When Boris Kodjoe decided to get into films, he didn’t fit the Hollywood mold. People often assumed he was African American because of his skin tone. But thanks to his German upbringing, the Vienna-born actor had the kind of thick European accent associated with Russian spies, Nazi bad guys, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Undercovers
Ten years later, Kodjoe might be the hottest thing on TV. Accent-free with eight-pack abs, the thirty-seven-year-old former tennis pro and fashion model—perhaps best known for playing hunky delivery guy Damon Carter on the Showtime series Soul Food
—has landed the lead in NBC’s Undercovers
, a sexpionage thriller created by the phenomenally successful J.J. Abrams (Lost
(Wednesdays at 8 p.m.) is a Mr. & Mrs. Smith
–style story about a husband-and-wife team of caterers who rediscover the spice of romance when they are called back to work as spies.
Used to leading a life of contradictions and being something of a man of mystery, Kodjoe realizes this big break may blow his cover. The son of a Ghanaian father and German mother, Kodjoe (pronounced “ko-joe”) has resided quietly in Atlanta with his family for the last five years. He and his wife, actress Nicole Ari Parker (whom he met while working on Soul Food from 2000 to 2004), fell in love with Atlanta while Kodjoe was here working with Tyler Perry on Madea’s Family Reunion.
Though right now Kodjoe is spending more time in Los Angeles, his roots are still here. “Atlanta is very, very dear to our heart. We love Atlanta. We love the people there. It’s a great place to live and raise kids. So we are definitely, definitely staying . . . It’s just a great sort of very humane, organic way to live,” he says. “It has everything a world-class city has to offer, but at the same time, you can live the sort of regular, down-home existence where the kids can ride their bikes and climb trees and jump in the river and be kids. And that has always been very important to us.”
In Atlanta, the couple also found a support system for their five-year-old daughter, Sophie, who was born with spina bifida. In 2008 they established Sophie’s Voice Foundation, an Atlanta-based charity that supports spina bifida research and awareness. “She’s in kindergarten now,” Kodjoe says of his daughter. “She’s absolutely tremendous.”
For a fellow who grew up overseas and still sees himself as something of an outsider, Kodjoe is well connected. He and his wife met the Obamas through Oprah Winfrey. In 2008 Kodjoe made his Broadway debut in an all-black production of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, playing Brick alongside James Earl Jones’s Big Daddy and Phylicia Rashad’s Big Mama. That gig gave him “tons of confidence” and helped prepare him for his “dream role” as the worldly, globe-trotting spy Steven Bloom on Undercovers.
The high-action assignment will allow Kodjoe to flex his many muscles, doing martial arts and romantic comedy and playing a guy who speaks several languages—just as Kodjoe does in real life. “Part of being in Hollywood is you have to be patient,” he says. “You have to stand in line and wait your turn. Now it’s my turn to kick some butt.”
Photograph by Art Streiber, courtesy of NBC