Alfre Woodard is no stranger to audiences with a 121 film & television credits and growing. Woodard has become an accomplished character actor playing pretty much any role you can give her. She was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, named by her godmother, who claimed she dreamed of Alfre’s name in gold letters. Woodard attended a Catholic high school where she was a cheerleader & track athlete. Like most actors, she took a chance on auditioning for a school play, got a part, and became hooked. Alfre’s debut film role was Remember My Name, an Alan Rudolph picture where she played a small supporting part. The actress would spend the 1980s and 1990s building her resume with roles that grew in importance from supporting to lead. Woodard parts that stand out for me are her role as Lily in Star Trek: First Contact, having the best scenes in that picture alongside Patrick Stewart. It was small, but her role as Miriam, the grieving mother confronting Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War, was a beautiful sobering moment of humanity in that picture. Even better was her supporting role in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave as Mistress Shaw, a Black slave who has become her master’s happily compliant mistress only to be revealed as feigning joy as a way to help herself escape the brutality of the others.
Much like Cree Summer in my last post, you have been hearing Phil LaMarr for decades and likely have even seen him. There are so many prominent Black voice actors, and I hope this can be a place to spotlight for the people who could be unaware. LaMarr was born in Los Angeles in 1967. LaMarr ended up at Yale for college, where he founded the improv group Purple Crayon. After graduation, LaMarr became a member of the famous Groundlings acting troupe and then studied with The Second City in Chicago. His first voice acting credit came from an episode of Mr. T’s animated series, and he wouldn’t return to animation until the late 1990s. After some one-off guest spots, he got a regular role on King of the Hill which led to Hey Arnold!, Family Guy, and his one of his most prominent parts on Futurama as Hermes Conrad. A voice-over role I don’t think enough people are aware of is Samurai Jeck in Genndy Tarkovsky’s critically acclaimed series. I will always have a soft spot for him as John Stewart in Cartoon Network’s Justice League animated series. LaMarr’s face will be familiar to fans of Pulp Fiction or MadTV, where he parodied his own role in the Tarantino a year later.
Cynthia Erivo was born to Nigerian immigrants in London in 1987. She began her university career studying music but switched to acting after a year and eventually trained the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Up until 2015, Erivo worked only in the theater playing the lead in a touring company of the Sister Act musical & The Color Purple, among many others. In 2015, Erivo had her first television role, but I didn’t become aware of her until 2018 when she had a prominent supporting role in Steve McQueen’s Widows and the lead role in Bad Times at the El Royale. She was magnificent in both of these and had me immediately hooked to see what she got up to next. The next role I saw Erivo in was as the investigator Holly Gibney in HBO’s fantastic mini-series The Outsider. Erivo has nailed every part I’ve seen and finds ways to make her characters so enjoyable to follow. She’s one of those contemporary young actors who I see having major performances in their future.