03.06.12

Phaedra Parks: The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Scene Stealer

Attorney Phaedra Parks of The Real Housewives of Atlanta has become a fan favorite not because of personal tragedy or a desire to fight—but because of genuine wit.

At any given moment on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta you might find Phaedra Parks extolling the virtues of a “prayer cloth” (“a covering so that you don’t offend people with your luscious thighs and kneecaps when you’re in service”) or scandalizing castmates and viewers alike by inviting aptly named male stripper riDICKulous to perform at a co-star’s birthday party (“My friend Kandi wanted to see him, so I obliged. She was quite thankful to see such a wonder of God”). Parks’s deadpan, spicy mix of wit and sex talk has endeared her to audiences, even as she manages to stay above the usual fray of catfights and crises.

“I’m a multifaceted girl,” Parks told The Daily Beast. “I’m like a good diamond, I have several different sides.”

That’s something of an understatement for the wife, mother, lawyer, philanthropist, reality-TV producer, and aspiring mortuary owner. She credits “effective time management” for her ability to balance a variety of personal and professional roles. From what we’ve seen on the show, her nearly two-and-a-half-year-old marriage to Apollo Nida—who served close to five years in prison on racketeering charges—appears strong, and their adorable toddler Ayden is already following in his mom’s scene-stealing footsteps.

Atlanta’s Housewives holds a unique position in the franchise as the funniest, friskiest, and least uptight installment. It’s also the highest rated. The Jan. 29 episode was watched by nearly 4 million viewers, the second-largest Housewives audience ever, topped only by Atlanta’s Season 3 finale. “I think people are extremely interested in black folks in general,” Parks said. “And people are curious about the South. Atlanta runs to a different drum pattern than New York or Orange County. That combination in itself is quite fiery.”

But there might be another reason viewers can’t get enough of the Atlanta antics. Free of the intense personal issues of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or the fragile family ties of New Jersey, Atlanta’s ladies are legitimately hilarious, and no one seems more in on the jokes than Parks. Since she joined the show at the start of Season 3, Parks’s way with a bon mot—or “Phaedra-ism”—has made her a Housewives fan favorite.

From down-home wisdom (“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”) to blunt talk about co-stars (her response to former stripper Nene Leakes objecting to riDICKulous: “You showed your cervix for a quarter, child”), Parks reliably serves up punchlines and put-downs with a smile, often preceded by her catchphrase "everybody knows." Even at her most outrageous, there’s never a sense that Parks’s saucy quips come from a malicious or spiteful place—which only makes her stand out all the more in a franchise built on fractured female friendships.

“At the end of the day, life is too short for crazy,” Parks said about her playful approach to reality TV. “This is a very interesting opportunity to have a dialogue with women that are quite different from me. I understand it and acknowledge what it is. Not everyone is going to have the same point of view. There’s no sense in getting your panties in an uproar because someone said something you didn’t like. I think that comes with being mature.”

Maybe it’s her legal background—she's the managing partner of the Parks Group, practicing law in the areas of entertainment, intellectual-property rights, and civil and criminal litigation, and she represented Bobby Brown during the time of his Being Bobby Brown Bravo series and marriage to Whitney Houston—but the self-proclaimed Southern belle tends to smooth over potential feuds before they blow up, leaving the hair/wig-pulling, slapping, and shouting to others.

“Life is too short for crazy,” said Parks.

Even when it comes to seemingly prickly co-star Leakes—who has built her own brand on confrontations and quarrels with co-stars, and has largely isolated herself from the rest of the cast in Season 4—Parks is complimentary. When asked whether Leakes’s recent guest appearances on Glee might inflate her ego even more than a stint on Celebrity Apprentice did, Parks simply says she called Leakes to congratulate her on the gig, but added, “I don’t watch Glee, so I haven’t seen it.”

Although it’s very clear that Parks enjoys the Housewives experience and is happy to be part of the show, she has also been upfront about the bad examples set by reality TV and the artifice of the form. During a promotional tour for the launch of the current season, she told the press she’s playing a “character” on Housewives, and the show exaggerates certain aspects of her personality for entertainment value. She also told the Associated Press that reality TV has “spawned a whole culture of bullying,” which may be another motivating factor behind her fun-over-fights on-screen persona.

“While a lot of us don’t see ourselves as role models, we’re seen by millions of viewers every week,” Parks said about the show’s depiction of a lavish lifestyle. “I think it’s important to tell the entire story. People don’t see all the hard work, all the school I went through. And the days I couldn’t afford anything but a pair of Nike sneakers. If you work hard, or I guess if you marry a rich man, you can have some of these nice things. But I think the foundation has to be hard work and education. Of course, we don't see a lot of that on these shows.”

Recently, Parks had the chance to educate her castmates by “hosting” an on-camera trip to South Africa (the show’s producers were clearly involved in pulling it off). The results unfolded over three episodes of fish-out-of-water humor, petty squabbling, and some genuinely humbling realizations, especially after visiting an orphanage and poverty-stricken village. “If they didn’t learn anything [else], I think they definitely learned life is bigger than a pair of Louboutins,” Parks said about the cast’s reactions to the group vacation. “Even though we had a few fights I think it was a positive thing for us.”

Less positive were the ladies’ interactions with Marlo Hampton, an interloper who crashed the Africa trip alongside Leakes. Some have speculated the argumentative Hampton could be a new addition to the Atlanta Housewives cast.

Ever the diplomat, Parks demurred that any casting would be a “Bravo decision.” But when she was pressed about how she’d feel if Hampton became a permanent fixture on the show, Parks’s feistier side surfaced: “I think one thing we can say about the Housewives is, minimally, they’ve been married at some point in time in their lives. Minimally, they have a child or hopes of a child. And, you know, a few of us have jobs. So with that in light, I think [Marlo joining the cast] would be quite interesting. I don’t know if she fits the mantra of the show.”

That’s Parks’s polite way of saying everybody knows anyone without a husband, ex-husband, child, or job isn’t cut out to be a Housewife. Do you want to cross her?