Tag Archives: Alfre Woodard

Interview: Alfre Woodard talks Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’

NetflixMahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard in “Luke Cage” (photo: Netflix)

It’s been an eventful year for Oscar-nominated actress Alfre Woodard, who had the rare opportunity to act in not one, but two different projects in the Marvel Universe. After making a brief but pivotal appearance opposite her longtime friend Robert Downey Jr. in the summer blockbuster feature “Captain America: Civil War,” Woodard is now playing a major role in the new Netflix superhero drama “Luke Cage.”

Woodard said the common denominator in the superhero projects was the novel idea of story first, then visual effects. Having characters with  superhuman abilities is all well and good, Woodard said, yet those abilities are less likely to enthrall a viewer unless there’s substance there.

“You can have all the special effects in the world and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into them, but so many times people walk out of these films and say, ‘Of all the execs involved, didn’t anybody read the script?'” Woodard said in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “No matter how much technology we have, it comes down to the stories and storytellers.”

Now streaming on Netflix, “Luke Cage” is based on the indestructible Marvel Comics character who debuted in print in 1972. Having first made an appearance in Marvel’s New York City-set Netflix series “Jessica Jones” last year, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) returns in this new series to his Harlem roots to hopefully blend into the background and keep his superhuman strength and impenetrable skin a secret.

But when a vicious club owner, Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali), and his cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Woodard), start wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, Luke has no choice but to emerge from the shadows to protect the innocent people they are targeting.

Woodard chalks the success of “Luke Cage” up to the show’s creator and showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker, who studied journalism at Stanford — background Woodard believes helps inform the look and feel of the series.

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“Cheo’s an amazing man. He understands, appreciates and revels in the culture and the history of Harlem,” Woodard said. “He’s also a hip-hop aficionado. He’s the first journalist to realize that hip-hop was not just a passing phase and would be a successful world culture for generations. He brings all that creative intelligence to telling the stories to ‘Luke Cage.’ That’s why I signed on, and I have not been disappointed any step of the way.”

Playing Mariah over the course of several episodes instead of in a movie is a dream for Woodard, who thrives on developing a character over a longer period of time rather than trying to squeeze everything about her into a two-hour frame. On the whole, Woodard, 63, doesn’t think Mariah should be flat-out labeled as a corrupt politician, but just a person who happens to be a councilwoman with ambitions — albeit ambitions she’s been blinded by.

“It’s not just politicians who are like this. The role is not about how much we are willing to sink (to get things done), but how much we’re willing to wager to do what we think is right or helpful,” Woodard said.

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Ultimately, Woodard said, Mariah is far from being a one-note villain.

“I love Mariah because I think she is very complex, as we all are, and I love being able to play somebody that we all run into in real life. She has all the cuts and bruises, yet she has a sunny side,” Woodard said. “As an actor, I love that. I feel like she’s a real human being. In this case, people may feel like, ‘I can identify with them’ until the character’s life takes a dramatic turn and then go, ‘Oh, my God. I couldn’t go all the way there.’

“But that’s why we tell stories,” Woodard added. “To entertain, yes, but also to have audiences reflect and imagine themselves in these situations.”

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Interview: Alfre Woodard says ‘Mississippi Grind’ was sure bet

'Mississippi Grind' stars Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds and Alfre Woodard

By Tim Lammers

Alfre Woodard’s presence has dominated films and television for more than three and a half decades now — all the way from her Oscar-nominated role in the 1984 biographical drama “Cross Creek” to 1992’s acclaimed drama “Passion Fish” to the 1996 crime thriller “Primal Fear” — and more recently on TV with starring turns in such hit series as “Desperate Housewives,” “True Blood” and “State of Affairs.”

Woodard has also proven, though, that a little of her can go a long way, including small but memorable  roles in the Oscar-winning biographical drama “12 Years a Slave” and in the new gambling addiction drama “Mississippi Grind.”

“I tell people that I’m in the film, but once you see me, don’t look for me — if you keep looking for me you’ll miss the whole movie,” Woodard said, laughing, in a recent phone conversation from New York.

In “Mississippi Grind,” which is expanding to more theaters nationwide Friday, Ben Mendelsohn plays Gerry, an addicted gambler who experiences a reversal of fortune when he hits the road on a poker run with Curtis, a successful, charismatic card player who appears to be his good luck charm. Woodard plays Sam, a bookmaker who ominously tells Gerry that the load of money he owes her is due in a matter of days with no hopes of extending the deadline.

While Woodard is only featured in one scene in the film, the 62-year-old Tulsa, Oklahoma, native said her attraction to the project wasn’t so much about the size of  her role as it was who she was acting with.

“The reason to go to work for one scene depends on who that scene is with, and this time it was Ben,” Woodard explained. “It was just the two of us and the scene was well-written. Ben was really the draw. It’s also why I did the one scene in ’12 Years a Slave.’ I wanted to have the chance to work with Steve McQueen, even if it was only for half a day. That’s how I choose the work. It’s really about who I get to create with. If we deserve a chance to be in the same space, I don’t want to pass it up.”

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Woodward couldn’t say enough great things about Mendelsohn — a veteran Australian-born actor who in has been featured in such films as the 2012 Christopher Nolan blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises” and the riveting 2010 Aussie crime thriller “Animal Kingdom” — and who was nominated this year for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his role in the Netflix dramatic thriller “Bloodline.”

“I don’t think he gets the attention he deserves at all. You can’t get a better actor than Ben Mendelsohn. I put him in the same category as Michael Fassbender,” Woodard said of the “12 Years a Slave” Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee. “Fassbender gets the attention, but it’s almost as if the people who comment about him, still don’t get the complexity he brings to a role. He’s so believable at what he is that the average eye, or even the critical eye, don’t contemplate until afterwards that it was an actor doing the role. I also feel that way about Ben in everything he does. In ‘Mississippi Grind,’ he creates and fleshes out a character that is so flawed, but the humanity that he gives this person is beautiful at the same time.”

Woodard said she was thrilled with the way Mendelsohn made you care for Gerry — a gambling addict who just can’t get out of his own way.

“He really makes you realize that no matter who it is and what kind of dire straits they’re in, or what kind of bad deeds they may be up to, there’s a human being there,” Woodard said. “It had to be Ben playing the role or we wouldn’t have gotten anything like that at all.”

Like Mendelsohn, Woodard will soon be joining the Netflix ranks in the role of Harlem politician Mariah Dillard in the Marvel series “Luke Cage.” The 13-episode series is set to start streaming next year.