post-graduation. It was only a matter of time before the fashion model burst onto the acting scene.

He is best known for his four years playing the character Damon Carter on the hit Showtime television series Soul Food, for which he earned three NAACP Image Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor. Soul Food was where he also met and married his co-star Nicole Ari Parker. In 2004, they co-starred in the television comedy Second Time Around, which he produced, and in 2009, he made his Broadway debut in the Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which also starred James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose and Giancarlo Esposito.

Appearing in a variety of supporting roles in film and in television, Kodjoe was hand-picked by J.J. Abrams to star in the drama series Undercovers in 2010. In the fall of 2012, he reprised his role as Luther West in the action/sci-fi film Resident Evil: Retribution and also appeared in the Kevin Hart BET series Real Husbands of Hollywood.

In addition to his upcoming role in Baggage Claim, as Graham opposite Paula Patton’s character Montana, he is currently filming the second season of Real Husbands of Hollywood, due to premiere this October. According to Kodjoe, we can expect appearances by Katie Couric, Selita Ebanks, Shaq, Wayne Brady and Bobby Brown on BET’s top-rated series.

On a recent press junket to Los Angeles for the film Baggage Claim, The Banner spoke with Boris Kodjoe about acting and his upcoming projects.

You’ve gone from theater to film to TV. Which medium do you like best?

I like them all. The blessing of being able to do all of them is great. They’re all different muscles. It’s all different kinds of acting. On the stage you have such an immediate response from the audience and its energy, which is like adrenaline — pure. TV is a long journey with the extended family if you will. Movies are short and few between. They’re nomadic sort of experiences in some remote place in the world. You’re with a couple of people for a couple of months and then you move on. Each has its perks and each has it challenges. But I embrace them all.

Is there any competition between you and your wife?

We help each other out. Competition, I don’t think so. She’ll kick my ass. She’s so good. I love working with her because she makes me better. I’m in awe of her.

How did it feel to be hand-picked by J.J. Abrams for Undercovers?

It was great. J.J. is an amazing person first and foremost. He’s a visionary, a genius. I adore him and to be able to work with him was an amazing experience. All around it was a great time for me. It was some groundbreaking work that we did. I loved the show. The lesson I learned was that you have to enjoy the moment because you never know how long it’s going to last and I certainly did.

What drew you to Baggage Claim?

It was a combination. The script was well written and I was a fan of [the playright] David [E. Talbert]. He paints nonstereotypical characters. I wanted to work with Paula and I never worked with her before. And just to reunite with my boys. Djimon is my older brother and so is Taye. And I love Jill. It was a great sort of family environment to shoot the movie in.

What’s next with Real Husbands of Hollywood?

Just more elaborate craziness. And more and more people are joining the show and wanting to be on the show. It’s always interesting to have guest stars. It’s another really blessed experience that I’ve had. It’s playing with my friends. We all are very close and there are no egos. It’s always a great atmosphere on the set. I could be digging ditches. It’s been quite a ride and it’s been a great.

Are there any upcoming projects that you can talk about?

Addicted is coming out soon. It’s a movie I shot with Sharon Leal, William Levy and Tasha Smith, based on a novel by Zane. It tackles sexual addiction in a very serious way, which is great for me. It opens up dialogue about a subject that is pretty taboo for us. It’s a real thing. It’s a real disease. It’s a beautiful movie. Very beautifully shot by Billie Woodruff.

What did you learn from working with Billie Woodruff and David E. Talbert?

I learn from everybody. There are different things I learned from Billie. David is very different in his approach. I learned a lot from J.J. Abrams about pacing and transitions and tonal approach. I’m the kind of guy who — I don’t miss the opportunity to learn. When you’re open and curious and interested, I think you can make the best out of recognizing learning experiences.

You have a clothing line with your brother. Is that something you always wanted to do?

We’ve always had issues fitting stuff off the rack and everybody does. I don’t care what size you are or how tall, or how long your arms are. You always have to compromise style and fit off the rack. Custom clothing has been unaffordable for the longest time for everybody including myself. We’ve figured out a way to offer the luxury of custom clothing — jeans, suits, shirts — for affordable prices. Everything is on line at www.worldofalfa.com. You pick from over 300 fabrics and design, structure, build your own suit, shirt or jeans, whatever it is. And then there’s a measuring video to teach you how to measure yourself and input your measurements. And 25 days later you get your stuff.

What is it that attracts you to a role?

The script is number one. If I don’t fall in love with the script, I’m not going to fall in love with the characters. I want to trust the person that’s at the helm and I want to be inspired by the people I’m working with.

If you could do something other than acting, what would it be?

I’m really doing everything I want to do. I’m a business owner. I’m a philanthropist. We have a foundation that we’re very active in. [Boris and Nicole started Sophie’s Voice Foundation in honor of their daughter, Sophie, who was diagnosed with spina bifida in 2005.]

What do you hope that people take away from this film?

Just a good time. Keep hope alive. Love is out there for everyone. You just have to find it.

Baggage Claim, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, opens in theaters nationwide on Sept. 27.

If you would like Colette Greenstein to cover or write about your event, email inthemixwithcolette@gmail.com.