Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Alfre Woodard (/ˈælfriː
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.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 and graduated from there in 1970. 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 said, "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 Trial of the Moke, a Great Performances television movie co-starring Samuel L. Jackson.
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 the 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 played Judge Miriam Shoat in the neo-noir crime film Primal Fear with Richard Gere and Edward Norton, and 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 an 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 by 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).
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 appeared in Steve McQueen's historical drama film 12 Years a Slave as Mistress Harriet Shaw, a formerly enslaved woman who has risen in the Southern caste system. Though her appearance was brief, her performance was praised as powerful. 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 an 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 2016, she also had a small role in Marvel's film Captain America: Civil War, playing Miriam Sharpe, the mother of an American citizen killed in the battle of Sokovia. Later that year, she played Mariah Dillard in the Netflix series Marvel's Luke Cage, marking her second character portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That same year she was cast in DreamWorks' film Haunted based on Henry James' novell Turn of the Screw and directing by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.
In 2017, Woodard stars as a title character in the independent drama Juanita based on Sheila Williams' book Dancing on the Edge of the Roof. She also co-stars opposite Michelle Monaghan in Saint Judy. In August 2017, Woodard was cast to play as Sarabi in the 2019 CGI live action remake of The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau. In 2018, she was cast in a leading role in the prison drama Clemency. The film centers on a prison warden (Woodard) who confronts her own psychological demons as she develops an emotional connection to the death row inmate (played by Aldis Hodge) she is scheduled to execute. Also in 2018, she take a recurring role in the Fox prime time soap opera Empire, playing Renee, Cookie Lyon’s mother.
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.
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, Woodard 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.
|1978||Remember My Name||Rita|
|1983||Cross Creek||Beatrice "Geechee"|
|1984||Go Tell It on the Mountain||Esther|
|1984||Sweet Revenge||Vicki Teague|||
|1989||Miss Firecracker||Popeye Jackson|
|1990||Blue Bayou||Jessica Filley|||
|1991||Pretty Hattie's Baby||Hattie||Unreleased|||
|1992||The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag||Attorney Ann Orkin|
|1993||Rich in Love||Rhody Poole|
|1993||Heart and Souls||Penny Washington|
|1994||Blue Chips||Lavada McRae|
|1994||Countdown to Freedom: 10 Days That Changed South Africa||Narrator||Documentary|
|1995||How to Make an American Quilt||Marianna|
|1996||Statistically Speaking||Middle aged woman||Short film|
|1996||Follow Me Home||Evey||Unreleased|
|1996||Star Trek: First Contact||Lily Sloane|
|1996||Primal Fear||Judge Miriam Shoat|
|1996||A Step Toward Tomorrow||Dr. Sandlin|||
|1997||The 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|||
|2000||What's Cooking?||Audrey Williams|
|2000||Lost Souls||Dr. Allen||Cameo|
|2000||John Henry||Polly / Narrator|
|2000||Love & Basketball||Camille Wright|
|2002||Searching for Debra Winger||Herself|
|2002||Baby of the Family||Rachel|||
|2002||The Wild Thornberrys Movie||Akela||Voice role|
|2003||The Singing Detective||Chief of Staff|
|2003||Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property||Narrator||Documentary|
|2003||The Core||Talma Stickley|
|2004||The Forgotten||Detective Anne Pope|
|2004||All Our Sons: Fallen Heroes of 9/11||Narrator||Documentary|||
|2005||Beauty Shop||Miss Josephine|
|2006||Something New||Joyce McQueen|
|2006||Take the Lead||Principal Augustine James|
|2006||King Leopold's Ghost||Ilanga||Voice role|
|2008||American Violet||Alma Roberts|
|2008||The Family That Preys||Alice Pratt|
|2008||Road to Ingwavuma||Narrator||Documentary|
|2009||Reach for Me||Evelyn|
|2010||Have You Heard From Johannesburg||Narrator||Documentary|
|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|||
|2015||Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band||Mary Lou Williams / Narrator||Documentary|||
|2016||Captain America: Civil War||Miriam Sharpe||Cameo|||
|2016||So B. It||Bernadette|||
|2017||Burning Sands||Professor Hughes|
|2018||Saint Judy||Judge Benton|
|2019||The Lion King||Sarabi||Filming; voice role|
|TBA||Clemency||Warden Bernadine Williams||Post-production|
|1978||The Trial of the Moke||Lucy||Television film|
|1979||Freedom Road||Katie||Television film|
|1980||The White Shadow||Sandra Wilcox||Episode: "Reunion: Part 1"|
|1981||The Sophisticated Gents||Evelyn Evers||Miniseries|
|1982||The Ambush Murders||Kariha Ellsworth||Television film|
|1982-83||Tucker's Witch||Marcia Fulbright||12 episodes|
|1983||Hill Street Blues||Doris Robson||3 episodes|
|1985||Sara||Rozalyn Dupree||13 episodes|
|1985||Words by Heart||Claudie Sills||Television film|
|1985-88||St. Elsewhere||Dr. Roxanne Turner||16 episodes|
|1985||Faerie Tale Theatre||Princess Lovinia||Episode: "Puss in Boots"|
|1986||L.A. Law||Adrian Moore||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1986||Unnatural Causes||Maude DeVictor||Television film|
|1987||Mandela||Winnie Mandela||Television film|
|1988||The Child Saver||Andrea Crawford||Television film|
|1989||A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story||Mary Thomas||Television film|
|1994||Frasier||Edna (voice)||Episode: "The Botched Language of Cranes"|
|1994||Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad||Harriet Tubman||Television film|
|1995||The Piano Lesson||Berniece||Television film|
|1996||Gulliver's Travels||Queen of Brobdingnag||Miniseries|
|1997||Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child||Wilnoome Bear (voice)||Episode: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"|
|1997||The Member of the Wedding||Berenice Sadie Brown||Television film|
|1997||Miss Evers' Boys||Eunice Evers||Television film|
|1998||Homicide: Life on the Street||Dr. Roxanne Turner||Episode: "Mercy"|
|1999||The Wishing Tree||Clara||Television film|
|2000||Holiday Heart||Wanda||Television film|
|2003||The Practice||Denise Freeman||2 episodes|
|2003||A Wrinkle in Time||Mrs. Whatsit||Television film|
|2005-06||Desperate Housewives||Betty Applewhite||19 episodes|
|2006||The Water Is Wide||Mrs. Brown||Television film|
|2007||Pictures of Hollis Woods||Edna Reilly||Television film|
|2008||My Own Worst Enemy||Mavis Heller||9 episodes|
|2009-10||Three Rivers||Dr. Sophia Jordan||12 episodes|
|2010-12||True Blood||Ruby Jean Reynolds||5 episodes|
|2010||Black Panther||Queen Mother, Dondi Reese, Dora Milaje, Miss M'Buye (voices)||5 episodes|
|2010-11||Memphis Beat||Lt. Tanya Rice||20 episodes|
|2011||Grey's Anatomy||Justine Campbell||Episode: "Heart Shaped Box"|
|2012||Private Practice||Dee Bennett||Episode: "The Next Episode"|
|2012||Steel Magnolias||Ouiser||Television film|
|2013||Copper||Hattie Lemaster||6 episodes|
|2014-15||The Last Ship||Amy Granderson||3 episodes|
|2014-15||State of Affairs||President Constance Payton||13 episodes|
|2016-18||Luke Cage||Mariah Stokes||23 episodes|
|2017-18||A Series of Unfortunate Events||Josephine Anwhistle||3 episodes|
|2018-present||Empire||Renee Holloway||4 episodes|
Alfre Woodard supports the following charitable causes: Environment, AIDS.