She commenced her career as a dancer in the 1980s. From 1988 to 1992, she remained the choreographer for Whitney Houston’s world tour. The 1988 Natalie Cole video, ‘Pink Cadillac,’ featured Khandi as a dancer.
Meanwhile, in 1985, she made her TV debut with the sketch-comedy show ‘FTV.’ That year, she also featured in ‘Streetwalkin'’ and in ‘A Chorus Line.’ The rest of the decade saw her featuring in a one-episode role of the TV series ‘Rags to Riches’ (1987) and a minor role in the film ‘Maid to Order’ (1987).
In the 1990s, she began acting in supporting roles in various big-screen flicks. These include major box-office hits, such as the American comedy ‘CB4’ (1993), the American biographical film ‘What's Love Got to Do with It’ (1993), the American romantic drama ‘Poetic Justice’ (1993), and the American crime film ‘Sugar Hill’(1994).
I In 1995, she got a big break on TV, when she got the opportunity to play ‘Catherine Duke,’ a news anchor of a fictional ‘AM’ news radio station in New York City, in the ‘NBC’ sitcom ‘NewsRadio.’ She played the role from the first season of the show to the seventh episode of its fourth season in 1998, featuring in a total of 58 episodes of the series.
In 1995, she also landed up with the recurring role of ‘Jackie Robbins’ in the popular American medical drama’ ‘ER,’ which aired on ‘NBC.’ She featured in 29 episodes of the series, till sometime in 2001. Meanwhile, she featured in guest roles for several other TV series, such as ‘La Femme Nikita’ (1998), Cosby’ (1999), ‘NYPD Blue’ (1999), and ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ (2001).
She was part of the ensemble cast of the 1998 Cameron Diaz-starrer romantic comedy ‘There's Something About Mary.’ The film emerged as a sleeper hit, grossing $369.9 million worldwide. It became the highest-grossing comedy of that year in North America and the fourth highest-grosser of 1998 overall.
The 2000 ‘HBO’ miniseries ‘The Corner,’ which won the ‘Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries’ that year, featured Khandi in the role of ‘Francine Boyd,’ a drug addict. Her brilliant portrayal in the miniseries brought her immense critical appraisal and won her the ‘Best Actress’ award at the ‘Black Reel Awards’ in 2001.
Moving on, she landed up with yet another notable and memorable role of her career. This was the role of ‘Dr. Alexx Woods,’ a medical examiner, in the American police procedural drama series ‘CSI: Miami.’ Her first appearance in the role was on May 9, 2002, in the episode ‘Cross Jurisdictions.’
She was part of the main cast of ‘CSI: Miami’ from its first season to its sixth season, with her last appearance being on the nineteenth episode of season 6, titled ‘Rock and a Hard Place,’ which aired on May 5, 2008. Thereafter, she reappeared in the series as a guest star in the episodes ‘Smoke Gets In Your CSI's,’ ‘Out of Time,’ and ‘Bad Seed.’
She won the ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series’ award at the 2005 ‘NAACP Image Award’ ceremony for her performance in ‘CSI: Miami.’
She garnered significant critical acclaim for portraying the lead role of ‘LaDonna Batiste–Williams,’ a bar owner, in the well-received American drama series ‘Treme.’ The series premiered on ‘HBO’ on April 11, 2010, and ran for four seasons, comprising 36 episodes, and concluded on December 29, 2013. It earned her the ‘Best Performance—Drama’ award at the ‘Vision Award’ in 2011.
Her next notable TV series was the American political thriller ‘Scandal,’ where she played ‘Marie Wallace’ AKA ‘Maya Pope,’ the evil mother of one of the main characters, ‘Olivia Pope,’ portrayed by Kerry Washington. She featured in this recurring role from 2013 to 2017, encompassing a total of 17 episodes.
Her remarkable performance in ‘Scandal’ earned her a nomination for the ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.’ In 2015, she won her second ‘NAACP Image Award’ in the category of ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series’ for her performance in this series.
While gaining prominence with different TV series, Khandi has, over the years, also featured in several TV films, such as ‘To My Daughter with Love’ (1994) and ‘Terminal’ (1996). Her portrayal as ‘Viola Smith,’ elder sister of the famous American blues singer Bessie Smith, in the ‘HBO’ TV film on the latter, titled ‘Bessie’ (2015), brought her a nomination for the ‘Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries.’
Other works of Khandi include roles in films such as ‘Spawn 3: Ultimate Battle’ (1999, voice role), ‘Dark Blue’ (2002), ‘Perfect Strangers’ (2004), and ‘A Woman, a Part’ (2016). She also made a few guest appearances on TV, in series such as ‘Better off Ted’ (2009) and ‘Body of Proof’ (2012).