ACTORS WE LOVE - Alfre Woodard: Grounded

It seems fitting that accomplished actress Alfre Woodard sees herself as an "Everywoman role model." Having garnered numerous awards and nominations for her superb characterizations, Woodard also finds time to be a wife and mother of two, as well as co-founder of the charity organization Artists for a New South Africa. In addition to her compassionate nature, Woodard has gripped audiences with her sensitive renderings of the characters she portrays.

Woodard has mesmerized audiences with her soul-baring performances, on big and small screens alike, for more than two decades. Currently, she provides the voice of Plio, the lemur in Disney's blockbuster hit Dinosaur, and can be seen in New Line's Love and Basketball as Camille Wright, the affluent suburban homemaker who deplores her daughter's unladylike ways.

She is at her best playing characters grounded in reality. Prime examples are Lily, the headstrong but amiable caf owner/landlady in the film Mumford. One of the most memorable scenes in the film is a conversation between Woodard and her dejected psychologist friend. He confesses his love for one of his patients, and, as unethical as it may be, Woodard advises him to dispel all insecurities and tell her how he feels immediately. The straightforward, no-nonsense attitude behind her acting makes you want her as a best friend of your own.

In the small screen production of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Piano Lesson, Woodard excelled as Berniece, a strong-willed sister who refuses to sell the family heirloom, a piano, even if its means passing up an opportunity for a more prosperous future. She received a Best Actress Award from the Screen Actors Guild and an Emmy nomination for that performance. It's a performance that demonstrates Oklahoma-born Woodard's innate ability to capture human moments with adorned naturalness.

After studying at Boston University, Woodard made her way to the beloved City of Angels. She climbed her way up the Hollywood ladder by working with independent filmmakers like Robert Altman and Alan Rudolph. She has worked tirelessly since her film debut in the 1978 thriller Remember My Name. Subsequently, her face, with those beautifully deep-set eyes and exquisite bone structure, has graced the silver screen in numerous films, including Crooklyn, Primal Fear, and Grand Canyon, among others. An extraordinary performer, Woodard also understands how to make a significant impact in even the smallest of parts.

One of her most critically acclaimed roles to date is that of Loretta in poet laureate Maya Angelou's directorial debut, Down in the Delta. Woodard plays a troubled, alcoholic mother struggling to maintain a household for her children while living in a poor Chicago neighborhood. At the command of her long-suffering mother, Loretta agrees to relocate to the family home in rural Mississippi. Woodard poignantly portrays the reckless mother straight-on, at the same time never allowing her plight to pander for pity.

Woodard offers another flawless depiction in her role as an ex-addict turned dedicated nurse in the film Passion Fish, about a daytime series actress (played by Mary McDonnell) whose career abruptly comes to a halt after a horrible car accident. Wheelchair-bound and bitter, she is led to Woodard's character Chanteel, and an unlikely friendship blossoms. Too often, we see actors lose themselves in an emotional storyline, which leads to overly sentimental and unbelievable choices. This is not the case in John Sayles' film, in which, from start to finish, Woodard's Chanteel evokes empathy and warmth without ever compromising her integrity. This performance once again affirms Woodard as one of Hollywood's most convincing and natural actresses.

An artist with an exceptional creative intelligence, Woodard translates her talents from picture to picture, and in the end, we are left with something magical in its simplicity.