I began my interview with Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker a bit unusually, as the couple right away answered the questions they’re so often asked when spoken to. They met and fell in love on the set of the wildly successful Showtime drama Soul Food. They knew they’d fallen in love the same way that most people do: They just knew. And they keep the fire burning in their relationship the same way we all do, through dedication and working hard to do so.
As the brand-new hosts of daytime talk show The Boris and Nicole Show (debuting this week on Fox stations across the country), the couple was more interested in answering questions that were a little less superficial and a little more real.
“What we want to know,” Nicole said me—seemingly interested and present—“is what you really want to know about us.” It’s rare that celebrities open themselves up to conversations beyond the surface, so I was quite smitten with the couple from the very beginning of our talk.
It’s easy to look at Nicole and Boris, who both possess an almost uncanny gorgeousness, and see only the glitz and glamour. They’re easily one of Hollywood’s hottest couples; one would think a couple so attractive, charismatic and successful (both as individuals and as partners) must have an easy marriage. However, I know the two faced a grave challenge in their marriage from the beginning, with Nicole giving birth to their daughter Sophie (who lives with the birth defect spina bifida, a neural tube defect that is commonly referred to as open spine).
As I reached out to EBONY.com readers about what they’d like to know from the couple, one reader (whose child has had a rare form of cancer and who is familiar with Nicole and Boris’s activism surrounding Sophie’s condition) asked how living with a child with special needs strengthened their marriage.
So we went there. We immediately talked about the hard parts, because that’s where relationships are tested and made strong. Boris lead the conversation with the following:
“One of the things that parents of a special needs child, or parents of children who face this kind of adversity, face is that it is such an extreme circumstance that you automatically come out a different person entirely because of that experience. In our case, it made us a different couple because we were married and we had a child. So right from the get-go there was no honeymoon phase. The change was immediate.”
Nicole joined in:
“What I’ve realized as the parent of a special needs child is that when most people say ‘I do,’ they are saying ‘I do’ to the moment. They aren’t saying ‘I do’ to the entire fabric of the relationship. Every time that a couple faces something in their marriage, they have to say, ‘there is glory on the other side of this challenge.’ We only get better on the other side.”
She added, “When you go through something, you come out stronger. Boris and I had to have a real, face-to-face moment where we had to say, ‘Our priorities have shifted dramatically. Do we want to hold each other’s hand through this?’ We both said yes, and here we are. I mean, five minutes ago, we were on the red carpet being hot and sexy and posing to the right and left; five minutes later, we were in a hospital room.”
I shared with the couple my own experience of giving birth prematurely to my daughter, and how my husband and I had no idea how to give one another space to cope with what had become our new reality. In response, Nicole said, “You have to give each other the space to grieve, because [facing that kind of adversity in a marriage] is like the death of a concept, the death of a vision that you had. And you have to grieve that vision.”
We spoke a bit more about giving space to experience life and growth in relationships, as I asked the couple what they would give newlyweds as their greatest piece of advice about marriage. “Give each other an opportunity to go through adversity in their own way,” Boris advised, while acknowledging that those adversities don’t come only as a result of parenting challenges. Nicole added, “Yes. It doesn’t have to be about children, as in our case. It can be about money. Someone in the marriage could lose a job, or a parent.”
We went on to discuss a topic very dear to me, one I covered in a recent post, #blacklovematters. I asked the couple how being in a relationship helps them maneuver through what we are facing as Black people living in America—from police brutality, to joblessness, to inequity in education and so many being underserved in our communities.
“I think anyone can attest to the fact that when you are with someone and you have support and a backup, it’s always easier to face those kinds of challenges,” Boris explained. “You have a new set of eyes and a different perspective to see things with, whether its police brutality in Baltimore or what recently happened with [Rachel Dolezal and] the N.A.A.C.P. Whatever it is, we always have a sounding board right next to each other to help each other get through.”
Nicole agreed. “I have a very African-American East Coast woman’s point of view, while Boris’ point of view is very global. He was raised in Germany, and his father is from West Africa. So for everything from health care reform to politics to race relations, his whole perspective is different than mine. There are many cultural differences, and our views differ on a lot of things.” She went on to joke about how her husband makes her watch soccer nonstop.
The conversation made me very excited about The Boris and Nicole Show. The dynamic of it—a couple coming together to have honest (and sometimes hilarious) discussions about the world we live in, especially a couple as authentic and down to earth as Nicole and Boris—is definitely a nice change from what we regularly see on television.
My last question asked the stars to speak on what I’d already learned from our conversation: “What will make the show unique and intriguing to their potential audience?”
“We enjoy connecting with people,” Boris answered. “We also enjoy encouraging dialogue about issues that are often left to the side, whether it’s celebrating hometown heroes, what’s happening in the news and social issues, even conversations surrounding relationships and love. These things, now, we are able to address in a very public forum. And the fact that we are two individuals with two different perspectives gives the show a nice spin.”
The Boris and Nicole Show debuted on July 6; click here for local listings.
Josie Pickens is an educator, culture critic and soldier of love. Send her your love and relationship questions here. Also, follow her on Twitter @jonubian.