Alfre Woodard

Alfre Woodard (born November 8, 1952) is an American film, stage, and television actress, producer, and political activist. Woodard has been named one of the most versatile and accomplished actors of her generation. 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 theater. 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 1983, she won major critical praise and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Cross Creek. In the 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 for a 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 well 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 the films The Family That Preys (2008), 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Annabelle (2014), and has also worked as a political activist and producer. Woodard is a founder of Artists for a New South Africa, an organization devoted to advancing democracy and equality in that country. She is a board member of AMPAS.

    Early life

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



    Woodard made her professional theater debut in 1974 on Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage. 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". Her breakthrough role was in the Off-Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf in 1977. The next year, Woodard made her film debut in Remember My Name, a thriller written and directed by Alan Rudolph. In the 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 a role in the ensemble comedy film Health directed by Robert Altman. She later appeared in the NBC miniseries The Sophisticated Gents, and had a regular role alongside Catherine Hicks and Tim Matheson in the short-lived comedy-drama Tucker's Witch (1982–83). Later in 1983, Woodard starred opposite Mary Steenburgen in the biography drama film Cross Creek directed by Martin Ritt. For her performance in the film, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Later in 1983, Woodard won her first Primetime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category for her three-episode arc as Doris Robson in the NBC critically acclaimed serial drama, Hill Street Blues. Her next television role was on the short-lived NBC sitcom Sara starring Geena Davis. In the next few years, Woodard received critical acclaim for her lead performances in a number of made for television movies. She was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for her roles in the films Words by Heart (1985), Unnatural Causes (1986), and A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story (1989).

    In 1986, Woodard starred opposite Farrah Fawcett in the drama film Extremities based on a 1982 Off-Broadway play of the same name by William Mastrosimone. She 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 the NBC drama series, L.A. Law. From 1985 to 1986, she also was regular cast member of the NBC medical drama, St. Elsewhere, She played the role of Dr. Roxanne Turner, a strong doctor and the love interest of the Denzel Washington character. She left the show after a single season, but guest-starred in 1988, in the one of best episodes of the 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. 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 her guest performance in the show.

    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. She did not win an Emmy, but received a CableACE Award and an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Lead Actress category for Mandela. In the 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. 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. The Rolling Stone's Peter Travers called her performance just as "Superb". She was a promising contender for a Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress category, but she did not receive a nomination. Along with she received her first Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and has won Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female. 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. 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. 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.

    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. 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. 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. 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.


    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. In addition, she has voice work in a variety of feature and television documentary films.

    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. In 2005 she joined the cast of the ABC comedy-drama series, Desperate Housewives as Betty Applewhite, the new mystery housewife. 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." 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. As soon as Woodard accepted the role of Betty Applewhite, she reported experiencing heavy media attention. 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. 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." However, as the season progressed, there were many complaints about Betty's lack of interaction with the other housewives. She left 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). 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.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.", 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.". 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. 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."Memphis Beat was canceled after two seasons. In 2010, she also was cast in the third season of HBO's True Blood as Ruby Jean Reynolds. She was nominated for another Primetime Emmy in 2011 for her recurring role. Woodard also guest-starred in Shonda Rhimes' dramas Grey's Anatomy in 2011 and Private Practice in 2012. 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.The Lifetime television remake premiered on October 7, 2012 and earned 6.5 million viewers, making history as 3rd highest viewed Lifetime Original film. Woodard received critical acclaim for her comedic performance and anothers Primetime Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations. In 2013, Woodard makes Emmy history with 17 nods for 16 different roles. Also in 2013 she had a recurring role in the BBC America period drama, Copper.

    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. 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. In 2014, Woodard was cast in horror-thriller Annabelle, and comedy-drama Mississippi Grind. She also starred in the independent drama film Knucklehead as a abusive mother.

    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. The pilot was ordered to series in May 2014. 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." The series premiered with generally negative reviews from critics, but most reviewers praising Woodard' performance. 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." The series was canceled after single season.

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

    In 2015, Woodard was cast as a lead in the film adaptation of Sarah Weeks' young adult novel So B. It directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal. In August 2015, it was announced that she was cast in a key role on the Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage.

    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.

    Personal life

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

    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 $9 million and has provided healthcare to over 3,500 South African AIDS orphans. She is a board member of the Democratic Party. She supported Barack Obama at the presidential elections in 2008 and 2012. Woodard is also a supporter of LGBT rights and same sex marriage. 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.

    On August 9, 2015, Woodward appeared TLC's Who Do You Think You Are?. The program did research into her father's genealogy and found out that her great-grandfather Alex Woodard was born a slave in Houston County, Georgia in the early 1840s. At about age 14 or 15, Alex was separated from his family when his master relocated to Jackson Parish, Louisiana. Historians helped Woodard locate evidence that Alex was assessed a poll tax in 1867, indicating that he was registered to vote two years after the Civil War ended. By 1881, Alex had purchased 80 acres of farmland in Jackson Parish. On April 15, 1898, Alex Woodard and his wife Elizabeth sold their 80 acres to her brother, Aaron Stell, as they had moved to Wharton County, Texas, by that time.

    Awards and nominations



    Year Title Role Notes
    1978 The Trial of the Moke Lucy Television film
    1978 Remember My Name Rita
    1979 Freedom Road Katie Television film
    1980 Health Sally Benbow
    1982 The Ambush Murders Kariha Ellsworth Television film
    1983 Cross Creek Geechee
    1984 Go Tell It on the Mountain Esther
    1984 Sweet Revenge Vicki Teague
    1985 Words by Heart Claudie Sills Television film
    1986 Extremities Patricia
    1986 Unnatural Causes Maude DeVictor Television film
    1987 Mandela Winnie Mandela Television film
    1988 The Child Saver Andrea Crawford Television film
    1988 Scrooged Grace Cooley
    1989 Miss Firecracker Popeye Jackson
    1989 A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story Mary Thomas Television film
    1990 Blue Bayou Jessica Filley
    1991 Grand Canyon Jane
    1991 Pretty Hattie's Baby Hattie Unreleased
    1992 Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag, TheThe Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag Attorney Ann Orkin
    1992 Passion Fish Chantelle
    1993 Rich in Love Rhody Poole
    1993 Heart and Souls Penny Washington
    1993 Bopha! Rosie Mangena
    1994 Blue Chips Lavada McRae
    1994 Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad Harriet Tubman Television film
    1994 Crooklyn Carolyn Carmichael
    1994 Countdown to Freedom: 10 Days That Changed South Africa Narrator Documentary
    1995 How to Make an American Quilt Marianna
    1995 Piano Lesson, TheThe Piano Lesson Berniece Television film
    1996 Statistically Speaking Middle aged woman Short film
    1996 Follow Me Home Evey
    1996 Star Trek: First Contact Lily Sloane
    1996 Primal Fear Judge Miriam Shoat
    1996 A Step Toward Tomorrow Dr. Sandlin
    1997 Member of the Wedding, TheThe Member of the Wedding Berenice Sadie Brown Television film
    1997 Cadillac Desert Narrator
    1997 Miss Evers' Boys Eunice Evers Television film
    1997 Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue, TheThe Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue Maisie the Cat Voice role
    1998 Down in the Delta Loretta Sinclair
    1999 Funny Valentines Joyce May
    1999 The Wishing Tree Clara Collier
    1999 Different Moms Narrator Documentary
    1999 Mumford Lily
    2000 What's Cooking? Audrey Williams
    2000 Lost Souls Dr. Allen Cameo
    2000 Holiday Heart Wanda Television film
    2000 John Henry Polly / Narrator
    2000 Love & Basketball Camille Wright
    2000 Dinosaur Plio Voice
    2001 K-PAX Claudia Villars
    2001 American Exile Narrator Documentary
    2002 Searching for Debra Winger Herself
    2002 Baby of the Family Rachel
    2002 Wild Thornberrys Movie, TheThe Wild Thornberrys Movie Akela Voice role
    2003 Singing Detective, TheThe Singing Detective Chief of Staff
    2003 Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property Narrator Documentary
    2003 Core, TheThe Core Talma Stickley
    2003 Unchained Memories Narrator
    2003 Radio Principal Daniels
    2003 Wrinkle in Time, AA Wrinkle in Time Mrs. Whatsit Television film
    2004 Forgotten, TheThe Forgotten Detective Anne Pope
    2004 All Our Sons: Fallen Heroes of 9/11 Narrator Documentary
    2005 Beauty Shop Miss Josephine
    2006 The Water Is Wide Mrs. Brown Television film
    2006 Something New Joyce McQueen
    2006 Take the Lead Principal Augustine James
    2006 King Leopold's Ghost Ilanga Voice
    2007 Pictures of Hollis Woods Edna Reilly Television film
    2008 American Violet Alma Roberts
    2008 Family That Preys, TheThe Family That Preys Alice Pratt
    2008 Road to Ingwavuma Narrator Documentary
    2008 AmericanEast Angela Jensen
    2009 Reach for Me Evelyn
    2010 Have You Heard From Johannesburg Narrator Documentary
    2012 Steel Magnolias Ouiser Television film
    2013 The Door E Short film
    2013 Miracle Rising: South Africa Narrator Documentary
    2013 12 Years a Slave Mistress Harriet Shaw
    2014 The Hadza: Last of the First Narrator Documentary
    2014 Annabelle Evelyn
    2015 Knucklehead Sheila
    2015 Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band Mary Lou Williams / Narrator
    2015 Mississippi Grind Bookmaker
    2016 So B. It Bernadette Filming


    Year Title Role Notes
    1980 The White Shadow Sandra Wilcox Episode: "Reunion: Part 1"
    1981 Sophisticated Gents, TheThe Sophisticated Gents Evelyn Evers Miniseries
    1982–83 Tucker's Witch Marcia Fulbright Series regular, 12 episodes
    1983 Hill Street Blues Doris Robson 3 episodes
    1985 Sara Rozalyn Dupree Series regular, 13 episodes
    1985–88 St. Elsewhere Dr. Roxanne Turner Series regular, 16 episodes
    1985 Faerie Tale Theatre Princess Lovinia Episode: "Puss in Boots"
    1986 L.A. Law Adrian Moore Episode: "Pilot"
    1994 Frasier Edna (voice) Episode: "The Botched Language of Cranes"
    1996 Gulliver's Travels Queen of Brobdingnag Miniseries
    1998 Homicide: Life on the Street Dr. Roxanne Turner Episode: "Mercy"
    2003 Practice, TheThe Practice Denise Freeman 2 episodes
    2005–06 Desperate Housewives Betty Applewhite Series regular, 19 episodes
    2008 My Own Worst Enemy Mavis Heller Series regular, 9 episodes
    2009–10 Three Rivers Dr. Sophia Jordan Series regular, 12 episodes
    2010–12 True Blood Ruby Jean Reynolds 5 episodes
    2010 Black Panther Dondi Reese, Queen Mother 5 episodes
    2010–11 Memphis Beat Lt. Tanya Rice Series regular, 20 episodes
    2011 Grey's Anatomy Justine Campbell Episode: "Heart Shaped Box"
    2012 Private Practice Dee Bennett Episode: "The Next Episode"
    2013 Copper Hattie Lemaster 6 episodes
    2014–15 The Last Ship Amy Granderson 3 episodes
    2014–15 State of Affairs President Constance Payton Series regular, 13 episodes
    2016 Luke Cage Mariah Dillard Series regular



    • Mapp, Edward (2008). African Americans and the Oscar: Decades of Struggle and Achievement. Scarecrow Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0810861060. 
    • Otfinoski, Steven (2010). African Americans in the Performing Arts. Facts on File. p. 280. ISBN 978-0816078387. 
    • Fearn-Banks, Kathleen (2005). Historical Dictionary of African-American Television (Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts). Scarecrow Press. p. 584. ISBN 978-0810853355. 

    External links