In ‘The Refuge Plays,’ Nicole Ari Parker Comes Home


We spoke over breakfast the next morning, at a restaurant near the apartment that Parker, 52, uses while filming “And Just Like That ….” Owing to the SAG-AFTRA strike, Parker declined to chat about that project or any of her previous film and TV work. (She referred, glancingly, to the Showtime series “Soul Food” as “the show where I met my husband,” the actor Boris Kidjo, “that we can’t talk about.”) Across the table, she appeared ageless, and effortlessly chic. She wore a hat, a scarf, two necklaces, two watches, five rings and a bracelet and yet somehow looked as if she’d simply woken up like that.

Over coffee and omelets, she discussed, with passion and precision, her love for the theater and the secrets that age makeup can reveal. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

When did you know that you loved performing?

At a very young age. And I’m really upset with God that he did not give me a singing voice. Because, in my head, I’ve been a Broadway musical star since I was born. I would watch Shirley MacLaine in “Sweet Charity” over and over. I would watch Judy Garland in “A Star Is Born” over and over. I got into N.Y.U. as a journalism major. But second semester, I remember calling my dad and telling him that I wanted to transfer to Tisch. N.Y.U. is very expensive. My dad paid for my college tuition. And he said, “You can’t give up. You’re about to enter the business of no. And you have to keep going. And you have to be strong.” I always hold that in my heart.

What was your training?

It was pretty comprehensive — voice, movement, scene study. But while I was studying Shakespeare, I wasn’t going to play Juliet. I played the maid in “The Little Foxes.” I played all these small subservient roles in the classic plays. The sadness around discrimination is that it’s missing humanity. It’s missing that if you and I leave this cafe right now and there’s a thunderstorm, we’re both going to get wet equally in the rain. The sunshine doesn’t discriminate, and neither does love, loss, death, pain, joy. We all have those things that are in these beautiful classic plays. So you and I both could be up for a role. It’s not about washing clean or ignoring diversity. It’s about, what does it add? And what doesn’t it add? What just is.


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