Interview: Alfre Woodard

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With the success of Desperate Housewives, the producers of Take the Lead thought it interesting to bring in actress Alfre Woodard star of Down in the Delta, Beauty Shop and Crooklyn as well as many others. While the film depicts a fiery leader, reality shows a different more down to earth side. Ms. Woodard talks about her private work, motherhood and being a woman of color in the industry.

BSN: How’d you like making the film?
AW:  I had great fun. It’s the kind of movie where you feel kind of funny cause you start smiling at the screen every time the movie starts.

BSN: You’ve been in this industry for a long time. How do you think things have changed for African Americans in Hollywood?
AW: I think it’s no different. I started 30 years ago. I think you see more people of color kind of filling in the filler…Black people, Latino people. You just start to see little dots of Asian people. The truth is…hmm…whatever people imagine sells, that’s what they’re going to put in the pictures. And this industry doesn’t believe that black woman sell at all. So that’s why it’s an uphill battle. They even don’t think…they think white women of a certain look sell. So they even put those in different categories. It’s so far behind. What is the truth? If you have a wreck in the middle of Iowa some skinhead might come driving up in the EMS, busting open the door, he lifts you up in the truck. A little Vietnamese woman might give you oxygen and take you through all this …a Black guy in the front just speeding away to get you to the hospital. They’ll haul you out and a 65 year old white woman may say ok honey just calm down. You go in Black women preps you and help the doctor get ready. The doctors an Indian woman. And all these people are doing this. And people know that. It happens all over the country. But that same scenario, if it were on TV or a movie, they would have to say Black Man with Dreadlocks checks her into the hospital. Even when you do that you would have to say something that they think a black man with dreadlocks would say to warrant being in the scene. So I always feel like, the people that you see all the time…if you lock them at the bottom of the ocean, they’re going to find a way to bring their gifts. So it’s not even about them. When people of color can be as mediocre as Caucasian people and still keep getting hired then that’s progress.

BSN: What attracted you to do this film?
AW: I always follow the script and I think that they did a great job. I love the fact that I recognize the young people in it. She writes that well. I believe those young people. And I know about Pierre Dulaine’ success with the schools here. Cause my mother-in-law volunteers with the schools here in east Harlem. All of that, plus they said Antonio was in it so…and I met Liz. She’s young but she has this sought of balance and maturity about her. She’s very smart and calm. I don’t like to be around frantic people. I’m like a snob in that kind of way. I’m like no frantic people.  Only balanced calm people. Only good scripts. But I feel like, you know, I may not make a lot of money but I have had a lovely time and I haven’t had to work around anybody who I wouldn’t have to have dinner with my children. So it’s good.

BSN: How has your life changed since getting on Desperate Housewives?
AW: It hasn’t changed at all. I’ve been in the business 30 years and I’m considered a working actor. I’m known but I’m not a celebrity.

BSN: You’re certainly a household name
AW: Yeah, to people who have been living under a rock…lol. But if I wanted it to change it could. But those actors are going…oh…too much notoriety. We all know, actors know how to shine in a room and public space. And you know how to disappear. I’m too busy to shine in a public space. I’m living a real life, raising kids. I do a lot of social activism: It’s something that I co-founded several years ago. We’re doing a whole lot of work in HIV in Southern Africa and The States. Voter education, voter registration, voter fraud and all that kind of stuff. The thing is you just go to work and it’s like a television show…you’re doing whatever it is on the script. So Desperate Housewives kind of hoopla actually only exists in the press and events. Like if we go somewhere all together, it’s like this heightened thing. It’s a great gig. A lovely job and I enjoy the women. But it’s just that.

BSN: You’ve done so many great films. Do you look back on one of them and say I love that so much and that particular role?
AW: I learned a lot from my director Martin Ritt for Cross creek years ago. They do make movies like Marty and those guys used to make. Movies are made in a different way. There used to be a mogul where you can go appeal to his sense of vanity. And movies cost, maybe $30 Million dollars was an expensive movie. You knew you were going to have characters and a story. If you spend more than $30 Million dollars on a movie it ain’t gonna be about nothing unless you had to rent the Washington Monument. All those things now are just events. They are not films. They are not movies. I won’t talk about the people in them. I’ll just leave that there. But I like what movies used to be before the corporation took over. The great thing about being an actor is that you’re constantly growing. And you’ve got to learn about everything around what you’re doing. And the people and your character your doing. I’ve never done anything that I’ve regretted doing. I’ve never done anything that I wouldn’t let my children see. I had a great time doing Crooklyn too. I follow the material. And then I want to know the director. And then I want to know the atmosphere that I will be working in.

Copyright © Tonisha Johnson

“Speaking Truth To Empower.� To contact The Black Star News write or call (212) 481-7745. Subscribe to this newspaper and advertise to build power.

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