Alfre Woodard, 'Clemency'
The HI everybody. I'm Peter Travers. This this popcorn where we tell you what is happening at the movies. And there's a movie you have to put on your must see list right now. It is called clemency. It stars my guest Alfre Woodard and you know this woman. She's like nominated for two thousand Emmys and won another thousand or whatever it is that you have but the thing about about Alfred. Is that when I see that. She's in a movie. I go like this yes. It's going to be okay because somebody that great is they're doing so congratulations for being you. Peter Yeah thank you ask all right. We're done here. There's no but clemency. I think it's one of the strongest things that I've ever seen you do. It's incredibly strong. So set it up a little for about who you play who this warden is so I play A death row award Bernie Williams and our story starts at a critical moment pit a pivotal moment in her career. She's probably see seeing twelve thirteen executions. She does her job well. She prides herself in in doing her job. Well and we can talk about what that means has a death row warden but we have at the top of the film and I can say that. It's not a spoiler. A botched botched execution and then going into the next execution so she starts to the confidence has been jowled a bit and and we we there is a man Anthony Williams who is on death row and it is Questionable whether he is actually guilty or innocent. But we don't Oh we don't deal with that in the film we don't decide every does it. In the end it does not especially when The question is what's the Seoul wound for the individuals whose tax dollars go there for the society that ritualistically punish people who whoever murdered and and done other crimes. Perhaps and the difference between them and us when we'd then ritualistically murdered that person but God the reason I went onto it. Peter is that for the first time. We're seeing from the point of view of the person who the perpetrators of the the penalty the industry We look at the people that we say okay. This person has to die. I you take care of it. We don't want to know so we look at the lives of those people you look at the lives of those people but you're warden. There's two things about her to is that. She's trying to do a job that she was hired to do which means a real professionalism in other words I don't feel one way for this person or this other person. I have this job to do. She hasn't made anyone guilty. She's not a judge she's just making the life of that prison function Shen number two which might be number one is. She's a woman in this job. Where basically you can't show that compassion that you you might be feeling and that's what devastated me in watching? This movie is to see your character watching this and the impact. It has on her and it's not not in the words in your face. Now you're amazing and his face of of Alice Hodge. Who plays the man in the chaplain when Michael Neale Jonathan? My husband everybody. Richard Schiff I WanNa talk about the the compassion most of the women and and I met women wardens in Ohio. Three women wardens one deputy warden the director of corrections who's a man and the man who is taken more people through the process probably than anybody in the world. The thing is most of the people I met. They came to Those positions nations from mental health And from social work So it's not just a job it's a calling in a way and and when you are caging incarcerating human beings you want a person there that knows the psychology of human beings and how to work with them how to keep that balance. How do you know stay the course and not you know? Keep the protocol. If you drop one stitch that whole thing can unravel aval. And as she says to Mardi Defense Attorney Richard Ship. Who's you know I personally would align with and he saying why can't you just let him and let the lawyers come talk to them business and she goes no? They're not they're not on the books or why can't he go to his mother's funeral so she keeps the protocol because she says is I've got a thousand people here who safety is in my hands and so it is it the compassion. Is You know how how things could go so until the state changes the law. You WanNA person there that will in there is in the contract. They make with the condemned person is. I will take you through this with as much dignity as possible. Well as you're saying that I think we should show this this clip from the movie because it is seen with you and Richard Schiff and I think really Straw about what you're saying and what this woman has to put up with from other people. Aw was. She's running a whole prison with thousand inmates in it. So let's just Joe. This one just wanted to know that there aren't people out there. That support him he. He didn't get his appeal city. It's just a conversation by now. I can't you know for the past seven years. You've blocked every single attempt. I've made to try to get him to be tweeting luck as human man. You can tell them. It's not enough. I have treated him like a human being every step of the way that my job to bypass the rules. Accommodate your special requests. Special requests is how is it a special request. Open the gates please. I like to leave now. I have to maintain order and safety in this prison over a thousand bodies that I have to ensure for a safe and accounted for. It's hard enough without you. Complicating thing you have to do is protect yourself now that this place is under fire. Since you botched the last execution acution get out of my own up to the barricades keep the outside world out so you can kill them as under the radar as possible. Get out and remove any dignity. The man has left to go. Yeah I'm going but I'm not going far just so you know I am GonNa fight for him right up until the very moment you stick that needle in his arm all right so you see that. And you're seeing what she's up against and you're seeing how she can't react you know we're we're getting all even though it's inside there you can't do it. How what did this role take out of you? I mean it has to be playing this. Well it didn't take anything out out of me. I'll tell you we went to on this prison tour in Ohio medium-security women's and men's and maximum-security MS is and and the row and we met not only with those. The prison personnel the row personnel. But I had the privilege to to have conversation with two condemned men being there with them watching work watching their interaction. I didn't say oh. How does it feel that? That's not what you said that you don't you just you come there and you keep your eyes open. He said we're here. They let us come because because they nobody has asked them about their story and they trusted us and so lives lives in the balance. All all you're doing as the actor is absorbing is listening is being empathetic and then when you get back that's the easiest part 'cause I'm doing the thing that I that I am trained to do. The my body knows how to do that. All of my muscles my my emotional spiritual and physical muscles to do. So you've got a place to put that energy. What was tough was being a witness was was holding hands with with those people and being a witness and it took me you know it was another month before we started shooting but it took me a month to stop spontaneously weeping and you know I live a joyful life and I kept thinking? Well you know. There's nothing wrong at the farmer's market started nowhere. Yeah and I realized that I was. I was actually crying other people's tears and feeling they're confined their pain because the incarcerated can't cry. And the incarcerate horse can't cry so everybody is just. This pressure is contained sort of subsidiary way of behaving when we especially people that are artistic and creative. We stay healthy by weeping by running by jumping on clothes on on and swearing and spitting. Did all that just before you came in. But you can't do that there. And so that takes thanks a lot of discipline and control is. How do you breathe through that? If you are the warden or the major or the executioner the the one that pushes the button. How do you break through that when you making that? Walk down there trying to keep your legs steady going to the chamber. They do it in their lives. Depend upon it. All I had to do as an actor was used that breath and the and the control in no way to tell their story let their voices come through and your movie does begin where we watch this botched execution which is so painful to watch to look at that and to say this is what we should be doing to people you know. It just seems just cruel and unusual. You know I I was reading. There's a in a condemned man in Tennessee just last week who requested to be put to death by the electric chair and we came away from that because everybody said Oh so barbaric because you know you basically find somebody but they're actually looking at that saying that's more humane because you can't depend on the drugs now because that was supposed to be pain free and this is our humane William putting somebody down but there. But those inmates were seeing people lar- hearing about them convulsing suffering so that that it was not paying three. So it's should we be having a conversation about what's the best way to know. Take AAC IT NO I. I luckily the American public for the first time is majority. Do not want it for all. They all have different reasons. But there's a majority consensus but the states that still carry out the penalty they are they are at work doing it so we just have to keep talking about it but talking quickly because even in the time that we made this film so many people have been put to den but the you know we just felt before you can say I am. anti-death penalty are pro death penalty. We wanted to just present a truth and let people just have that truth and that is this is what it does to the people who we've charged with carrying out the sentence this is their PTSD tst rate is commiserate with the people that we send into. We Deploy Multiple Times in the battle the if they're married they're on their a second or third marriage if anybody's there and when the David come home to healthy relationships it's that struggle because she has to say to Jonathan you. Just you don't understand I. I can't tell you frankly because I can't put it together. I don't even know what it's doing but I'm in pain. The thing thing is I was joking about your thousand nominations but really I think you have like eighteen. And you've won four those host post things. What does that do to you when you just have that reputation for just being so great all the time? Do you look in the mirror in the morning and say Alfred free. You're pretty hot stuff. Oh my Lord. No you're married and you have two children end all that it doesn't really does know they're very supportive. You know what it is. It's like I'm a sister elder in in the village of actors. It just means that I have worked with so many people and we all speak a certain language. We weren't a certain way you know. I'm not putting the bosses down and all that. But it's like you know low on the totem pole and we're the ones that are naked when it's time to get out there and tell the story the emotional. We make very quick intimate relationships. Because frankly it's asked by the seat of our pants and so that's why you see actors hugging on each other but it is genuine. Because again I'm back to the deployment. We got nobody but each. But but your sister and your brother and in the trenches with you and so being recognize is just means that the people that do what I do get me and when and then we look at each other and say okay. I just saw that now. I can we feel this meeting. We feed off each other. It's like a great relay team and so on with that that's a great thing because it's a family even though family unit may not just last as long well last because we never throw each other way the only people you know they say well what people that well not hang out together well for actors those those are office mate's every time we move we that's that's our family we get back together family I can go back to say no elsewhere where were you a denzel see I can God children to Denzel politics twins e six degrees. It's just wanted to grab with. Kevin worked with Kierra before Kevin years ago. But then I got to work with Kevin and beauty shop in an office whose I will get on big all city on L. Cabinet but it's great and I mean just now in terms of this year with clemency. You also are doing this. Show with Jason Momoa Coke. Yeah which is another. You know you look at it as this entertainment but it's also about a world where everyone's blind what happens when you don't let's see yes and your husband wrote you. What was that called Juanita? Anita I love her she just gets on the bus and says I. I need a little time for me to do that. Coming of age of a woman of a certain age story and it is set to do that. Because Okay I. I had this book that Sheila Williams. She's a prolific profound writer and it was called Desma the edge of the roof and then I said to my husband who is a really wonderful the white. He's so wonderful. I sleep with them and so and thirty eight years really. Are Women of your work so so I said to my you know and I. I'm not a writer. I I can do my dialogue. That but I- way too in the details actually be the a writer and I said to him. Our anniversary is in October. My birthday is in November. And there's Christmas I said to my said okay. Adult WANNA anniversary president. I don't want a birthday present in our Christmas president. Just write me this script and we're done for the whole year then you got it. Where does this all start with you? Where do you come from Oklahoma Tosseh Tulsa? Yeah so how. How does it happen that in Tulsa you say you know what mom and Dad I want to be an actor? Well I remember my father giving me what we we all refer to as the bean speech. I hated beans growing and he set like them now. My a father was a he was interior decorator an oilman and businessman and he said to me he said You Know Babe anything everything I've ever heard about that business. People have to make a living at that and I said I know like trying and letting him know that not not only was I G- wanting to be an active. All his tuition was going towards me getting a degree in and he said a degree they give degrees for that and so l.. I said yeah he goes well. You know you're not gonNA be able to keep yourself the way I've been keeping you and I said I know in the two years ago and goes you probably gonNA eat beans for the rest of realized and I said it's so corny. You couldn't put it in a after school movie Daddy. I'm ready to eat beans forever. And he looked at me and he said you can do any damn thing. You put your mind to daddy's got your back. That was my father my father. So they're all all that and all the beans and all the beings that you've eaten on your well being now you've loved them. I can do yeah. metaphorical beans of of coming up and doing that. When you're ready to say whether it's I wanna be a potter? I want to develop gourmet popcorn. I want to be a sailor Taylor when you know when a person says I'll give up everything to do that. I will give up my position. I don't care what anybody thinks. It's about me if I say what I really want to do. Is Is Just raise corn and so when you are willing to work for no money at something then you've got freedom for the rest of your life. That's it well. We have a couple of questions now from the world outside. Ah Yes oh my goodness rene g says one of my favorite movies is Miss Firecracker. Thank you for all your great work. Do you enjoy the comedy roles as much as you enjoy them more dramatic Kwan's I so enjoy the comedy. Popeye Jackson is one of my favorite characters. People say oh you did Winnie Mandela. You did miss ever. There was all these things you know. Who would you like to have dinner with? And I would like to have dinner with Popeye. We're Wanda from from holiday heart at Girlfriend Mariah stokes from Lou. Kate and Juanita those of those does that resonate with me. I looked up. I Oh my God. Let's take one more question from here. I okay what about acting drives drives you know few. I'm not driven. I'm now 'cause where we going. I'm but I but I understand how people use driven given. What is it that sustaining? What is it that keeps getting up and going to do? It is that I was an activist before I wasn't discovered I was an artist and when we say activists I don't mean like you know it's not a brand thing none of that. Both my parents were rule people. My mother's people were sharecroppers. My father people were landowners. When you come from rural people or you're not that far off of the land you understand that the land is a great equalizer and the reason that we are on the earth has nothing to do about accumulating It has to do with building community. You Start Building in your house. It goes out into the neighborhood so so my business was the people business long before artist discovered that there is a profession. That is the people business in other words telling the story and I have a quote and I say this uh-huh all the time because I put it in my trailer. It's on the front in the back of every script I have is a quote from look I did my first Lorca play When it was like my first or second play in Highschool Bernarda Alba Lorca was was just persecuted by by the Spanish government the fascist as as a homosexual man back music homosexual and he he and they cost him his life? He said the poem the song the picture is but water drawn from the well of the people we give it back to them in a cup of beauty and drinking. They may come to know themselves. That's my job and I can't do this out caring about the the people. The families the individuals on the receiving end these guys that are the typing in at. How can I not care about the people that are the relationship I have this storyteller needs ears in telling me tell stories for the health and giving the perfect way to say it? Well this is the first time you've been on this show so I need you here every week every second Tuesday and and out but we end in song all the time. Yeah just a little bit of some song that means something to you. What's coming to you? Okay I only because it's the things that are happening on the hill right now. Okay I just makes me think about And I'm not a singer but I can't wait for ten years. Lift every voice and sing till Earth. Then Hey then rings stand stand up a ring with the Hov Mall knees of live. Let our rejoicing rise as high as listening guys let it resound loud s overall he see seeing Song pull up the faith that the Darpa saw US singing a song full of the hope that the president has broad us. I'm most of our new day. Be On let us March John. TAILBY CTO is one. That's the black national and James Weldon Johnson. That's the best can't sings. She does this whole thing. Oh I do you love it. I got my sisters and this is the best.