While you might not have noticed it, actress Alfre Woodard has spent the last two decades amassing a resume of incredible character roles in franchises that cover the geek spectrum. On the big screen, she appeared in Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and Captain America: Civil War (2016). She voiced the Dora Milaje back in 2010 for the animated Black Panther series, and even a The Wild Thornberrys character too. On the small screen, she was the outrageous Ruby Jean Reynolds on True Blood and the unapologetically sinister Mariah Dillard in Marvel's Luke Cage.
Now, she's going post-apocalyptic in the ambitious new Apple TV+ series, See. Six hundred years in the future, humanity is almost extinct as a virus has wiped most of us out. Those who have evolved are now blind. Woodard plays Paris, a seer who helps Jason Mamoa's Baba Voss navigate a dark prophecy involving his children born with sight.
SYFY WIRE got on the phone with the actress to ask about her propensity for taking sci-fi roles and what about See really got her acting excitement going
I was curious as to whether you've always had an affinity for sci-fi roles, or you've just found that it's a particular sector of storytelling that's afforded you really interesting choices?
Well, I think it's more of that second one, being afforded interesting choices. Also, I always judge things about whether I would get bored doing something. If I know I can do something, there's no need to do it. You know? Or, if I've done it before, there's no need to do it. I like discovery constantly and I like imagining things.
Where does the initial interest come from? The pitch or the script?
A lot of times when I pick up a script and I just started turning that page. Even before you get your different design departments and your actors really turning those people on the page into real human beings, if it's turning the page and it's cinematic to you, then I'm signing up. That usually happens more with a sci-fi element because people are thinking outside of what is obvious; the every day. So, that might be a reason. I hadn't thought of that until you brought it up.
After doing two seasons as Mariah Dillard on Luke Cage, what about See made you want to commit to something potentially long-term again?
Well, I so didn't want to leave Mariah. But, I was the one that said, "You got to take her out." I did not want to be rehabilitated. I'm not going to come back because they were like, "We love her." No, Mariah would say "Double down. Take me out now." And I must say I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory instead of just a wimpy kiss of poison, but I lost that. (Laughs)
What attracted me to this was the fantastical. What [creator] Steven (Knight) and I created was a natural progression out of what we know as reality. It's just a progression of life and civilization so that becomes fantastical. I liked that and I couldn't imagine what it looked like to have blind warriors on horseback charging into battle. It made my heart race and I got so excited, but I couldn't fathom anywhere in my imagination what that might be like, so that's when I signed up.
Since the series is set 600-years in the future, there is a probable logic that applies to the environmental world-building. Does that help you build a character?
Yeah, and actually frankly, where we are now, it was heartening to know that the seed is within the seed and the earth would replenish itself. We keep talking about the end of the earth. No, it's the end of all the species. The earth without a lot of tampering will replenish herself.
Paris is a healer and seer. Did you use anyone in particular as inspiration for your performance?
Well, it's not a particular woman that I thought of, but I have always been around women who have their bare feet on the ground and are connected to the earth, and pure spirit. And that extends out into the heavens, or into the atmosphere and the galaxy as we know it. What I was reaching back for actually, is from the first time we stood up around a fire on two legs, there were those griots. They are the people who are keeping the lore of the tribe. They're the ones telling the stories, holding the mirror up. It's a calling in a sacred space. It doesn't make you any better, any higher than the tribe, but what it means is you're a person that surrenders to the natural forces that are around you, and you can read them. You surrender to it more easily. Through the ages, we turned into actors and there were stages and blah, blah blah, and it came to be this individualized thing.
But if we're mindful and purposeful, no matter whether our films or TV shows make us laugh, cry, reflect, spur us to action, we are still at its core standing up the mirror to the tribe, the tribe we recognize now as a global tribe. And in seeing that, we might be reflective and understand something about ourselves. I think it completely always has been from the beginning, and is now even more so, for the health of the tribe, the society.
One of the most important things that you have as a storyteller, and an actor, is connecting with your eyes. How did you lean away from that and learn to connect otherwise?
We all have a style and a protocol and the way that we go about our own personal work. So, it had to come out of that. It's going to be different for every actor, but what we did not have, none of us, was the skills of how to navigate the world without vision. And so we did for a month, the blindness work. We weren't even doing the script, per se. We were training in a language that we just began to grasp and understand that it existed. You didn't just walk around knocking into things, guessing where things were. Your navigational skills are almost even more precise because you're depending on all of your senses to get around instead of one sense. We did that for at least five weeks and we continue to do it.
What was that like for you?
It was like, "Oh, my God. I don't know how to do this!" Not only do I have to un-comprehend something past, like hearing a click of a stick, but I had to then discover a new acting style. But that's the most exciting thing to figure out.
What's the thing that you're most excited for audiences to get to experience through Paris in See?
The strongest things about it is that we have not seen onscreen a demonstration of the fact that people who are visually impaired, or who are blind, live full-on lives. And so, by the time vision gets to be a myth in the future, we really understand that they are the heroes. They are the villains. They play all the roles, people without sight as we know it, without vision.
And the thing I'm excited about is that it's about these families. And when the universe has punished us, or the earth has rejected us because we have not been good stewards of the earth and she replenishes herself, we are forced and have the opportunity to get back to basics. It's about relationships, about family. The reason we came into being and stood up on two legs and had creative intelligence was so that we could become more human. And you do that by forming community, by having family. Not necessarily that that family is your DNA thingy, but how you negotiate with other human beings. That's why we're here. All the rest of it is superfluous, so we actually get a chance to be back at that. I'm excited for a viewer to go, "You know what? Turn that off. Let's just sit here and play it. Let's talk." It's like getting back to the land. Back to basics.
See airs new episodes weekly on the Apple TV+ streaming service.