Actress Nicole Ari Parker shares her journey to the South Bay
The first thing you might notice about stunning cover girl Nicole Ari Parker is her piercing green eyes. Not only is she exquisitely beautiful, she is a talented actress, a savvy businesswoman, a loving wife and a courageous mother of two beautiful children. Born an only child in the inner city of Baltimore, she learned […]
- Written byTanya Monaghan
- Photographed byEric Garcia March
- Makeup byAstrid Monzon
- Hair byAlexander Armand
The first thing you might notice about stunning cover girl Nicole Ari Parker is her piercing green eyes. Not only is she exquisitely beautiful, she is a talented actress, a savvy businesswoman, a loving wife and a courageous mother of two beautiful children.
Born an only child in the inner city of Baltimore, she learned to be creative early on. Her father—a renowned dentist who still practices today—and her mom—a lover of art, antiques and design—both firmly believed in the power of education. They enrolled Nicole in private school starting with Montessori and then an all-girls private school for second through twelfth grades.
She graduated at age 17 and received an early acceptance to NYU, where she studied English and journalism. Second semester freshman year, she auditioned for the school’s acting conservatory, Tisch, and she was accepted. She remembers being excited but then having to call her parents to ask them if she could transfer. That phone call and her dad’s words have stuck with her ever since.
“Nikki, you gotta promise me one thing. I’ll help you, but you gotta promise that when you fall down, you will get back up,” he said over the phone. Nicole says that was his way of toughening her up for the road ahead. “There is no giving up, no crying, no ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ You gotta commit, and I’ll have your back.”
After graduation, Nicole lived in New York and worked in the theatre. She booked TV shows and film roles, like Becky Barnett in 1997’s Boogie Nights. Then she got another big break in 2000 in Los Angeles. Although she was 29 years old, she had to be driven to the audition by her mother because—having lived in New York for 14 years—the public transport options there meant there was simply no need to learn to drive.
On the last round for this audition, her mother was downstairs in the lobby waiting for her. She wrote on a piece of paper, “Dear God, I think my baby is ready for this responsibility. If you give her this opportunity, I know that she will shine. Amen.” By the time she put the paper in her purse, the producers had already called her agent to say that she got the part. The show was Soul Food, and this role was fateful in more ways than one—this is also how she met her future husband, actor and entrepreneur Boris Kodjoe.
She laughs because Boris was “this supermodel” whom she guessed had loads of girlfriends and would be completely unavailable. Also, she was focused on her career and in another committed relationship at the time. But they just clicked. They laughed together constantly and developed a true friendship, spending 12 to 14 hours a day together on set. He got to see the real her, she says, whether that be all made up for the shoot that day or in her pajamas.
She recalls one day that he knocked on the door to her trailer, opened it and simply said, “You know that we’re going to be married with two kids, right?” Then he just closed the door and walked away. All this took place before anything remotely romantic even happened.
But Nicole went on to marry her longtime boyfriend, and Boris dated other people. Although they had been together for some time, Nicole’s marriage lasted only 10 months. Once the divorce was final, she “just jumped into Boris’ arms.”
After a brief hiatus from Soul Food, which was being filmed in Toronto, she really wanted her own place in L.A. She started looking for a house on her own, but after many close calls she flew back to Toronto with nothing to show for it. Then an email from Boris appeared, showing him in a front yard with the message, “I think we found our house.”
Boris and Nicole ended up living there together for two years. At this point, although they were living together, they weren’t married. Nicole began to wonder when it was going to happen for them. But Boris had a plan …
He was born and raised in Germany in a charming, small village in the woods. It still amuses Nicole that her 6’4” man could come from a “tiny Smurf village, literally with a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker.” But it is all part of their story.
Boris moved to America at the age of 19 on a tennis scholarship and has been living in the U.S. ever since. Nicole, the quintessential city girl, had fallen in love with a mountain man. So it was fitting that it was there, on a mountain in Germany, that he finally proposed to her … at a location straight out of a scene from The Sound of Music.
The plan was for an elaborate wedding celebration in L.A., but when Nicole found out she was pregnant, they opted for a more intimate affair in Germany. They got married in a 900-year-old church in that small village—an event witnessed by a small gathering of family and friends. They walked down the cobblestone street back to Boris’ grandmother’s house, while neighbors showered them with flowers from their windows. It was so picture-perfect that People magazine ran a photo spread of it.
The joyous day arrived for Boris and Nicole when she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Sophie. Sadly Sophie was diagnosed with spina bifida, a condition that meant there would be many challenges ahead for her and her parents.
“We were jumpstarted into how to be partners,” she says. “We had to deal with heavy responsibilities very early on.” Ten months later they found out they were expecting another baby, which added to that responsibility.
Doctors told Boris and Nicole that there would be no gymnastics or ballet for Sophie, but the brave parents refused to put limits on what she could do. Years later, at Sophie’s first dance recital, Nicole proudly sent her doctor a photo of Sophie in her tutu, along with the quote, “She’s doing it!”
There are constant challenges, but Sophie is a wonderful, thriving seventh-grader and an independent, “bossy big sister” to brother Nicholas. Together Nicole and Boris started the Sophie’s Voice Foundation, which supports global health and wellness initiatives in multicultural communities.
After a five-year stay in Atlanta, work brought them back to L.A.—and more specifically, Manhattan Beach. Boris and Nicole have been overwhelmed by how the South Bay community and schools have embraced and supported them.
Back in L.A. as of 2011, Nicole was about to add businesswoman to her resume. Although Boris would often try to cajole her into going for a run on the beach, she repeatedly refused. The truth was that she wanted to, but to quote Nicole, “You know us black girls. When we get our hair done, we don’t want to mess it up. There had to be a way for me to work out with my husband but not sacrifice this fresh blowout.”
Her genius idea was to create a high-performance sweatband that allows women to go for that workout but keep their style intact. She dived in—doing in-depth studies and tests—until she was ready to release her brainchild. Although she didn’t have a business degree, she was extremely passionate and trusted her instincts. Soon Gymwrap was born.
“If you have an idea inside of you, you cannot be afraid to ask questions,” she says. “Actually, you know more than you think, and your intuition is everything. Your gut is sometimes way smarter than your head.”
Using marketing and promotion knowledge of her acting career, she was able to plug Gymwrap on her radio spots. During this period of discovery, she was also able to team up and learn a lot from the surgeon general, whom she had the chance to meet with. She informed Nicole that most of the things that affect the black community—and black women specifically—were health-related and not genetic and were preventable through diet and exercise.
Connecting the dots, Nicole was able to figure out that the #1 reason that black women weren’t exercising was because of their hair. She took this in and felt really energized by that.
Getting her product on the Steve Harvey Show was a real game-changer. The day she launched on that show, her website crashed from all the traffic. Inspired, she plowed that initial return right back into the company to create her very own infomercial. She had the bright idea of buying a media spot on the Tennis Channel, which ended up being a pivotal decision.
Gymwrap became a crossover product and now has multiple markets. For her African American customers, Gymwrap was a compression garment, but for female athletes she had created a stylish, three-layer sweatband that prevented sweat dripping down their faces while playing their sports. The business exploded, and although she learned some hard financial lessons along the way, Gymwrap is now in 1,100 Sally Beauty Supply stores, 1,400 Walmart locations and online at
Nicole is a real-life superwoman. When I ask her how she does it all, she smiles and says, “I couldn’t do it without my husband, Boris, and our nanny, Rosie.” Humble as she is, we’re pretty sure they can’t do it all without her either. This gal is as inspirational as she is beautiful. |||
INTERVIEWED BY DARREN ELMS Roseanney Liu is a South Bay Renaissance woman. In addition to publishing two books—with a third in the works—she’s a mom, a teacher, a Walk with Sally mentor, a member of South Bay Business Women’s Association, an alumni ambassador with Loyola Marymount and a frequent volunteer around town. She decided to […]