You may know her as Giselle Barker from Empire, but we know Nicole Ari Parker as a powerhouse on screen and off. The Boogie Nights star isn’t just an actor—she’s also the founder and brains behind Gymwrap, a moisture-wicking headband that keeps hair styled between washes and salon visits.
We’ve been big fans of Nicole since her Soul Food days and love how real she’s been since day one. She’s reflective and resilient, but brazen and bold. Read on to hear more about her career path, role models, and envy-inducing relationship with her husband, Boris Kodjoe.
You’ve been working in Hollywood for more than 20 years. How have you seen the industry change? Has it become a more empowering place for women?
I think it’s changed because of what's happening behind the camera and on the executive level. More of the decision makers and image creators look like the real world so it’s only natural that it is reflected on the screen. Women of all backgrounds are in leadership roles and it makes a difference not only in how many female characters are created but also in how they are depicted. The writing and execution of these roles have drastically improved in even the past 10 years. I used to study scenes for an audition to play a doctor for example and somehow all my lines were questions! ALL of them...lol...like no matter what the scene is about, she would say "What do you mean?" "Really?" “What do you think, Robert?" "Is that so?" As if the head of neurology didn’t know what to do. It’s gotten way better… more dynamic… more real.
What do you wish you’d known when you were first starting your career in entertainment?
Well I probably would have practiced more on camera... like on a cell phone or have a friend tape me...to get a sense of what your face does or if you have bad camera habits like tilting your head or scrunching your eyes...I always practiced how to be truthful to the scene only and would never know that I looked down a lot. I would never encourage an actor to abandon their craft, but having it translate on camera is another skill. Most auditions are taped and most jobs are for camera so it’s good to know technically what you're doing.
What advice would you give to women who are hungry to chase their dreams but just starting out in their careers?
Have good friends. Have a fulfilling life. Travel. Fall in love. Be resilient and get back at it after a no or 100 no's. Yes get an agent and go on auditions but also start to work on dreaming then writing creating directing producing the stories you want to tell. It gives you strength in ways you can't imagine. That strength translates when you walk into a room to read for a role.
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
Meeting the great director Emily Mann in 2012 which was supposed to be a 30 min coffee but turned into a 2 hour lunch about her production of Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway. Then getting cast as Blanche Dubois. Highlight of my entire life.
You met your husband, Boris, on the set of Soul Food nearly 20 years ago. What’s it like to continue working together all these years later?
The writing and execution of roles for women have drastically improved in even the past 10 years. It’s gotten way better…more dynamic…more real.
Love it. We work really well together. Wish we could do it more often.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
Tapping into the part of a character that's universal. Whether it's love or pain or loss or ambition or revenge…finding the humanity in that.
If you weren’t acting, what would you do instead?
I would love to be a literature teacher. Lol. Or an archeologist.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?
The bump usually comes when there too much chasing..too much output moving too fast without being grounded. So then I sit back and begin to create something myself. Could be as simple as baking a cake with my daughter the old fashioned way..sifting flour..letting butter get to room temp..taking my time doing something I love etc I sometimes take my book idea off the shelf and start writing or write synopsis for movie idea. Follow up. Cultivate ideas i have inside of me. Something really good always comes out of it.
Which women in your industry do you look up to most? Why?
Felicia D. Henderson, Oprah, Cicely Tyson, Meryl Streep, Emily Mann, Channing Dungey, Shari Redstone, Lynn Nottage, Pearlena Igbokwe, Deborah Lee, Rose Catherine Pinkney, Patricia McGregor, Laurie Metcalf, Maria Maggenti and sooo many of my actor peers. You could say they all are excellent and steadfast and maybe even fearless..but i think the thing is..even if they were afraid...they did it and continue to do it anyway..and that makes all the difference.
What are you most excited for in 2019?
I put so many cakes in the oven. I think they're just about ready.
Photography by Annie McElwain Photography
Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica