LIVING WITH PURPOSE with Boris Kodjoe
Athleisure Mag|August 2020
As we begin to transition from summer to the fall, we've all been navigating this crazy year that continues to challenge us as we go about our days. For many, it has encouraged us to go beyond ourselves to live our best lives, bond with our families and to put a lot of good back into our world.
Boris Kodjoe

This month's cover is Boris Kodjoe, who we have enjoyed in Showtime's TV series Soul Food, CBS' Code Black, NETFLIX's House of Cards and on ABC's Station 19. We talked about how he came to acting, preparing to shoot the 4th season of this show. We also talk about how he has utilized his platform in order to provide masks for First Responders through his #HopeForHeroes initiative, focusing on social justice as well as inspiring everyone to get their physical and mental health aligned in order to be their most optimized selves.

ATHLEISURE MAG: We’ve been a fan of yours since Showtime’s Soul Food and seeing the interaction with the Josephs family and how they remind us of a number of our own family members and then other shows that are our favorites from CBS’ Code Black, Netflix’s House of Cards and now ABC’s Station 19, what was the moment that you realized that you wanted to be an actor?

BORIS KODJOE: You know, it was a process because I started going to acting class in my mid 20’s because I wanted to learn to be able to speak better English. Growing up in Germany and coming over here for college, I still wasn’t a very good English speaker. I could communicate but I had a very strong German accent. So in order to be able to speak better, a friend of mine suggested that I should go to acting class to show me how to enunciate and breathing techniques and stuff. That’s when I started going to class. Throughout auditing some classes and going through that and then being able to put up some scenes and stuff. I fell in love with it. It wasn’t a very traditional way to get into the business, but that’s my story.

AM: That’s a great story! At what point did you feel that you had made it as an actor? Was it a specific role, a show, an accolade or just the body of work that you had created?

BK: You know, I’m not sure what that is in terms of making it as an actor, right? I think that we have different objectives at different points in our careers and our lives really. It’s a journey and once you understand that, you can let go of some of the pressure that you put on yourself. Instead of focusing on the destination, you focus on enjoying the journey and I guess the moment that I realized that this was my way of making a living, was halfway through Soul Food. It’s when I realized, “ok, I am starting my career and this is what I am going to be doing. It’s a great feeling when you have an idea on which direction your journey is going to go. Even if it is just for a short moment in time. I’ve been lucky that I have been on this journey for 20 years now.

AM: Do you have a specific process when you’re deciding whether you’re going to take a role or a specific show? You take on so many characters that have such a depth to them. How do you decide what makes sense for you?

BK: You want to be able to relate to what the character is going through, We’re in a business where we get to work with so many talented people. I’ve learned so much with different actors, directors and producers so it’s a combination of the scripts, the production, who’s involved and also where I am in my life. I have 2 kids, I’m married, we live in Los Angeles and sometimes, I don’t want to spend 5 months in Bulgaria to shoot a movie in the winter, right? Because the kids need me around and I need to be around. In a case like that, I would say, “ok I am going to do a show here.” So it all depends on what the situation is at the time and what the script looks like.

AM: We enjoy seeing you as Captain Robert Sullivan on Station 19. What is it about the character that made you want to play him and what was it about the show that made you want to join that cast?

BK: It started with Shonda Rhimes. I have been a fan of hers for a very long time and I have always wanted to work with her and this was a great opportunity for me to be a part of Shondaland. Her and Krista Vernoffare changing the way that we watch TV. So that was the first reason and then the cast is family. They’re just beautiful, beautiful people that I have grown to love and just become close with. And then it’s fun to play a firefighter. That’s something that I had wanted to do as a child. You know – that or being a cowboy or a train conductor haha. It was a childhood dream come true to be able to ride in these big trucks, put on the gear and be able to run around to be able to represent these real live heroes on the front lines. They’re risking their lives every single day for us – it’s an honor.

AM: This past season, we got to know a lot more about Robert as a person. We specifically remember when we watched the episode about ICE coming to raid the restaurant and looking at how impactful that scene was and your character was telling Pruitt Herrera (Miguel Sandoval) about why he felt compelled to intervene. Were there elements of your family history that were utilized in that scene and was that hard to play?

BK: Yes and no. Obviously, it’s a creative process so there were some fundamental building blocks that were taken from my real life. My maternal grandfather fought in the war in Germany and so he had a whole lot of stories that he told me when I was a really young kid that I remember. They obviously took creative license in order to make it applicable to the story and to create an analogy to what’s going on today. Which I thought that they did a great job with.

AM: Are there any nuggets that you can tell us about the upcoming season and when are you guys going back into production?

BK: We actually go into production this week!

AM: What!

BK: Yeah, they put a lot of safety measures in place in order to keep us safe and to keep everyone – the whole crew safe that is involved in the production. ABC and Disney, they have done a really good job in making sure that we are all safe and that we can do our jobs.

I have to speculate myself because I’m not sure what’s going to happen. All I can tell you is that clearly my character has been through a lot – getting married to Andi (Jaina Lee Ortiz), having the surgery to alleviate some of the chronic pain that he has been suffering through for years, the substance abuse that got him in trouble – so there are a lot of things that are at stake right now for Robert. In this new season, clearly we’re going to address all of that on top of this new world that we’re all living in – this COVID world. There’s also social justice and equality with the struggle that we’re in. Krista Vernoff, Shonda and everyone at Shondaland take pride in creating dialogue by way of storylines that are introduced that challenge people to confront some of the issues that we are dealing with. So I am certain that we will deal with some of them – the real life issues whether it’s the pandemic or the racial justice issues that we’re dealing with still and again. I’m sure that we will see some of these pop up in our scripts.

AM: We’re sure about that too. One of the things that we love about this show is the fact that there are these great crossover episodes with Grey’s Anatomy. How is it for you to be able to engage with that whole cast as well as to go into that portion of their audience as well? That must be such a fun thing that you are able to do a bit of a dual play there.

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