The “Surrogates” Interview
with Kam Williams
Boris Kodjoe, along with his better half, Nicole Ari Parker, comprises one of the more striking and accomplished couples in showbiz. Prior to acting, Boris enjoyed a flourishing career as a supermodel, and was featured in national ad campaigns for everything from Ralph Lauren to Perry Ellis to Yves Saint Laurent to The Gap.
The Austria-born actor met his future wife on the set when they were both hired to co-star on the Showtime series ‘Soul Food.’ They subsequently married and settled in Atlanta where they are raising their two kids, Sophie and Nicolas.
Here, he talks about life and his latest movie, Surrogates, a sci-fi crime thriller co-starring Bruce Willis.
Kam Williams: Hi Boris. How’s the family?
Boris Kodjoe: Very well, thanks. All three are doing great! Nicole’s been a busy bee lately. She’s getting ready to star in a new ABC-TV drama called “The Deep End.” She plays the head of a big law firm. So, she’s doing great, and so are the kids. They’re taking a nap right now.
KW: How is your daughter’s foundation, Sophie’s Voice, doing?
BK: Great! We recently had a big event in New York. Everybody showed up: Russell Simmons, Gayle King, Gabrielle Union, Serena Williams, Charles Barkley, James Blake. It was amazing! We raised some money, but our primary objective, really, was to introduce the world to Sophie’s Voice and to inform them of our long-term objectives of eradicating this birth defect and raising awareness of the importance of Folic acid to pregnant women, since Spina Bifida is very preventable. So, we accomplished that, and now it’s off to planning the organization’s next big event.
KW: Folic acid is a B-vitamin, right?
BK: Exactly! It’s easily obtainable in foods, like leafy, dark greens. 70% of the cases of Spina Bifida could be prevented by taking Folic acid. But the number of cases have gone through the roof lately, because of a lack of nutritional responsibility.
KW: Let’s talk a little about the movie. What interested you in doing Surrogates?
BK: It was a whole new caliber of film that I hadn’t been a part of before. Over $100 million budget…a lot of CGI [computer-generated imagery]… the scale was just huge. Plus, getting to play a character that I hadn’t done before. And, of course, being able to play around with Bruce Willis. That was an added incentive, since he’s a real movie star. So, the whole package seemed enticing to me.
KW: How would you describe the film?
BK: It’s an action-thriller with an interesting scenario where we’re living in a world where we have technology that allows us to live vicariously through our own robots that roam the streets. Consequently, there’s no crime, only joy and happiness.
KW: Until a murder ruins the peace of that utopia.
BK: True. That’s when Bruce’s character starts investigating, and I yank his chain a little bit because I’m his boss. I’m the head of the FBI, and he’s one of my agents.
KW: Would you say Surrogates is a futuristic sci-fi?
BK: No, it’s very contemporary. We’re living in a time when we’re very close to that reality. Nowadays, robots are doing a lot more than merely replacing us in factories. The kind of software we’ve developed so far is pretty much capable of doing everything a human does. The only thing we haven’t figured out yet is how to recreate a soul. It’s a very controversial subject, because we live in a time of technological advancement which could be very dangerous, in my opinion.
KW: Would you say Surrogates is more CGI-driven or stunt-driven?
BK: It’s a marriage of the two, which I think is the best way to go. As an audience, you don’t identify with machines. When actors are replaced by CGI, oftentimes we don’t see fear, excitement and other human emotions in the faces. As a result, the audience can’t relate, and doesn’t care anymore. That’s what happens with so many movies that display these antagonists that aren’t really human. I prefer real villains.
KW: Children’s book author Irene smalls was wondering, what’s involved when you make the transition from acting for television to acting for the big screen?
BK: The only thing that changes is how much time is given. Usually, in TV, you’re moving along really quickly, because there’s so much to do and not a lot of time, especially with one-hour dramas. They require a production to shoot between 8 and 10 pages of script a day, and that’s a crazy schedule. So, what that means is that as an actor, you basically shoot the master in maybe 2 takes. Then you go into coverage where you have 2 takes, and then you’re moving on. By contrast, on a feature film, especially one like Surrogates, you’d literally shoot at a pace of about a half-page per day. That gives you a lot of time as an actor to find different beats, and to discover alternative approaches. If take 3 wasn’t good, maybe take number 12 brings something out that you didn’t even notice before. For me, the preparation is the same, the time factor is the biggest difference. My goal is always to be ready and 150% prepared, and already in the frame of mind of my character when I arrive on the set.
KW: Irene also asks, are you concerned about the image you projected of black males in the roles you portray?
BK: Well, I’m very conscious of choosing roles based on the overall message of the film. Sometimes, my character might not experience an epiphany or represent perfect moral principles, but the overall script is the most important aspect in terms of my decision. So, I always look at the project as a whole to get a sense of its message, because if it’s not on the page, it’s not going to be on the screen. Secondly, I want to be challenged by my character, and I also make sure that the director’s vision is in line with mine. After that, all I can do is be 150% prepared, let go and jump in there feet first, trusting that it’s going to be a great project, because I’m not in charge of the editing process, adding the music, or all the other things that the director and the producers handle. Once I decide to be on board, all I can do is put my best foot forward in alignment with what the project is trying to achieve.
KW: What would you say is Surrogates’ message?
BK: It’s a cautionary tale warning about the potential dangers of technology. The movie shows us the possibilities of what can happen when machines get corrupted or into the wrong hands. With a lot of power, comes a lot of responsibility. I liked the film’s message, because I believe in taking technological advancements with a grain of salt. Just look at how today we’re losing ourselves in a maze of impersonal, electronic activity, from TV to the web to radio to mobile gadgets. Whereas years ago we’d sit down with friends and just look them in the eyes. Now, we don’t even acknowledge other people in our presence anymore. We’re too busy texting and getting messages. I think that this whole being available 24 hours a day has damaged the quality of interpersonal relationships.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
BK: I’m just finishing an amazing book that Nicole and I both read. It’s called “The Shack” and has been the subject of some great conversations lately. I’ve passed it on to all my friends because I’m fascinated not so much by religion but by spirituality. To me, spirituality is the notion that there is a God without the limitations of a specific religious structure or dogma. I’m very spiritual in that sense.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
BK: When you have two little kids, it’s really all day, everyday, because they come up with the most ridiculous stuff. When they’re too quiet, that’s usually a sign that something’s going on. Recently, I went into their room to wake them from their nap and Sophie had stripped Nicholas of his clothes. He was standing in his bed completely naked and covered from head to toe with baby oil. And so was the bed, the table, the hardwood floor, and Sophie’s arms and hands. When I walked in, I said, “What’s going on in here?” And she turned to me with this big smile and said, “Daddy, I made the whole room and Nicholas shiny.”
KW: Wow! That’s beautiful. Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
BK: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
KW: Okay, what do you believe is your biggest accomplishment?
BK: My family. Having a family and being a great father and husband. It’s where I get my strength and power, and where I find my truest joy and happiness. Everything else sort of falls into place when that nucleus is there and intact. A lot of people forget that that’s the most important thing in the world.
KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?
BK: Hmm… That’s a good one… Yeah… We both, my wife and I, we believe in God and we believe that He has a plan, and that all we have to do is worship. And by worship, I mean trusting that He will provide. And oftentimes it is a challenge, especially when you’re going through those tough times, and you don’t understand the purpose. That’s why faith is so important. Tough times don’t last forever, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s really about asking what do you want me to do versus why am I going through this. That’s something we’ve definitely experienced over the past four years, and is really the source of our strength. Obviously, we believe in each other, and have each other’s back. It is important that we support each other, and give each other the opportunity to be weak or vulnerable, and to take over for awhile, when necessary.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
BK: Besides challenging myself to have that faith I just spoke about, I’d say insecurities about the language barrier. Learning to speak English was a big hurdle, considering what I do.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
BK: Schnitzel and fries for my kids. They love it. Usually it’s prepared with veal, but I make it with chicken.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?
BK: I listen to everything, but right now I’m into the new Whitney Houston album, and Maxwell. And I like Wale, too.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
BK: I see a father and a husband, someone who loves life, and someone who’s been blessed. I also see a young boy from Germany who has come a long way.
KW: Thanks for the time, Boris. Please give my best to Nicole, and let her know I’d like to speak to her about her new TV show whenever she’s ready.
BK: Thank you, Kam. That’d be great.
To make a donation to Boris and Nicole’s charity, Sophie’s Voice, and to learn more about Spina Bifida, visit: http://www.sophiesvoicefoundation.org/