Alfre Woodard got her Emmy start early. She earned her first nomination and win in 1984, for a memorable arc on “Hill Street Blues” as the mother of a young boy accidentally shot and killed by police. Since then Woodard has racked up 16 additional noms and three more wins — both records for an African-American thesp. But the actress, most recently seen as POTUS on NBC’s “State of Affairs,” says receiving an Emmy invite never gets old.
“Hill Street Blues” was already a successful, Emmy-winning show. Was it a big deal to land the job?
I came out of Boston University with really intense conservatory training. Once I came to LA, I realized my manicurist could get hired for a job because she looks like what they want, but I’ve trained for it. In that mindset you recognize like-minded people. “Hill Street Blues” was a place I felt I should be working, because those were my people, they spoke my language. When I met everybody — the cast, the producers, directors — they were like me. They were the people I would know in training school.
Do you recall your reaction to being nominated?
I didn’t know who the Television Academy was or how it happened. It’s like Publisher’s Clearinghouse: “Here’s the money!” And I go: “Woohoo!” It’s a big treat. Then I realized, because I’ve always played team sports, it’s like I’m representing the team and we get to go. Bruce Weitz also got nominated and won that year. It was a celebration more than anything else.
What was it like attending the show?
Back then I bought my dress. I might have even done my own makeup. I was an actor. It wasn’t about being a supermodel and it wasn’t about competition, because you keep working anyway. It wasn’t the be all, end all. It was a celebration of the people you worked with and the work you could do together. For me, it still is. It’s impossible to say in a category who has done the best creative work when creativity is something that can not be scored. It’s always cool to be the person who goes and says thank you to the public for acknowledging us.
What do you remember about winning?
I remember jumping up like, “Bingo!” I like games. I like drama and suspense. I’m one of the people who if I don’t win, I go “Oh, they didn’t call my number…” It’s not personal. I remember jumping up and marching headlong to the stage, my heart racing. I remember being in a room full of people who do what I do. We never get together until it’s an awards show. That’s why a lot of people love them. But we also wish we didn’t have to dress up and behave, because then it’s not really like who we are as craftsmen and artists.
Has the Emmy experience changed for you over the years?
I still go, “Woohoo!” That’s the other thing about actors that I love. We get more experience as human beings but we never lose the kid, the weirdo, the rebellion against the norm of wherever we grew up and had to step out of because there was an artist’s soul raising inside us. Nothing ever gets old if you are an artist.