Alfre Woodard is an American actress who is known for her intense and versatile performances on stage, TV and film. She was born on November 8, 1952 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is the youngest of three children. She studied drama at Boston University and made her theatre debut in 1974. Her first breakthrough performance was in 1977, in an off Broadway production called “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf”. Her film debut followed next year in a television movie starring opposite Samuel L. Jackson.
During the 1980s, she ventured into several genres of acting including comedy and drama. These included roles in the comedy film “Heath”, the NBC miniseries “The Sophisticated Gents” and the film “Cross Creek” (for which she received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress). She won her first Emmy Award in 1983 for playing the role of Doris Robson in the NBC drama “Hill Street Blues”. Her other Emmy nominations include the films “Words by Heart” in 1985, “Unnatural Causes” in 1986, and “A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story” in 1989. In 1986, she won a “Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series” for playing the role of a woman dying of leukemia in the NBC drama “L.A. Law”. She was also cast on the NBC medical drama “St. Elsewhere” in which she starred opposite Denzel Washington. For this show, she received nominations for “Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series” in 1986, and for “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series” in 1988.
One of her best known roles in film is that of political activist Winnie Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s wife) in the HBO film “Mandela”. She learnt to imitate Winnie Mandela’s accent by watching tapes of her speeches and news clips. For this performance she received a “CableACE Award” and an “NAACP Image Award” in the Outstanding Lead Actress category. Another critically acclaimed performance includes the role of a nurse in the film “Passion Fish” for which she received her first Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She also won the “Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female” for this.
Alfre Woodard’s took on several roles in quick succession the 1990s, including the films “Bopha!” in 1993, “Crooklyn” in 1994, “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag” in 1992, “Rich in Love” in 1993 and “Blue Chips” in 1994. In 1995 she joined the powerful female-led cast of the film “How to Make an American Quilt” for which she and the cast received a nomination for the “Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture”. She won the “Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie” for her role in the movie “The Piano Lesson” in 1995. Woodard continued her outstanding and varied performances with TV shows such as “Desperate Housewives”, “The Practice”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice”. She also starred and appeared in a multitude of movies such as “Annabelle”, “Steel Magnolias”, “The Forgotten”, “Beauty Shop” and a voice role in the Disney film “Dinosaur”.
Alfre Woodard is married to the writer Roderick Spencer with whom she has adopted two children. She is the founder and board member of “Artists for a New South Africa” which is a nonprofit organization working for prevention of AIDS in South Africa. In 2014, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame for her outstanding achievements in television, film, theatre and contributions to society.