Nicole Ari Parker Biography
Despite Parents Broadway-Bound, Won Kudos for Entertainment-Exec Role
Stage and screen veteran Nicole Ari Parker is best known for her role as the icy attorney Teri on the acclaimed Showtime original series Soul Food. She and her real-life partner, fellow actor and Soul Food alumnus Boris Kodjoe, landed their own sitcom, Second Time Around, which made its debut on the UPN in the fall of 2004. Their tempestuous pairing on Soul Food had helped make the show a winner with viewers, and Parker told Ebony writer Zondra Hughes, "that's the great thing about Second Time Around—this show is fulfilling for the fans who loved Teri and Damon's relationship. They finally get to see Damon and Teri happy."
Born in 1970, Parker grew up in the Baltimore, Maryland, area, where her father was a dentist and her mother a health-care professional; they later divorced. She attended an all-female private school, where for a time she was the sole African-American student. Still, Parker's natural exuberance shone during her formative years, and her class-clown persona naturally led her into the high school drama club. She won top prize for best actress in a statewide student drama competition, and appeared in productions at the Baltimore Actors Theatre and the Washington Ballet Company.
Despite Parents Broadway-Bound
Parker's parents, however, were wary about the performing arts as an appropriate career for her, and she failed to tell them that she applied to New York University when college-application time came around. After she was accepted, she moved to New York City at age 17 and originally agreed to study English and journalism at NYU. She later switched to performing arts after winning a spot at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Eventually she landed roles in off-Broadway productions, and her stage credits grew to include House Arrest: First Edition, a play by Anna Deveare Smith, and the Signature Theatre Company's production of Chicago. She also had roles in Romeo and Juliet with the Metropolitan Playhouse and in The Flattened Fifth with the New Group.
Parker's feature film debut came in a little-seen independent feature film from 1995, The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. The romantic comedy chronicled the burgeoning affair between two young women from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds. Parker played Evie Roy, the high-schooler from a well-to-do family who loves literature and the opera. Other roles were slow to come, however, and Parker had some lean years in the Big Apple. "One of the things that really took a toll on me was the waiting," she recalled in an interview with Lori Talley for Back Stage West. "You hustle, hustle, and hustle, and then you wait."
Parker's break came in 1997 when she joined an outstanding supporting cast in Boogie Nights, the behind-the-scenes look at the porn-film industry in southern California in the 1970s. She played Becky Barnet, a star of X-rated films and one of the characters who manages to escape the exploitative industry unscathed. From there, Parker began to appear in other feature films, landing a starring role alongside Terrence Howard in Spark, a 1998 thriller in which they portrayed a Chicago couple stranded in a menacing desert town in the American West. She had roles in several films in 1999, including 200 Cigarettes, Loving Jezebel, A Map of the World, and Blue Streak.
Won Kudos for
Parker's next major project was as the lead an original HBO movie, Dancing in September. She played television producer as Tomasina "Tommy" Crawford, who is determined to force onto the airwaves series that she believes more accurately portray, and perhaps even inspire, African-American viewers. After signing on with a new network with what she believes is a credible, well-written show, Tommy begins a romance with a network executive; when her show tanks in the ratings game, she is forced to make some distasteful changes. "In the end, the film's greatest pleasure is the opportunity it affords to watch Nicole Ari Parker sustain a serious lead performance," noted Variety critic Todd McCarthy. "One of the sexiest young actresses on the scene today, she compellingly projects headstrong confidence as well as a certain vulnerable wariness as her character picks up speed on her way to crashing into a glass wall."
While delving into the world of television and how shows are written, Parker was stunned to find that it wasn't a cadre of white television executives deciding how minorities were portrayed on the small screen. "A lot of black women are writing the shucking and jiving, and the booty jokes," she told Essence in 2001. "That blew my mind!" For herself, she sought out more balanced roles as an actress, and indeed won some coveted ones: as Denzel Washington's wife in Remember the Titans, and as the fiancé of Taye Diggs's character in 2002's Brown Sugar.
But Parker's most significant role came on the Show-time series Soul Food, which debuted in 2000, three years after an acclaimed feature film of the same name upon which it was based. Parker played the eldest of a family of three sisters, the hardheaded attorney Teri Joseph. Vanessa Williams was cast as the next sister, a wife and mother, and the youngest, a hairdresser, was played by Malinda Williams. Each represented a different socio-economic milieu and domestic-partnership situation, with the larger supporting cast bringing other topical matters into the plotlines. The series, perhaps because it appeared on a commercial-free pay television channel, was allowed to grow, and seemed to hit its stride after the first season. In 2002, it became first African-American-centered drama on television to make it past a second season. "What makes 'Soul Food' so different is that it focuses on traditional family issues without sanding down the details of regular black life," remarked Newsweek writer Allison Samuels. "The producers cast African-Americans of all hues and then dig deep into a family full of love, disagreements and its fair amount of drama."
Soul Food's fans were entranced by Teri's on-again, off-again romance with Damon, a man whom she met when he was a delivery-person at her office. Damon, who would go on to a career as a translator, was played by bilingual actor Boris Kodjoe, of Ghanaian-German heritage. Parker was initially frosty when she first met the man who would become her real-life partner, she admitted to Hughes in the Ebony interview. "When he walked into the room, I thought, with some dismay 'Oh great, they've got a supermodel to play my boyfriend.' I mean he's obviously beautiful, but I was an actress from New York who wanted an established actor from New York to walk through the door."
Scored Hit with UPN Series
Life seemed to mimic art for Parker and Kodjoe when they began a real-life romance. Soul Food ran through 2004, and the pair found a new home on UPN as the stars of their own sitcom, Second Time Around, which debuted that fall. Parker played Ryan, an artist, while Kodjoe was cast as her architect-husband, Jackson. The pair have remarried, after a brief, earlier union that ended in divorce, and the show's plotlines revolved around the "opposites-attract" premise, with Parker's carefree, spirited Ryan often butting heads with her more earnest spouse. Its stars, noted a critic for Entertainment Weekly, possess a "rare on-screen chemistry that real-life acting couples so often lack."
During Second Time Around's first season, Parker announced that she and Kodjoe were about to become parents. Fans of Soul Food were thrilled to see her back on-screen with Kodjoe after a rocky five seasons of romantic ups and downs. That aforementioned chemistry had been apparent then, and it was to a producer of the new show as well. "I developed a deep admiration for their relationship while shooting the pilot and seeing that connection between the two of them, how they supported each other," Ralph Farquhar told Jet. "In one scene where Ryan tells Jackson: 'I love you' and as he says it back to her, you cannot pay for that chemistry. It would take a season or more to work up to that with actors who weren't connected."
Parker and Kodjoe were married in the spring of 2005, around the same time her next feature film, King's Ransom, was slated for release. Still keenly interested in shaping new and exciting roles for African-American actors, Parker was writing three separate film scripts. She still loves theater, though she has not appeared on stage in a few years. "It's the closest to real-life experiences," she enthused to Talley in the Back Stage West interview. "It's almost like you have to surrender to a higher power when you're onstage. The zipper on your dress could break, a light could fall, someone could miss their cue, and you just have to keep going. It's beautiful that way. It's like life."
The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, 1995.
Boogie Nights, 1997.
The End of Violence, 1997.
The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, 1998.
200 Cigarettes, 1999.
Loving Jezebel, 1999.
A Map of the World, 1999.
Blue Streak, 1999.
Remember the Titans, 2000.
Brown Sugar, 2002.
King's Ransom, 2005.
Soul Food, 2000-2004.
Second Time Around, 2004—.
Back Stage West, February 1, 2001, p. 13.
Cineaste, fall 1995, p. 46.
Ebony, October 2004, p. 168.
Entertainment Weekly, September 24, 2004, p. 99.
Essence, January 2001, p. 53.
Jet, September 27, 2004, p. 60.
Newsweek, July 8, 2002, p. 56.
Variety, March 2, 1998, p. 93; February 5, 2001, p. 43.
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