In the romantic comedy Something New, in theaters today, Sanaa Lathan plays an upwardly mobile African American who, despite cries of foul from friends and family, finds herself falling in love with Simon Baker's hunky landscaper. Helping the conflicted miss sort through her feelings is Desperate Housewives' Alfre Woodard, playing mom to Lathan as she did in Love & Basketball. TVGuide.com spoke with Woodard about Something New's important message, the certain something she brings to the table, and, of course, life on Wisteria Lane.
TVGuide.com: He and I talked about how you do so much with your line readings, how you can scare the bejesus out of [people] without once raising your voice.
Woodard: [Laughs] Tell that to my children!
TVGuide.com: You're on Housewives, of course, and this month you have a TV-movie [Jan. 29's The Water Is Wide] and Something New. When it rains, it pours, eh?
Woodard: Yes, there's always at least a "steady drizzle," for which I'm always grateful. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Are you sure don't have a Broadway show premiering, too?
Woodard: No, but I do have Take the Lead coming out in a month and a half.
TVGuide.com: In prepping for this Q&A, I just watched the trailer for that. It looks interesting Antonio Banderas teaching inner-city kids to ballroom dance.
Woodard: Oh, it's such a good movie.
TVGuide.com: From what I could glean, you're the "stern principal who insists every step of the way that 'it will never work.'"
Woodard: Of course I am! I'm obviously not the ballroom dancer.
TVGuide.com: Something New should do well itself. There's been nothing like it in a while, for certain.
Woodard: I don't think there's been anything done like it ever, actually. [Films like this have] never been about the couple themselves, they've been about people's reactions. So I think it's new in the sense that it's finally about the decision people make to be together, how people choose whom to be with.
TVGuide.com: It could get some good discussion going.
Woodard: I think it should. It elevates the discussion to a level it should be at, instead of constantly being, "If you don't believe in interracial relationships, don't be in one." What the movie does so well is it shows how people fall in love, no matter who they are. We actually see adults fall in to love on screen, and that rarely happens. The question of the movie is, "Will the protagonist let herself live? Will she let herself release the restrictions that she has on what the person she dates should look like, how she wears her hair, how she feels about her job...?"
TVGuide.com: Isn't the interracial-dating debate one that should have been retired years, if not decades, ago?
Woodard: Well, I think it has been in a lot of people's lives. But the film industry is one of the last bastions of retro thinking that we have. The interesting thing that happens in this picture is unless it's your children, you think you're fine with things. "Oh, it's fine." But if it's your children, let's see what you say about that.
TVGuide.com: This is your second time playing Sanaa Lathan's mother....
Woodard: It's intentional. I love her work, and I love working with her. I could never pass it up. She's a very skillful, conscious and emotionally available actor. She's wonderful.
TVGuide.com: Could she be on the verge of a Halle Berry-type breakout?
Woodard: You know... Sanaa's a real actor, and whether Hollywood embraces her to the point where she gets to do all of the stuff that Cameron Diaz and all those gals, do, that's on them. Halle Berry... I don't want to comment on her career, but we can't judge progress by it because it's a very particular type of career. Sanaa has already been doing for a while the quality of work that she does and she will continue to do it, whether Hollywood takes notice or not. Hollywood is very fickle and nearsighted.
TVGuide.com: Can you give me the Reader's Digest version on the whole Inconceivable-Housewives mix-up, which found you leaving NBC for ABC?
Woodard: [Inconceivable executive producer] Mike Tollin, whom I've worked for before, said, "I've got a project with a little role in it, but it'd be so great if you wanted to do it." I read it and said, "I think it's a great idea but I don't want to be this character for six years." He said, "Well, what if you just came and shot the pilot?" So I did that, and while I was shooting the pilot, I was asked if I wanted to join the cast of [Desperate Housewives]. I had never seen that show, but after they sent me a bunch of tapes, I said, "Yes, I'd like to do it," because it broke form, it was a sort of high-wire act, and I like to be in that kind of situation. Meanwhile, Inconceivable got picked up and, well, I guess the network was never told that I was only signed on for the pilot. But that was the truth.
TVGuide.com: Are you glad that Housewives is finally integrating Betty? As I once said in my news column, it was kind of conspicuous that it took so long.
Woodard: You should ask [series creator Marc] Cherry and [writer Tom] Spezialy about that. [Laughs] Ask them about that.
TVGuide.com: But it has gotten better Betty's been interacting with Bree, they realized just how much they have in common in the last episode....
Woodard: Yeah, after that hussy turned on me, the liaison between our children gave me a trump card and I literally threw it on the poker table!
TVGuide.com: Will Betty ever form true friendships with the others, or do you think she'll always be guarded?
Woodard: I don't know, because our family sort of serves the purpose that Mary Alice's did [in Season 1]. If you look at it, with each family the story line is kind of in a different style, and we took up the style that was dark-gothic and sort of scary-funny. The Applewhites are still kind of on the margins.
TVGuide.com: Which Housewives guy would you hook Betty up with?
Woodard: I don't know. I think there are lots of great stories with any of them!
TVGuide.com: As I hinted earlier, you're never really wanting for work. Why do you think that is? What special something are you bringing to the table?
Woodard: The thing I bring to the table is... I think that I think past the obvious. When people want the obvious, they never ask me. It's usually people who themselves think past the obvious that come to ask me to work; the regular people don't. The standard Hollywood film and television community producers and directors do not ask me to work. They never have. They might like to say, "Oh, Alfre Woodard, isn't she good?" But they have never in my 30-year career asked me to work for them, and they still don't. I don't get a lot of offers; it just so happens that the ones I get are from interesting-thinking people. People think of me as mainstream and that is just so not true. [Housewives] is actually the first mainstream thing I have ever done, but again, look at Marc Cherry. He is not an obvious thinker.
TVGuide.com: Of all the interesting roles you have played, which are you most proud to have filled?
Woodard: Hmm, "proud"... hmm. Let me just tell you this: I was so grateful to be able to be on set with Marty Ritt as my director and John Alonzo as a DP [on 1983's Cross Creek]. I was so grateful to have been able to work with Spike [Lee on 1994's Crooklyn]. I have had the great fortune to spend time with real film auteurs. I didn't get the big blow-up, larger-than-life megacelebrity, and my bank account is not 5 miles deep, but I have the good fortune that the people I have spent time with in this business have been people that history will write about.