Alfre Woodard

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Alfre Woodard
Alfre Woodard 2012.jpg
Woodard at Congressional Black Caucus in Johnson C. Smith University in 2012.
Born(1952-11-08) November 8, 1952 (age 62)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
ResidenceSanta Monica, California
Alma materBoston University
OccupationActress, producer
Years active1978–present
Political party
Spouse(s)Roderick Spencer (m. 1983)
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Alfre Woodard
Alfre Woodard 2012.jpg
Woodard at Congressional Black Caucus in Johnson C. Smith University in 2012.
Born(1952-11-08) November 8, 1952 (age 62)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
ResidenceSanta Monica, California
Alma materBoston University
OccupationActress, producer
Years active1978–present
Political party
Spouse(s)Roderick Spencer (m. 1983)

Alfre Woodard (born November 8, 1952) is an American film, stage, and television actress, producer, and political activist. Woodard has been called one of the most versatile and accomplished actors of her generation.[1] She has been nominated once for an Academy Award and Grammy Award, 18 times for an Emmy Award (winning four), and has also won a Golden Globe Award and three Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Woodard began her acting career in theatre. After her breakthrough role in the Off-Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1977), she made her film debut in Remember My Name (1978). In 1980 she starred in Robert Altman's Health and in 1983 won major critical praise and was nominated for a Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for role in Cross Creek.[1] In same year, Woodard won her first Primetime Emmy Award for her performance in the NBC drama series Hill Street Blues. Later in the 1980s, Woodard had leading Emmy Award-nominated performances in a number of made for television movies, and another Emmy-winning role as a woman dying of leukemia in the pilot episode of L.A. Law. She also starred as Dr. Roxanne Turner in the NBC medical drama St. Elsewhere, for which she was nominated an Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1986 and for Guest Actress in 1988.

In the 1990s, Woodard starred in films such as Grand Canyon (1991), Heart and Souls (1993), Crooklyn (1994), How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Primal Fear (1996) and Star Trek: First Contact (1996). She also drew critical praise for her performances in the independent dramas Passion Fish (1992), for which she won an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, as wells as Down in the Delta (1998). For her lead role in the HBO film Miss Evers' Boys (1997), Woodard won Golden Globe, Emmy, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and several another awards. In later years she has appeared in several blockbusters, like K-PAX (2001), The Core (2003), and The Forgotten (2004), starred in independent films, and won her fourth Emmy Award for The Practice in 2003. From 2005 to 2006, Woodard starred as Betty Applewhite in the ABC comedy-drama series Desperate Housewives, and later starred in several short-lived series. She appeared in films The Family That Preys (2008) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), and has also worked as a political activist and producer. Woodard is a founder of Artists for a New South Africa, organization devoted to advancing democracy and equality in that country.[2] She is a board member of AMPAS.[3]

Early life[edit]

Woodard was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Constance, a homemaker, and Marion H. Woodard, an entrepreneur and interior designer.[4] She is the youngest of three children. She was a cheerleader in high school.[2] Woodard attended Bishop Kelley High School, a private Catholic school in Tulsa. She studied drama at Boston University, from which she graduated.[2]



Woodard made her professional theatre debut in 1974 on Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage.[5] In 1976 she moved to Los Angeles, California. She later says that "When I came to L.A. people told me there were no film roles for black actors...I'm not a fool. I know that. But I was always confident that I knew my craft".[6] Her breakthrough role was in the Off-Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf in 1977.[2] In next year, Woodard made her film debut in Remember My Name, a thriller film, written and directed by Alan Rudolph. In same year she had a leading role in the The Trial of the Moke, a Great Performances television movie, co-starring Samuel L. Jackson.


Woodard with her husband Roderick Spencer at the 1987 Emmy Awards

In 1980, Woodard had role in the ensemble comedy film Health directed by Robert Altman.[7] She later appeared in the NBC miniseries The Sophisticated Gents, and had regular role alongside Catherine Hicks and Tim Matheson in short-lived comedy-drama Tucker's Witch (1982–83). Later in 1983, Woodard starred opposite Mary Steenburgen in biography drama film Cross Creek directed by Martin Ritt. For her performance in film she was nominated for a Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[5] Later in 1983, Woodard has won her first Primetime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category for her three episodes arc as Doris Robson in the NBC critically acclaimed serial drama, Hill Street Blues.[2][8] Her next television role was on short-lived NBC sitcom Sara starring Geena Davis.[9] In next few years, Woodard received critical acclaim for her lead performances in the number of made for television movies. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmys for her roles in films Words by Heart (1985), Unnatural Causes (1986), and A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story (1989).[8]

In 1986, Woodard starred opposite Farrah Fawcett in the drama film Extremities based on 1982 off-Broadway play of the same name by William Mastrosimone. She has won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her performance as a woman dying of leukemia in the pilot episode of NBC drama series, L.A. Law.[10] From 1985 to 1986 she also was regular cast member of NBC medical drama, St. Elsewhere, She played the role of Dr. Roxanne Turner, the strong doctor and Denzel Washington' character love interest. She left from show after single season, but guest-starred in 1988, in the one of least episodes of series. Woodard was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1986 and for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 1988, for St. Elsewhere.[8] In 1998, Woodard reprised the role for a sixth-season episode of Homicide: Life on the Street entitled "Mercy". She also was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for guest performance in show.[8]

In 1987, Woodard played the role of South African Activist Winnie Mandela in the HBO film Mandela. She spent several weeks watching news clips and listening to tapes of Winnie to match her accent.[6] She's not won Emmy, but received CableACE Award and NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Lead Actress cetegory for Mandela.[5] In next years she began starring in comedy films like Scrooged (1988) and Miss Firecracker (1989).


In 1991, Woodard starred in drama film Grand Canyon directed by Lawrence Kasdan. The movie received generally positive reviews from critics and had $40,991,329 at the box office.[11][12] In next year, Woodard received major critical acclaim for her performance opposite Mary McDonnell in the drama film Passion Fish written and directed by John Sayles. The film was about a paralyzed daytime soap opera star, and her recovering drug addict, a black nurse Chantelle, played by Woodard.[13] The Rolling Stone's Peter Travers called her performance just as "Superb".[14] She was a promising contender for a Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress category, but she did not receive a nomination.[15] Along with she received her first Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and has won Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female.[16] In same year she had comedic role in fantasy film Heart and Souls opposite Robert Downey, Jr., for which she was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Woodard starred opposite Danny Glover in the 1993 drama film Bopha! and had the leading role in 1994 semi-autobiographical film Crooklyn directed by Spike Lee. Crooklyn received very positive reviews from critics.[15][17] She also appeared in films The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag (1992), Rich in Love (1993) and Blue Chips (1994). Woodard co-starred alongside Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Nelligan and Maya Angelou in the female ensemble drama film How to Make an American Quilt in 1995. In 1996, along with cast, she received a nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. In 1996, Woodard had roles as Judge Miriam Shoat in the neo-noir crime film Primal Fear opposite Richard Gere and Edward Norton, and as Lily Sloane, Zefram Cochrane's assistant in science fiction film Star Trek: First Contact, a performance in the franchise which garnered wide critical acclaim. In 1998 she had the leading role as a single alcoholic mother from Chicago forced to spend a summer with her uncle in Mississippi, in the critically acclaimed independent drama Down in the Delta directed by Maya Angelou, her How to Make an American Quilt co-star.[5][18][19] For her powerful performance in the movie, Woodard was nominated for a Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead. In 1999, Woodard had roles in two films: Mumford (alongside her Passion Fish co-star Mary McDonnell), and The Wishing Tree as lead character.[20][21]

Woodard at Obama Rally during the Democratic National Convention in 2008

In 1990s, Woodard has also continued her work in television, earning considerable acclaim for her performances.[5] For The Piano Lesson (1995), a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie she has won her first Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie, and well another Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie nomination.[8] In next year she received a Primetime Emmy nomination for performance as Queen in the critically acclaimed Hallmark miniseries, Gulliver's Travels based on Jonathan Swift's novel of the same name. In 1997 she had the leading roles in The Member of the Wedding based on novel b writer Carson McCullers, and Miss Evers' Boys. Her performance of the title character of HBO's Miss Evers' Boys, a nurse who consoled many of the subjects of the notorious 1930s Tuskeegee Study of Untreated Blacks with Syphilis earned a massive critical acclaim.[22][23][24][25] For role she has won all acting television awards in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie category, include Primetime Emmy (beat Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Glenn Close and Stockard Channing in category), Golden Globe, Satellite, NAACP, CableACE, and Screen Actors Guild Awards.[26]


In 2000s, Woodard continued her film career, appearing in movies like ensemble comedy-drama What's Cooking? (2000), romantic drama Love & Basketball (2000) as lead character' mother, science fiction blockbusters K-PAX (2001), The Core (2003) and The Forgotten (2004), biography drama Radio (2003), comedies The Singing Detective (2003) and Beauty Shop (2005), romantic drama Something New (2006), and dance musical Take the Lead (2006). Woodard also was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance as drug addict in the Holiday Heart (2000). She had voice role in Walt Disney's Dinosaur. The film was a financial success, grossing over $349 million worldwide.[27] In addition, she has voice work in a variety of feature and television documentary films.[5]

On television, Woodard guest-starred in two episodes of The Practice in 2003. For performance in show she has won her fourth Primetime Emmy Award.[8][28] In 2005 she joined the cast of the ABC comedy-drama series, Desperate Housewives as Betty Applewhite, the new mistery housewive. The character is introduced in the last episodes of the series' first season, and becomes the center of the mystery of the second season. The series creator Marc Cherry clarified: "There's nothing strategically black about her character. Her color is incidental."[29] Woodard stated that she had never seen the show before accepting the role, something that led the producers to send her fifteen episodes of the show, which she divided amongst various family members. After they compared storylines, Woodard recalled that she became "instantly hooked" on the series.[30] As soon as Woodard accepted the role of Betty Applewhite, she reported experiencing heavy media attention.[31] Woodard's portrayal of Betty was praised and resulted in a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2006.[32] However, her mystery as a whole had mixed reviews. In a review of the second season premiere, Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly thought that the Applewhite mystery would help reduce the show's chances of falling into a sophomore slump. He praised Woodard's acting as well as her character's storyline, opining, "there's something so inherently warm and maternal in Woodard's performance, such apple-pie wholesomeness, that it makes her touches of menace all the more chilling."[33] However, as the season progressed, there were many complains about Betty's lack of interaction with the other housewives.[34] She leave the series in the second season finale episode.

Woodard stumps for Barack Obama in New Philadelphia, Ohio in 2008

Woodard was nominated for a Primetime Emmys for her roles in the television films The Water Is Wide, and Pictures of Hollis Woods (2007).[8] She starred as lead in the Tyler Perry's drama film The Family That Preys in 2008. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but her performance received acclaim.[35] Los Angeles Times critic Bob Baker said in review "The film takes off when Woodard's and Kathy Bates' characters go on a Thelma & Louise-style road trip.",[36] while The Washington Post's Neely Tucker wrote "By far the best thing about the enterprise is Woodard. If she's not in this thing, I think it goes kaput.".[37] In next year she appeared in the independent drama American Violet, playing the mother of a 24-year-old African-American woman wrongfully swept up in a drug raid.[5] She also starred in two short-lived television series: NBC's My Own Worst Enemy (2008), and CBS's Three Rivers (2009).


Woodard at the premiere of 12 Years a Slave at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival

From 2010 to 2011, Woodard starred as Lt. Tanya Rice in the TNT comedy-drama series, Memphis Beat, for which she won Gracie Allen Awards. One critic said: "I originally tuned in for Jason Lee, who plays a police detective named Dwight who likes to croon the blues. But I was won over by Alfre Woodard, who plays Dwight’s by-the-book boss."[38] Memphis Beat was canceled after two seasons.[39] In 2010, she also was cast in the third season of HBO's True Blood as Ruby Jean Reynolds.[40] She was nominated for another Primetime Emmy in 2011 for her recurring role.[41][42] Woodard also guest-starred in Shonda Rhimes' dramas Grey's Anatomy in 2011 and Private Practice in 2012.[43][44] Also in 2012, Woodard was cast as Ouiser (played by Shirley MacLaine in the 1989 film) in the remake of classic comedy-drama film, Steel Magnolias.[45] The Lifetime television remake premiered on October 7, 2012 and earned 6.5 million viewers, making history as 3rd highest viewed Lifetime Original film.[46] Woodard received critical acclaim for her comedic performance and anothers Primetime Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations.[8][47][48][49] In 2013, Woodard makes Emmy history with 17 nods for 16 different roles.[50] Also in 2013 she had a recurring role in the BBC America period drama, Copper.[51]

In 2013, Woodard had a brief but powerful appearance in Steve McQueen historical drama film 12 Years a Slave as Mistress Harriet Shaw, a formerly enslaved woman who has risen in the Southern caste system.[52][53][54] Along with cast she was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and well for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for single scene appearance. In 2013, she also appeared in Ava DuVernay's short film The Door, a part of Miu Miu's Women's Tales series.[55] In 2014, Woodard was cast in horror-thriller Annabelle, and comedy-drama Mississippi Grind.[56][57]

On March 21, 2014 it was announced that Woodard will be playing the role of the first female President of the United States in the NBC political drama pilot, State of Affairs opposite Katherine Heigl.[58][59] The pilot was ordered to series in May 2014.[60] About her role Woodard said "It’s fun to play the president, rather than to be the president. But what drew me was how smart the script was, and this world we hadn’t seen before — this world most Americans didn’t know existed before we went after Bin Laden. And that it was being done by people who knew the world. So we’re not stepping too outside the boundaries; it’s based in realism. And I love politics. I have worked in politics for several decades, so it was a chance to live in a world that was important to me."[61] The series premiered with generally negative reviews from critics, but most reviewers praising Woodard' performance.[62][63] Amy Amatangelo of Boston Herald gave the premiere grade "C", stating that "Alfre Woodard isn’t given a lot to do as President Constance Payton in the premiere, but, unlike Heigl, she does have the gravitas for the role, and the show would be wise to use her more. The series sets up some interesting reveals in the hour’s final moments. They potentially could make the show more interesting. But for now the state of affairs is rather mediocre."[64]

In November 2014, Woodard was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She said in her acceptance speech that she believes it is her responsibility to use her fame to help others less fortunate.[65]

Also in November 2014, Woodard narrated "Women in Politics", an episode of season 2 of Makers: Women Who Make America.[66]

Woodard has announced that she is producing an upcoming 4-hour television miniseries about Fannie Lou Hamer, a voting rights activist and civil rights leader.[67][68]

Personal life[edit]

Woodard lives in Santa Monica, California, with her husband, writer Roderick Spencer and their two adopted[69] children, Mavis and Duncan. Woodard follows Christian Science.[70] Her daughter, Mavis, served as Miss Golden Globe for the 2010 Golden Globe Awards.[71]

In 1989, Woodard is a founder and board member of Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating the African AIDS pandemic and advancing democracy and equality in South Africa. Her charity has since raised more than $9million and has provided healthcare to over 3,500 South African AIDS orphans.[72] She is a board member of Democratic Party. She supported Barack Obama at the presidential elections in 2008 and 2012.[73] Woodard is also a supporter of LGBT rights and same sex marriage.[74] In February 2009, she joined a group of American film directors and actors on a cultural trip to Iran at the invitation of the "House of Cinema" forum in Tehran.[75]

Awards and nominations[edit]



1978The Trial of the MokeLucyTelevision film
1978Remember My NameRita
1979Freedom RoadKatieTelevision film
1980HealthSally Benbow
1982The Ambush MurdersKariha EllsworthTelevision film
1983Cross CreekGeechee
1984Go Tell It on the MountainEsther
1984Sweet RevengeVicki Teague
1985Words by HeartClaudie SillsTelevision film
1986Unnatural CausesMaude DeVictorTelevision film
1987MandelaWinnie MandelaTelevision film
1988The Child SaverAndrea CrawfordTelevision film
1988ScroogedGrace Cooley
1989Miss FirecrackerPopeye Jackson
1989A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas StoryMary ThomasTelevision film
1990Blue BayouJessica Filley
1991Grand CanyonJane
1991Pretty Hattie's BabyHattieUnreleased
1992Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag, TheThe Gun in Betty Lou's HandbagAttorney Ann Orkin
1992Passion FishChantelle
1993Rich in LoveRhody Poole
1993Heart and SoulsPenny Washington
1993Bopha!Rosie Mangena
1994Blue ChipsLavada McRae
1994Race to Freedom: The Underground RailroadHarriet TubmanTelevision film
1994CrooklynCarolyn Carmichael
1994Countdown to Freedom: 10 Days That Changed South AfricaNarratorDocumentary
1995How to Make an American QuiltMarianna
1995Piano Lesson, TheThe Piano LessonBernieceTelevision film
1996Statistically SpeakingMiddle aged womanShort film
1996Follow Me HomeEvey
1996Star Trek: First ContactLily Sloane
1996Primal FearJudge Miriam Shoat
1996A Step Toward TomorrowDr. Sandlin
1997Member of the Wedding, TheThe Member of the WeddingBerenice Sadie BrownTelevision film
1997Cadillac DesertNarrator
1997Miss Evers' BoysEunice EversTelevision film
1997Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue, TheThe Brave Little Toaster to the RescueMaisie the CatVoice role
1998Down in the DeltaLoretta Sinclair
1999Funny ValentinesJoyce May
1999The Wishing TreeClara Collier
1999Different MomsNarratorDocumentary
2000What's Cooking?Audrey Williams
2000Lost SoulsDr. AllenCameo
2000Holiday HeartWandaTelevision film
2000John HenryPolly / Narrator
2000Love & BasketballCamille Wright
2000DinosaurPlioVoice role
2001K-PAXClaudia Villars
2001American ExileNarratorDocumentary
2002Searching for Debra WingerHerself
2002Baby of the FamilyRachel
2002Wild Thornberrys Movie, TheThe Wild Thornberrys MovieAkelaVoice role
2003Singing Detective, TheThe Singing DetectiveChief of Staff
2003Nat Turner: A Troublesome PropertyNarratorDocumentary
2003Core, TheThe CoreTalma Stickley
2003Unchained MemoriesNarrator
2003RadioPrincipal Daniels
2003Wrinkle in Time, AA Wrinkle in TimeMrs. WhatsitTelevision film
2004Forgotten, TheThe ForgottenDetective Anne Pope
2004All Our Sons: Fallen Heroes of 9/11NarratorDocumentary
2005Beauty ShopMiss Josephine
2006The Water Is WideMrs. BrownTelevision film
2006Something NewJoyce McQueen
2006Take the LeadPrincipal Augustine James
2006King Leopold's GhostIlangaVoice
2007Pictures of Hollis WoodsEdna ReillyTelevision film
2008American VioletAlma Roberts
2008Family That Preys, TheThe Family That PreysAlice Pratt
2008Road to IngwavumaNarratorDocumentary
2008AmericanEastAngela Jensen
2009Reach for MeEvelyn
2010Have You Heard From JohannesburgNarratorDocumentary
2012Steel MagnoliasOuiserTelevision film
2013The DoorEShort film
2013Miracle Rising: South AfricaNarratorDocumentary
201312 Years a SlaveMistress Harriet Shaw
2014The Hadza: Last of the FirstNarratorDocumentary
2015Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the BandMary Lou Williams / Narrator
2015Mississippi Grind


1981Sophisticated Gents, TheThe Sophisticated GentsEvelyn EversMiniseries
1982–83Tucker's WitchMarcia FulbrightSeries regular, 12 episodes
1983Hill Street BluesDoris RobsonRecurring role, 3 episodes
1985SaraRozalyn DupreeSeries regular, 13 episodes
1985-1986, 1988St. ElsewhereDr. Roxanne TurnerSeries regular, 13 episodes
1994FrasierEdna (voice)Episode: "The Botched Language of Cranes"
1996Gulliver's TravelsQueen of BrobdingnagMiniseries
1998Homicide: Life on the StreetDr. Roxanne TurnerEpisode: "Mercy"
2003Practice, TheThe PracticeDenise FreemanEpisodes: "Final Judgement" and "Down the Hatch"
2005–06Desperate HousewivesBetty ApplewhiteSeries regular, 26 episodes
2008My Own Worst EnemyMavis HellerSeries regular, 9 episodes
2009–10Three RiversDr. Sophia JordanSeries regular, 12 episodes
2010, 2012True BloodRuby Jean ReynoldsRecurring role, 4 episodes
2010Black PantherDondi Reese, Queen MotherVoice
2010–2011Memphis BeatLt. Tanya RiceSeries regular, 20 episodes
2011Grey's AnatomyJustine CampbellEpisode: "Heart Shaped Box"
2012Private PracticeDee BennettEpisode: "The Next Episode"
2013CopperHattie LemasterRecurring role, 6 episodes
2014Makers: Women Who Make AmericaNarratorEpisode: "Women in Politics"
2014State of AffairsPresident of the United States Constance PaytonSeries regular


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