(written from a Production point of view)
She is perhaps best known for her roles on the television dramas St. Elsewhere and Desperate Housewives and for her many film roles. She has earned numerous accolades throughout her career, including fifteen Image Award nominations (winning seven), twelve Emmy Award nominations (winning four), three Golden Globe nominations (winning one), and an Academy Award nomination.
Woodard was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was a track star and cheerleader while attending Bishop Kelley High School, a private Catholic school in Tulsa. She turned to acting after a nun convinced her to audition for a high school play, and later studied drama at Boston University.
After graduating from the university, Woodard began acting on the New York stage. She later moved to California to pursue a career in film and television. In 1983, she married comedian, writer and producer Roderick Spencer. They subsequently adopted and raised two children, Duncan and Mavis. Woodard and her family currently live in Santa Monica, California.
Woodard is a long-time friend of First Contact director and co-star Jonathan Frakes, whom she calls her godson. This came about when Woodard was discussing her own godmother with Frakes and Frakes revealed he never had a godmother. Woodard then agreed to be his godmother, and Frakes has referred to her as "godmommy" ever since. Another co-star from First Contact, LeVar Burton, is also a close friend of Woodard's.
Woodard made her film debut in the 1978 drama Remember My Name. Her next film was the 1980 Robert Altman comedy HealtH, in which she co-starred with fellow Star Trek alumni Paul Dooley, Henry Gibson, and Robert Fortier.
She received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the 1983 drama Cross Creek. Fellow Trek movie actor Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek Generations) also had a role in this film. Woodard joined James Avery in the 1986 rape drama Extremities. Woodard later worked with McDowell in the 1993 film Bopha!.
In 1988, Woodard played Frank Cross' overworked assistant, Grace Cooley, in the comedy Scrooged. Her co-stars in this film included Roy Brocksmith, John Glover, Michael J. Pollard, and Logan Ramsey. Woodard then co-starred in the 1989 comedy Miss Firecracker, which also featured Star Trek: The Next Generation's Brent Spiner. Woodard and Spiner later worked together in Star Trek: First Contact.
Woodard received a Golden Globe nomination and won an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in the 1992 drama Passion Fish. In 1993, she appeared in the supernatural comedy Heart and Souls, along with David Paymer, Janet MacLachlan, and Kurtwood Smith. She then had the lead role in Spike Lee's 1994 film Crooklyn. In 1995, she co-starred with Winona Ryder, Jean Simmons, and Gail Strickland in the film adaptation of the Whitney Otto novel, How to Make an American Quilt. Mindy Hall was Woodard's make-up artist on this film. Woodard earned an Image Award nomination for her performance in How to Make an American Quilt. She again worked with Winona Ryder in the 2000 thriller Lost Souls, which also featured Robert Clendenin and Brad Greenquist.
Woodard's other film credits throughout the 1990's include the 1991 drama Grand Canyon (with Tina Lifford), the 1994 sports drama Blue Chips (with Jim Beaver), the 1996 thriller Primal Fear (with Terry O'Quinn, Tony Plana, Kenneth Tigar, Brian Reddy, Christopher Carroll, Mike Boss, Greg Bronson, and Azalea Davila), and the 1999 comedy Mumford. She also had the lead roles in the 1998 drama Down in the Delta, for which she received nominations from the Image Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards.
In 2000, Woodard was seen in the romantic drama Love & Basketball (with Gabrielle Union), for which she won an Image Award. She then played Dr. Claudia Villars in the 2001 science fiction drama K-PAX (also featuring William Lucking), receiving another Image Award nomination. She later co-starred with Bruce Greenwood, Glenn Morshower, and Matt Winston in the science fiction adventure The Core and portrayed the high school principal in the 2003 sports drama Radio, both released in 2003. Woodard won her seventh Image Award for the latter film.
Woodard also lent her voice to the animated films Dinosaur and The Wild Thornberrys Movie, the latter of which also featured the voices of Brock Peters and Ethan Phillips. More recently, Woodard has acted in such films as 2004 thriller The Forgotten, the 2005 comedy Beauty Shop, and the 2006 dance drama Take the Lead. In addition, She and TNG guest star Earl Billings played a married couple in the 2006 romantic drama Something New.
In 2008, Woodard was directed by and co-starred with Tyler Perry in the drama The Family That Preys, for which she received her latest Image Award nomination. The following year, Woodard reunited with First Contact co-star LeVar Burton when the latter directed and acted with the former in the independent film Reach for Me. Adrienne Barbeau and Seymour Cassel also starred in this film.
In 2013, Woodard appeared as Mistress Harriet Shaw in 12 Years a Slave, based on the true story of Solomon Northup, sharing a scene with the film's stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o. The film also featured Benedict Cumberbatch.
Woodard made her stage debut in the plays Horatio and Saved at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in 1974. She then had a brief stint on Broadway between October 1975 and December 1976 when she was an understudy for the part of the woman in the musical Me and Bessie. She later performed in several off-Broadway productions, including A Map of the World in 1985 (with Erick Avari and Mike Starr) and The Winter's Tale in 1989. Woodard returned to Broadway in 2004 to star in the dramatic play Drowning Crow.
She has also acted in several Los Angeles productions. In 1977, she played Mrs. Cartchit and the Ghost of Christmas Past in a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, opposite Tony Papenfuss as Ebenezer Scrooge. Her other Los Angeles stage credits have included for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (which also toured in Australia), Leander Stilwell, and Split Second.
1978 – 1983
Woodard first appeared on television in 1978 while starring in a televised stage performance of The Trial of Moke for PBS' Great Performances, working alongside Thalmus Rasulala. Her first work in episodic television came in 1980 on the CBS drama series The White Shadow, on which Joan Pringle was a main cast member. The following year, Joseph Pevney directed her in an episode of the CBS drama Palmerstown, U.S.A. and she appeared on Enos, another CBS series, with Michael Ensign.
Later in 1981, Woodard co-starred with Bibi Besch, Bernie Casey, Albert Hall, Robert Hooks, Janet MacLachlan, Thalmus Rasulala, Davis Roberts, and Paul Winfield in the NBC made-for-television movie The Sophisticated Gents. The following year, she starred in The Ambush Movies, a TV movie which also featured Davis Roberts as well as Marc Alaimo, Louis Giambalvo, John McLiam, Warren Munson, and Marshall R. Teague.
Woodard co-starred with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home actress Catherine Hicks in the twelve-episode detective series Tucker's Witch, which aired on CBS from fall 1982 through the summer of 1983. In the latter year, Woodard portrayed the role of Doris Robson in three episodes of the NBC police drama Hill Street Blues. She won her first Emmy Award for her performance in her first episode of the show, "Doris in Wonderland." Her next two episodes were directed by Gabrielle Beaumont and Corey Allen, respectively. Barbara Bosson and James B. Sikking were regulars on the series; others Woodard worked with include Bumper Robinson, Kenneth Tigar, and George D. Wallace.
1984 – 1989
In 1984, Woodard worked with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock actor Merritt Butrick in the TV movie Sweet Revenge. She then starred with Robert Hooks, who also appeared in Star Trek III, in the 1985 PBS production Words by Heart, for which Woodard received her second Emmy Award nomination. She also reunited with Star Trek II actor Paul Winfield, her co-star from The Sophisticated Gents, in the 1985 PBS movie Go Tell It on the Mountain. This was followed by the Faerie Tale Theatre production of "Puss in Boots," in which Woodard acted alongside Brock Peters, John Schuck, and Ben Vereen.
In 1985, Woodard joined the cast of St. Elsewhere to play Dr. Roxanne Turner. She received two Emmy nominations for her work on this show, the first time as a regular in 1986 and the second for a guest appearance in 1988, having left the show the previous year. She worked with many other Star Trek alumni during her years on St. Elsewhere, including William Daniels, Ed Begley, Jr., Bruce Greenwood, Norman Lloyd, Deborah May, France Nuyen, Jennifer Savidge and Jane Wyatt. She reprised the role of Dr. Turner in a 1998 episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, for which she received another Emmy nomination.
In 1986, Woodard guest-starred in the pilot episode of the drama L.A. Law (with series regular Corbin Bernsen and fellow guest stars Megan Gallagher, John Hancock, Jerry Hardin, and Robert Knepper) and starred in the TV movie Unnatural Causes. She won an Emmy Award for her work on the former, and was nominated for the latter. In 1987, Woodard co-starred with Brian George and Lori Petty in the TV special The Line and acted in the movie Mandela, winning a CableACE Award for the latter. She received her seventh Emmy Award nomination for her performance in the title role of the 1989 movie A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story. Woodard also won Image Awards for Unnatural Causes, Mandela, and A Mother's Courage.
1990 – 1999
Woodard next starred in the 1990 TV movie Blue Bayou, which was her second collaboration with Star Trek II actress Bibi Besch following 1981's The Sophisticated Gents. This movie also featured Star Trek: Voyager guest star Carolyn Seymour. In 1994, Woodard worked with Terri Garr in the McDonald's Family Theatre special "Aliens for Breakfast," directed by John Kretchmer. That same year, Woodard played Harriet Tubman in the movie Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad. She also lent her voice to an episode of the NBC sitcom Frasier, which starred Kelsey Grammer.
In 1995, Woodard received another Emmy nomination and won an Image Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in the movie The Piano Lesson. The following year, she was again nominated by the Emmys for her role as the Queen of Brobdingnag in the two-part TV movie adaptation of Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels. Later in 1996, she appeared in the TV movie Special Report: Journey to Mars, as did Keith Carradine, Rosalind Chao, Leonard Kelly-Young, and Deborah Lacey.
Woodard's performance as Nurse Eunice Evers in the 1997 TV movie Miss Evers' Boys earned her an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe, an Image Award, a CableACE Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Golden Satellite Award. The movie was directed by Joseph Sargent, who previously directed the first regular episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, "The Corbomite Maneuver". Woodard next received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination and an Image Award nomination for her performance in the 1999 children's special, The Wishing Tree. She concluded her television work in the 1990s with the 1999 drama Funny Valentines, co-starring Tom Wright.
2000 – present
Woodard received yet another Image Award nomination, as well as a Golden Globe nomination, for her role in the 2000 movie Holiday Heart. Later, she won her fourth Emmy Award for her two guest appearances on the legal drama The Practice. Among the performers she worked with on this program were David Andrews, Michael Bofshever, Gregory Itzin, and Thomas Kopache.
In 2005, Woodard began appearing as Betty Applewhite on the hit ABC drama Desperate Housewives, becoming a regular cast member on the show during its second season (2005-2006). She worked with Teri Hatcher, Mark Moses, and Steven Culp on this series, all of whom were regular cast members. In the first episode of the second season, Woodard's character was the organist at the funeral for Culp's character. Woodard received an Emmy nomination for her role on Desperate Housewives in 2006, in addition to being nominated for the TV movie The Water Is Wide (which also featured Frank Langella).
Following her two initial guest appearances on Desperate Housewives, Woodard guest-starred in the first two episodes of the short-lived NBC drama Inconceivable, as did recurring Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor Casey Biggs. She then starred in the Hallmark movie Pictures of Hollis Woods, receiving her most recent Emmy nomination to date.
In 2008, Woodard was a regular on NBC's short-lived espionage series My Own Worst Enemy, in which she played the supervisor for the lead character, played by Christian Slater. For this series, Woodard reunited with her Star Trek: First Contact co-star James Cromwell, who played Woodard's character's superior. Although the series was canceled after only nine episodes, Woodard received an Image Award nomination for her work in 2009. Between 2009 and 2010 Woodard was a regular on the CBS drama series Three Rivers, on which she played Dr. Sophia Jordan. In 2011 she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her recurring role as Ruby Jean Reynolds in three episodes of the vampire series True Blood (2010, with Kristin Bauer). More recently she co-starred as Lt. Tanya Rice with Sam Hennings on the crime series Memphis Beat (2010-2011).
She was cast as Mariah Dillard in the Netflix series Luke Cage, the second Marvel Cinematic Universe character portrayed by her in 2016. She was also cast as the voice of Sarabi in the 2019 remake of The Lion King, a role played by Madge Sinclair in the original 1994 film. In 2022, she appeared in The Porter alongside Ronnie Rowe Jr. (Star Trek: Discovery).
Star Trek interview
- "Heroine in Action", Ian Spelling, Starlog, issue 234, January 1996, pp. 44-47