Something New Interviewby Tim Nasson, Wild About Movies publisher
January 30, 2006
Beverly Hills – Alfre Woodard just may be the most accomplished, best loved (by critics and audiences, alike), and talented of black actresses living today.
The Academy Award nominee ("Cross Creek"), and four time Emmy Award winner, (for a special guest appearance on "The Practice," a special guest appearance on "L.A. Law," for lead role on "Hill Street Blues," and the television movie "Miss Evers’ Boys"), is back with a vengeance after a nearly five year hiatus from television and movies.
I sat with the strikingly beautiful, and physically fit Woodard on a recent Sunday morning for tea in a suite at The Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, and discussed her recent ‘comeback.’
"There aren’t many roles for black actresses who are the lovely age of post fifty," Woodard laughs. "After 9/11 and the impending actors’ strike of a few years ago, roles dried up for everyone. Television studios bet the farm on reality shows, where they didn’t need any actors and movie studios had no plans for any quality movies that required the presence of me."
How things have changed. Woodard recently appeared in the CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame movie "The Water Is Wide," based on the Pat Conroy novel, as the self-loathing Mrs. Brown, an abusive school teacher in the 1960s south, stars in the upcoming Focus Feature "Something New," in which she plays the mother of lead actress Sanaa Lathan’s character, currently stars as one of the "Desperate Houswives," Betty Applewhite, thank you very much, and appears in an upcoming Warner Bros. film. "16 Blocks," (March 3), alongside Bruce Willis and Mos Def for director Richard Donner ("Lethal Weapon.")
"I’ve never been busier but also have never been happier," Woodard explains of the recent additions to her resume. "I am not getting any younger and am taking a new approach to life. I just had a full body cleanse. And am eating right and exercising a lot. I am ten pounds less than I was when I filmed ‘Something New,’ but when you add the ten pounds that the camera gives you, I guess I don’t win. Do I?"
In "Something New," Woodard plays Joyce McQueen. Joyce is not happy that her daughter, Kenya, is about to marry a white man.
"While it may seem negligible on the outside, interracial marriage and dating, is a hot topic and somewhat of a taboo, still, and quite controversial. Focus Features, who bravely released "Brokeback Mountain," to immediate box office success and almost unanimous critical acclaim, is taking a risk on "Something New," too," says Woodard.
"You very seldom see a picture where you watch the process of falling in love. We’re long overdue for an interracial romance on film, especially where it is the black woman with the white man.
Interestingly enough, Woodard has been married for twenty-two years – to a white man, and has "blended children," couldn’t be more different than her character in "Something New."
"I have always done what I wanted to do," says Woodard.
There is a scene towards the end of "Something New," which tells the story of a well educated, highly successful black woman, that takes place at a Cotillion for upper-class black teenagers. I wondered aloud how realistic the scene was.
"Oh. It was very real. Everyone has the impulse to be elite," says Woodard. "But the African-American culture takes it even more seriously. When you think about how we arrived in the United States, wanting to achieve something great for ourselves is a top priority. I came from an upper-class family but refused to go to my Cotillion. It was something of World War Three when I said I wouldn’t go. I was expected to go, as my older sister had six years earlier. It was just something you did. But I was a rebellious child, somewhat of a hippy, I guess, going to protests and didn’t, at that time, want to be in a gown."
Woodard’s role as Betty Applewhite in "Desperate Housewives" second season, is 180 degrees from her role in "Something New."
"There are a lot of secrets in Betty’s closet," laughs Woodard, who took the role on one day’s notice, having never seen the show beforehand.
"Mark Cherry, ("Desperate Housewives’ creator), asked me if I wanted to play Betty but I had never seen the show. I had heard about it, of course. So I asked him, this was a Tuesday afternoon, to send me some tapes of the show so I could decide if it was a role I was really interested in. So, at 6pm that same night he sends over about 15 episodes of Season 1, and tells me he needs an answer by the next morning. My husband went into one room with a few episodes, I go into the bedroom with a few, and my assistant went into another room with a few. None of us had ever seen an episode of the show. It didn’t take us long to realize I would be a fool if I didn’t jump at the chance to move onto Wisteria Lane. And I am there to stay as long as Mark has something for me to keep hiding from you all," laughs Woodard. "But, slowly, little by little, you’re seeing what’s going on with the man I had in my basement.
"But, let me tell you, that [Bree] hasn’t seen the last of me. I gave that drunk girl a ride home and she goes and turns on me. No she didn’t."
"Something New" is in theaters everywhere February 3rd.
"Desperate Housewives" is on ABC every Sunday night. Check your local listings.