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Actor Boris Kodjoe Gets 'The Gospel'

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Actor Boris Kodjoe made his way across the Atlantic from Germany more than eight years ago and he's never looked back. After a successful modeling career and earning a marketing degree, he set his sights on acting. His most notable role to date was on Showtime's drama "Soul Food," where he acted alongside his future real-life bride, Nicole Ari Parker.

(Soundbite from "Soul Food")

Mr. BORIS KODJOE: (As Damon Carter) This may be a bit out of line, but I was wondering if you're attached?

Ms. NICOLE ARI PARKER: (As Teri Joseph) Why would you be wondering that?

Mr. KODJOE: (As Damon Carter) Well, I don't see any photos of boyfriends, no ring on your finger.

Ms. PARKER: (As Teri Joseph) So?

Mr. KODJOE: (As Damon Carter) So you're incredibly beautiful, obviously intelligent, so, you know, if I was you, man, I would make sure there were signs of me all around, you know, in case you run across a brother who, after seeing you once, can't get his mind off of you.

GORDON: Kodjoe is now starring in the new movie, "The Gospel," based on the parable the prodigal son. In the film, Kodjoe does all his own singing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KODJOE: (Singing) Come on and put your hands together.

Ms. TAMYRA GRAY: (Singing) Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Mr. KODJOE: (Singing) And pray.

Group: (Singing) Put your hands together.

Mr. KODJOE: (Singing) And pray. And pray.

Group: (Singing) Put your hands together.

Mr. KODJOE: (Singing) And pray.

GORDON: Yes, that's Boris singing with "American Idol's" Tamyra Gray, who's also featured in the film. Kodjoe describes the premise of the movie.

Mr. KODJOE: It's a story about a young boy growing up in church, singing in the choir, and his father's a pastor. And his mother dies and he sort of blames his father because he's never there. He turns his back on the church, on his father and on his faith, ultimately, and leaves home to become a secular singer. After 15 years, he comes back because his father's dying of cancer, and is forced to face his issues with his dad, and then he's forced to sort of rediscover his faith and, ultimately, his roots.

(Soundbite to "The Gospel")

Mr. KODJOE: (As Damon Carter) Well, don't try and pretend this event means more to you than preserving your own spotlight.

Unidentified Man: Why don't you let church people handle church business?

Mr. KODJOE: (As Damon Carter) This will always be my father's church. That makes it my business.

Unidentified Man: Now don't you come in here talking about `my father' and `his church.' While you were off playing the absentee son, we were here with your father doing God's work.

Mr. KODJOE: Very challenging part for me because, me growing up in Germany, I never knew gospel music. I never knew a Southern Baptist Church, which is a quite specific sort of culture. So I had to really get down and study and educate myself. I had a lot of great mentors, Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams, who sort of showed me the way and told me about the history of gospel, how slaves back in the day used to communicate without wanting their masters to know what they were talking about, and how gospel artists nowadays see themselves more as vessels, more as messengers, rather than secular singers, who are more presentational in a way.

GORDON: Mm-hmm. Let me ask you this: You're unique in the sense that you were born in Austria, you grew up in Germany, your mom is from Germany, your dad is from West Africa.

Mr. KODJOE: Yeah.

GORDON: So you come not only of a mixed parentage but you also come, as you suggest, as someone who did not know growing up much of the tradition of, quote, "black America." At times, was it difficult for you to fit in or did you just bring a unique perspective to all of what you saw in black America?

Mr. KODJOE: When I first came over here, I suffered a major culture shock. It was such a vast difference in not only culture but mentality and just the way people communicate. But I embraced it, and one thing also that's pertaining to "The Gospel" was the fact that African-Americans carry their faith with pride. They share their faith. They embrace it as well. At home, in Germany, we usually don't go to award shows and thank the Lord once we receive a prize or we don't talk about our faith and religion in public. It's very private, like so many things over there.

GORDON: How do you see yourself, man? Do you see yourself as a citizen of the world? Do you now associate yourself as an African-American? How do you label yourself?

Mr. KODJOE: I think I'm a global citizen.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KODJOE: I'm a black global citizen. And I always speak on that when I talk to high school kids or college kids. I think it's important for the youth here in this country to open themselves up to opportunities, to travel and to get to know other cultures. And it's such an educational process, but at the same time, it's the process of getting to know each other and sharing to find out similarities and what we have and what other people have and do, rather than being scared and rather than being sort of threatened...

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KODJOE: ...by anything that's different...

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KODJOE: ...from what you're accustomed to.

GORDON: Let me ask you about your real wife, and that's Nicole Ari Parker. And one of the interesting things...

Mr. KODJOE: Ari Kodjoe. Ari Kodjoe.

GORDON: Oh, you know what? Forgive me, brother. Don't get it twisted, right? All right. Let me ask you, you guys have worked together...

Mr. KODJOE: Mm-hmm.

GORDON: ...quite a bit. There are those who tell you, you know, that's a great thing to do. There are others who will tell you that's a horrible thing to do. How have you guys found it, the idea of working together, and do you like it?

Mr. KODJOE: There's really two aspects. One, the fact that I love spending time with my wife because she's my best friend, and the second one, professionally, I don't think there's a better actress than her...

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KODJOE: ...in her generation. I think she's absolutely the best actress and we enjoy it tremendously. Now it's also a question of if audiences are sick of seeing us together and if they associate our characters, no matter what we play, always with the characters we played on "Soul Food"...

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KODJOE: ...because it would sure have a big impact.

GORDON: And what about the new role of daddy?

Mr. KODJOE: The best role ever in life, best project I've ever been involved with. Sophie is my life. She's changed my life, she's--it's just--it's incredible. My wife became an instant superhero. It's absolutely incredible what she's done with our lives.

GORDON: Well, listen, man, good luck with the new movie, "The Gospel."

Mr. KODJOE: Thank you very much.

GORDON: And my best to your lovely wife, Mrs. Kodjoe. And, you know, good to have you on the program. We'll talk to you soon, man.

Mr. KODJOE: Thank you so much, Ed.

GORDON: "The Gospel" opens nationwide today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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