The Root Interview: Boris Kodjoe on Black-on-Black Love


So let's say Boris Kodjoe asks you to run away with him. How long would it take you to pack your bags? Would you even pack? The new star of NBC's Undercovers — a "sex-pionage" story created by Lost's J.J. Abrams — is asking audiences to do just that this fall. The show, says Kodjoe, "is an escapist way to travel the world and go on adventures with us."

Oh, right, "us." Did I mention that Kodjoe's Steven Bloom is married to fellow spy-turned-caterer-turned-spy-again Samantha (played by British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw)? Samantha and Steven are married secret agents with a boring suburban cover. Sound familiar? Kodjoe says the Blooms, unlike that other well-known spy couple, the Smiths, aren't trying to kill each other — although the Austrian-born actor did spend nearly eight months in stunt and mixed martial arts training. Still, says Kodjoe, at its core, Undercovers is a romance. So about those bags you packed …

The Root: How important is it that the show's two lead characters are African American but Undercovers isn't necessarily an "African-American show"? [At this point, we think the characters are African American, but much will be revealed later in the series about their pasts.]


Boris Kodjoe: We should be beyond the point that it matters, but we are not. It's been … years since two African-American actors lead a prime time show. It's a proud moment to be a part of, and hopefully we'll inspire some minds in the game.

TR: Why has it taken so long?

BK: We live in a very diverse, multicultural world where people look the way we look. The only segment of society that hasn't embraced that is television and movies. Hopefully, after watching our show, network execs will see it as less of a risk. It'll be just the norm now.

TR: Steven and Samantha are so in love, and that's something audiences don't necessarily see nowadays, especially between two African Americans on prime time.

BK: It's definitely worth mentioning — a married couple that's actually in love with each other. It's also very important that we see African-American love that is not stereotypical or one-dimensional. I found that to be true with Soul Food.


TR: Obviously there will be comparisons to those other married spies, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

BK: The major difference is that we're not trying to kill each other. I see our show as more of a new-millennium Hart to Hart. That's a closer comparison. Samantha and Steven are making a marriage work. It's about a couple that's trying. We kick butt and at the same time try to maintain a somewhat healthy relationship because we have secrets that we haven't revealed to each other even. The show is about watching this couple start to get to know each other again.


TR: As the series moves forward, will we learn more about Steven and Samantha's families, their backgrounds? Too often, African-American actors don't get to have a rich back story.

BK: That's part of the appeal of the show — there are secrets. The past will come to the surface gradually. Every episode, you'll find out a new piece of information about where I'm from and where Samantha is from. You'll get to know the couple intimately as they get to know each other.


TR: Travel is a big part of the plot. The Blooms are jet-setters.

BK: It's important to show audiences different parts of the world. It allows us to introduce people to different cultures. We don't really see that too much. I speak four different languages — German, French, Spanish and English — and Gugu learned French and German in school. But we still have native speakers on set that keep us in check and make it sound really real. I was adamant about that. I can't stand it when actors speak with horrific accents. It makes my skin crawl.


TR: The show is also funny, which I didn't expect.

BK: It's got romance and it's got real comedy. It's got action, real danger and real drama. That's what makes the show so hard to define. We live in times that are difficult enough, and I think sometimes people need time to escape, to cuddle up to somebody and swoon over a couple that's in love with each other.


Helena Andrews writes the "Single-Minded" column for The Root. She is the author of Bitch Is the New Black (HarperCollins), a memoir in essays.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.

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