October 2002
Brown Sugar : The New Kid on the Block: An Interview with Boris Kodjoe

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Brown Sugar : The New Kid on the Block: An Interview with Boris Kodjoe

Some people have the talents that others want. That’s natural. Envy is part of nature. Some actors went to acting school and are still struggling to get cast in a film. Some have done other things. Being at the right place and right time is a blessing. Boris Kodjoe started out as a model for such big names as in Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren. It brought him appeal. His face is one that brought attention and with that he was cast as the “unknown” actor in Showtime’s Soul Food. Well, in the three seasons that the show’s been on, Boris is still wooing people with his looks and now his acting. After a small role in “Love and Basketball”, he’s ready the dazzle the crowd with his performance as Kelby, the love interest for Sanaa Lathan, in Rick Famuyiwa’s latest film “Brown Sugar”. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Boris talks his work on the film, and the craziest thing he’s done for love.

WM: How did you get involved in the film?

BK: I read the script. I liked it. I thought it had good storytelling and it was something I can relate to. It had nice flushed out characters. That’s the most important thing when reading a script. You have to be able to see the characters in front of your eyes. I like story-driven stuff but I prefer character-driven films. This movie is about passion; it’s about what’s important in your life. Making a distinction between happiness in the present or the hope for potential happiness somewhere around the corner, in which a lot of people go through everyday. Everyone makes choices based on that and everyone tries to listen to the heart but in the end they say “Well if I do this, then I’d be happy in about two years and I have to make this money”. This is also something I can relate to as well and I think it came across great. When I read the script I thought it would be great especially with Rick directing and Taye involved. I’ve always wanted to work with Taye. We’ve been friends for a while and I signed when he was in the film.

WM: What other films have you done?

BK: I only have one film that I’ve been involved and that was “Love and Basketball”, which featured Sanaa (Lathan). I did a couple of TV shows before that. I then signed on to “Soul Food”. We’re on our third season now and I’m slated to doing some films starting November 1st.

WM: Has your work on “Soul Food” prepared you for film roles?

BK: “Soul Food” is like boot camp. We shoot up to twelve pages a day and it’s very grueling. You have to pay attention to so many things. Everything has to be the same, take after take. You have to be close to the script. You can’t change anything. You can’t ad-lib. You can’t do this. You can’t do that because of continuity issues. You have to watch your marks. Everything has to happen really fast. Doing a film like this was a breeze. It was absolutely fantastic. Rick (Famuyiwa) was like the rock. He knows exactly what he wants. He has his visions. He trusts us. He has confidence in us and send us in to do our thing. I prefer films at this point in time because I get to spread my wings and do things I wasn’t able to do before. Although I do appreciate the time that I spent on “Soul Food” because it got me on my toes and it taught me how to use my skills and my tools.

WM: In the film, your character knows how to cook. Can you really cook?

BK: I know how to cook. What fascinated me about Kelby was that he was in a position where he didn’t need to do anything. He was the star, he was confident, he was the super athlete and everybody just went after him. For him to put himself out there and be vulnerable and say “I love this woman and I want to be with her”, that interested me because it’s a stretch for someone who doesn’t need to and who’s not used to it. I love the fact that he went there and that he put on the apron and stood in the kitchen with all these things just to show his first love. I don’t think he was ever really in love before.

WM: Was it comfortable working with Sanaa (Lathan) and Nicole (Ari Parker) again?

BK: I think so. I think it’s easier working with somebody that you like and respect. Somebody you communicate with, and have synergy with and that what’s it all about. But I’m a very easy going kind of guy. I’m very open and very liberal and giving. I haven’t met a person I couldn’t communicate with. You would have to be a far out type of person for me not to get along with. But it certainly helped that I liked them and love them and Taye as well. We’re like brothers and Mos is an amazing person. They are all intelligent people who are ready to give advice and take advice. That’s the only way you can grow when you’re open to that. You can’t just walk on to a movie set and be in your own little space and not pay attention to anyone else because you are completely isolated and it shows. So yes, it was cool working them again.

WM: Women love to see you as the ladies’ man. Do you see yourself stretching in roles, like being a villain or a serial killer?

BK: Absolutely. That’s what is all about. That’s why I’ve turned down so many roles. Everyone has challenges and obstacles to overcome and that just one of them for me. I’m perceived in a certain way and it’s challenge for me to show people that I can do something else as well. So I’ve turned down so many roles where I would be that guy you talked about because I somewhat play that type on the TV show. Although my character is a little more complexed than that and he’s going through some stuff. This one was more in that direction again and I’m definitely looking forward to playing something different. I’m actually scheduled to play this character that’s messed up, emotionally and mentally.

WM: What do you do on your free time?

BK: I’m very much into sports. I also read a lot. I write a lot. I just sold a movie that I co-wrote. I also write TV shows. I have a couple TV shows that I’m selling. Everything that’s creative I like. I like to express myself that way. I like to go to the movies. I watch a lot of movies. I love meeting people and that’s one thing I miss about modeling because when you travel all over the world you get to know so many different mentalities and cultures. That’s what I love about New York too because you can just walk out of the house and just walk and meet amazing people. Those are the things I love to do.

WM: Can you talk about this project you said you said just completed shooting?

BK: it’s called “Papa Was”, and it’s a story about a male gigolo who forms a bond with his best friend in college after they find out he can demand money from going out with women. They’re broke so they decide to pimp him and I go out and make crazy money. It gets to the point where it becomes exclusive and high rolling. But he’s an individual who’s very conflicted and emotionally messed because he’s watched his father abused his mother and his father was a ladies’ man. His father didn’t respect his mother and treated her badly. When he falls in love for the first time, he’s all emotionally messed up. He doesn’t believe in love and has to confront the issues that made afraid him of it. Felicia Henderson, executive producer of “Soul Food”, wrote the script and will direct the film as well. It’s a Fox Searchlight film.

WM: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love?

BK: I guess one of the crazyiest things anyone can do for love is completely open up and be vulnerable because you can get your heart cut out and thrown out the window in a second. But then there’s no other way to love really except to do that. Once you’ve had your heart broken and to go back out there and say “I’m not protected, I’ll do it again”, that’s crazy. It’s hard. The biggest challenge to having your heart broken is not to close up completely and say, “It’s not going to happen again. I don’t trust men. I don’t trust women.” That’s always crazy. Once when I was 15, I rode my bike in the middle of the night and climbed up the balcony of this girl’s house and her father opened the door. He was not smiling and I thought that was pretty crazy.

WM: What kind of legacy do you hope to leave artistically and personally?

BK: That’s a very good question. Sidney Poitier once said that you would be judged by the first three projects you do. That’s basically my whole thing. I want to be respected for my work based on its integrity and variety and based on the choices I make. I want to be involved with great creative minds. It’s also a challenge to make it fit commercially because you can make great films and live on a bench in a park and then you make crappy films and live in a mansion up on the hills. So it’s a challenge to make it make sense for you in both ways and that’s something I welcome. I want to be inspirational to people based on my work and also where I came from to get here. I couldn’t speak English nine years ago and I came from a total different country and different culture and I came here to educate myself. I want people to know that I worked hard to be here.