‘Undercovers’ Boris Kodjoe Talks New Show, Keeping His German Accent Under Wraps

Movies & TV

RI Reeves / September 22, 2010

Undercovers is not just your average network TV spy drama it’s a bold splash of color (pun intended) that features two black actors in the lead roles and is a fun, quick witted romp of a series that crosses all genre lines. The premise: two married small business catering owners get back into their ex-spy game jobs. VIBE caught up with one of the Undercovers’ stars Boris Kodjoe who plays Steven Bloom, to talk about the show’s groundbreaking casting, what it’s like shooting the series and how he keeps his German accent all American for each episode.—Ronke Idowu Reeves

VIBE: It’s a huge deal that a mainstream network drama has two black lead characters. It’s never happened before. Do you want to talk a bit about the trailblazing casting of Undercovers?

I think its important to recognize that it’s not the norm [the casting] but that it should be the norm because that’s what the world looks like. It’s diverse and we come in all types shapes, sizes and shades. Traditionally in TV it hasn’t been the case. So, it’s important to be trailblazers but on the other hand l hope we inspire people to regard it as normal so more people don’t consider it taking a chance but just being creative. [Show creators and executive producers] Josh Reims and J.J. [Abrams] have led the way and hopefully the world will open up to it.

Your costar Gugu Mbatha-Raw is British and South African and you’re German yet you’re playing American spies. Do you still have to work at getting rid of your accent?

When I first got here I couldn’t really speak English well at all. My English was so bad somebody asked me, ‘What’s up?’ And I looked up. But I met some great dialect and voice coaches and they taught me  how to breathe. When you speak a foreign language you sound different because your breathing is up here [puts hands on upper chest]  and when you speak English you speak from down here [puts hand along stomach] so I had to learn how to drop my breathing. It was hard. But three hours a day I would study and do exercises. And if you see my earlier work you can still hear my German accent a little. And when I do long hours on the set and get really tired you can hear it. It’s funny having a Brit and a German playing American spies because when we’re still filming at 12am it all comes out.

What’s it like as an actor to film a drama that has so many genres wrapped into one show? And what’s it like actually filming the show? It looks exciting.

It’s absolutely ridiculous and my head explodes when I think about it because it’s an absolute dream come true. When you talk about serialized TV you’re usually playing one specific beat [of one genre] over and over again. It’s a challenge [doing Undercovers] as well because we have the opportunity to go from action to drama to comedy. There are so many genres mixed in one, that as an actor it’s truly a once in a lifetime situation. 

We get to go on these rides, trips all around the world it’s amazing— to these exotic locales. It’s tough but at the same time it’s such a fantastic opportunity and so much fun, you forget about how tough it is. One minute you’re shooting in a strip club using a three camera set up and the next day you’re fighting two secret agents. I really can’t believe this is happening—it’s amazing.

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