Alfre Woodard

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Alfre Woodard: 2014 Oklahoma Hall of Fame Inductee

By Tim Farley

Alfre Woodard has made a career out of pretending to be someone else, but her latest starring role in the new NBC series State of Affairs creates real-life situations ripped from today’s headlines.

Woodard, formerly of Tulsa, portrays U.S. President Constance Payton, a former senator from California whose son, Aaron (Mark Tallman) was murdered by terrorists in Kabul. Meanwhile, co-star Katherine Heigl plays the role of CIA operative Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, who was engaged to Aaron before the attack, and is responsible for providing the president with daily briefings that center on the top 10 national security concerns.

The new series is the latest in a long list of accomplishments by Woodard, who was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame Nov. 14 during a ceremony at the Cox Convention Center. Joining Woodard as inductees this year were country music star Blake Shelton, philanthropist Peggy Clark Stephenson, cowboy artist Harold T. Holden, legendary music icon Wanda Jackson, Neal McCaleb and Thomas H. McCasland.

As a person who has been involved in government and social issues since her teenage years, the role as President Payton fits Woodard and her political activism.

“It (series) is so smart,” she said during a recent interview with ionOklahoma. “I’m really psyched about State of Affairs.”

The first episode aired Nov. 17 to mixed reviews.

“Our storylines are unfolding now,” Woodard said. “It’s on everybody’s minds. It certainly gives you a real sense of being in the intelligence community and the real threats that are going on now. It’s based on reality and not some fluff piece. They say people at Langley (CIA headquarters) are excited about the series.”

Woodard, a self-professed hippy, joked, in part, about her role as the country’s first black female president.

“Perhaps this will get Americans accustomed to saying Madam President and still know that the sun will rise in the East,” she said. “Men have always been the face of power but women have been the foundation, brawn and brains of how we work. There are a lot of things that happen artistically that introduce into people’s minds what can happen and the possibilities that are out there.”

Part of the backstory for President Payton is that she served in the U.S. Air Force during the first Gulf War pulling soldiers out who had been injured behind the front line. In the series, she’s no pacifist, which is the direct opposite of Woodard. In real life, Woodard is a lifelong Democrat who was appointed to President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2009.

State of Affairs is not the only project that brought art and life together for Woodard. She began a relationship with Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist, in 1987 when she played Winnie Mandela in HBO’s Mandela. Later, Woodard directed and produced Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales, which won the 2010 Audiobook of the Year, and garnered a 2010 Grammy Award nomination for Best Children’s Spoken Word Album.

As a political and social activist, Woodard co-founded Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit working to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and further the cause of democracy and human rights in South Africa. She also works with several under-performing public schools that have flourished with the Turnaround Arts program and has traveled with a delegation of film artists to Iran and East Africa with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

And the winner is…

During her acting career, Woodard has reached for the stars and become one. Her work has earned her an Oscar nomination, four Emmy Awards, 17 Emmy nominations, three Screen Actor Guild awards and a Golden Globe.

Her most recent Emmy nominations were for Outstanding Supporting Actress as Ouiser Boudreaux in the Lifetime remake of Steel Magnolias and for Outstanding Guest Actress in a drama series on the HBO show True Blood.

Woodard’s body of work includes her Oscar nominated performance in Cross Creek; Miss Evers’ Boys, for which she won an Emmy, SAG and Golden Globe Award; Maya Angelou’s Down in the Delta and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave in the role of Mistress Harriet Shaw. Other film credits include Passion Fish, Love and Basketball, Grand Canyon, Crooklyn and The Family That Preys.

Some of her television credits include roles on popular dramas including Desperate Housewives, The Practice, Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law.

But life of a TV and film star is far from the glitz and glamour seen by the public during red carpets extravaganzas.

“What we do is very tough work,” Woodard said. “The truth is 130,000 people are in SAG and less than 1 percent makes $10,000 or more, but when you have that calling you’re willing to do whatever it takes. The red carpet has nothing to do with every day work. It’s a brutal, hard task. People think it’s glamorous, but it’s not. You do it because you believe in the power of telling people’s stories.”

With every film or television project, Woodard’s main goal is please the viewers.

“I want to have that connection with the audience,” she said. “I believe those people are saying, ‘just tell me a story, Alfre.’ Audiences deserve a breather so they can fire up their minds and relax their souls.”

As the youngest of three children born to Marion and Constance Woodard, the award-winning actress was hit with the acting bug after being persuaded to audition for a school play by a nun at Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa. She went on to study acting at Boston University and enjoyed a brief stint on Broadway before moving to Los Angeles.

Woodard got her first break in films with Remember My Name (1978) which also starred Jeff Goldblum. She lives in Santa Monica, Calif., with her husband, writer Roderick Spencer.

Aside from her acting credits, Woodard also was named one of the most beautiful people in America by People Magazine.

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