Friday, 22 July 2011
ALFRE WOODARD: CONNECTING WITH HER KENYAN ROOTS
Hollywood actress Alfre Ette Woodard was in the country for a one-week workshop with African filmmakers and actors that ended July 16.
Woodward was part of the visiting delegation from The Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences (presenters of the ‘OSCARS’) who have participated in the ‘One Fine Day Film Workshop’ workshop, as part of their East African Outreach program.
The Academy's International Outreach program brings delegations of visiting film artists to countries with developing film industries, as well as creating opportunities for creative conversations between emerging and established filmmakers from many nations.
The Academy delegation included producer Stephanie Allain, cinematographer John Bailey, sound mixer Willie Burton, editor Carol Littleton; writer-director Phil Robinson, production designer Wynn Thomas, and Ellen Harrington, the Academy’s director of exhibitions and special events.
Besides the educational and cultural exchange with African filmmakers in Kenya Woodward who is a twelve-time Emmy nominee and a five time winner has Kenyan roots.
Her in-laws are the Douglas Hamiltons who are based in Naivasha. Dr. Iain Douglas and Oria have two daughters Saba and Mara Moon, known as Dudu.
Woodward said, “I have tried to come to Kenya for the last 30 years. I have in-laws here in Kenya, Douglas Hamilton, Oria, Dudu and Saba. I have big families all over and it seems so far but I have been to South Africa for an event and spent a lot of time and I always want to get here.”
Adding, “I hope to come back in Christmas and now that I’m here I’m so grateful and excited.”
Marvis, Iain Douglas Hamilton and Alfre
The actress who is famed for role in Desperate Housewife was thrown by the beauty and hospitality in the country.
“When I got here, standing under the Kenyan sky and looking at the soil, this colour is so organic and rich, the people have beautiful skin, and I’m humbled.
The sheer beauty is amazing; any cinematographer would love it here. Kenya has a magic hour, which lasts for five hours something that is rare in America.”
Though the True Blood series has not yet aired on Kenyan TV stations, many urban series enthusiasts have watched the vampire series. Something Woodward hadn’t done before her nieces and nephews egged her on to be part of the show.
“I never watched it. I meet Nelsan Ellis who plays Lafayette in the series at a Hollywood party where my daughter Mavis (Spencer) who was chosen Miss Golden Globe (for The 67th annual Golden Globe Awards) was in attendance. This guy walked up to me wearing a fedora and said, ‘I would love to work with you on True Blood. I would love you to be my mama.’ You know, all actors tell each other that, I did not know if he really meant it.
I told him ‘Yes I would love to.’ He then replied, ‘You would have to play the mother of a gay son who is a demented, racist bigot.’ And I said to him, I could play that. And we laughed about it.
On the set of True Blood
“A week later my manager calls me and tells me, ‘No disrespect but there is a small role on True Blood and Nielsan insist that it is you he wants for the role’ he was very polite he thought I would be insulted but was very surprised when I said I would do it.
“Even the producer Allan Ball said he would write some more. All I asked was the role good? And they said it was. So I said I will do it. There is nothing like too small a role as long as it’s good.”
And that is how she joined the cast of True Blood as Ruby, Lafayette’s mother in the third season. She also shared the secrets to longevity and success in her illustrious career on TV.
“When I came into the industry, I came with an idea of having longevity. With any discipline you have to turn your talent to skill and keep your motives pure. It is similar to investments you could make buckets of money in the short-term investments or you could invest in stocks.”
She made her film debut in Alan Rudolph’s Remember My Name (1978) and went on to appear in Robert Altman’s Health (1980) and Martin Ritt’s Cross Creek (1983), for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Other films include Morgan Freeman’s South African drama Bopha! (1993), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Maya Angelou’s Down In The Delta (1998) and Love & Basketball (2000). Woodard’s work on television has garnered her five Emmy Awards.
“We are descendants of griots, we are still story tellers. We stood up in told stories entertaining the rest who sat around in the campfire. For me it is a service to pay rent to be in service of man. It lets me serve and give a voice to the to the people I play.”
Woodward’s participation in the outreach programme saw her partnered with Chun Mei Tan who is a film-acting connoisseur in the Film/Acting master classes.
The acting workshop saw 12 actors work with the two in basic acting, character creation and various relaxation exercises to help them “surrender to the creative principle, to be able o take on anther personality to help tell the story.”
She is in a new TV series Memphis Beat. Here is the promo