Alfre Woodard is serious about comedy


January 26, 1992|By Ryan Murphy | Ryan Murphy,Knight-Ridder News Service

Alfre Woodard is an actress known for gritty performances in such projects as HBO's "Mandela" (where she played Winnie, wife of Nelson), the 1984 film "Cross Creek" (where she nabbed her first Oscar nomination), and on dramatic television series such as "St. Elsewhere" and "L.A. Law." Surprisingly, for all the serious turns and resulting awards (she's won several Emmys, an ACE Award and several theater accolades), Ms. Woodard says the part closest to her came in the film "Miss Firecracker," in which she played a seamstress named Popeye who could talk out of her eyeballs.

"That woman was funny," she says, "and I think I am, too."

Finally, in the movie "Grand Canyon," Ms. Woodard has a chance to blend her comedic and serious talents. In Lawrence Kasdan's comedy/drama about city life, Ms. Woodard wears sassy short skirts, tosses off one-liners, chews the scenery and almost steals the film.

Q: In reading your bio, one is struck by the tremendous number of awards you have. Have you run out of shelf space at home?

A: No, I haven't.

Q: What do you do with most of them?

A: Well, most of them are on the floor. They're doorstops! My books are on the shelves. The Emmy makes a great doorstop. And that way, I get to see it all the time. I have doors that fly open, because I have a lot of windows in my house, so those awards are lifesavers.

Q: "Grand Canyon" is about the stress of living in an urban area riddled with crime. Do you have any victimization horror stories to share?

A: One day I came home from work, in Los Angeles, and parked my car in front of the house. I was going to run in and say hi to husband, and run right back out. I came out, and I put my key in the door of the driver's side, and there was this guy sitting in the car, fiddling with the radio. I said, 'Oh, excuse me, I thought this was my car,' thinking that I had actually tried to open the wrong car door. But this guy got so stunned, because he lTC thought I was being a smartass! He backed out of the car like a cat. Then, I realized it was my car, and in the same tone I said, 'Excuse me -- come here -- I want to talk to you!' Well, he ran like hell. And I followed, screaming. He thought I was, like, Police Woman.

Q: You're a new mother. You certainly got your figure back fast.

A: That's because the baby is adopted. (Laughs) I'm from a family of real women. And when we have children, we don't look like those skinny models two months later.

Q: Michael Jackson has long been criticized for de-ethnicizing himself. There have been reports of skin bleaching, nose jobs. As a black woman, what do you think of his physical transformation, and the resulting criticism?

A: You know -- and I might be wrong, because I don't know Michael -- but I doubt that Michael woke up one day and said, 'Ohh . . . I look too African, I think I'm gonna change that. I'm going to make my nose more European, I'm going to lighten my skin, I'm going to . . . ' I don't buy that.

I think Michael is a genius, and he's been isolated since he was a child. He's lived and existed through fantasy. And I think these changes are just an extension of how fantastical his mind is. It has more to do with finding images for himself that are visually unusual than running away from his cultural heritage. I don't think he thinks, 'I am erasing my race away.' I just think he gets bored, and has to think up new ways to entertain himself. And he does this through his appearance.

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