05/09/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
Ask Alfre Woodard about her pool-deep eyes and distinctive bone structure, and the Emmy-winning (L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues), Oscar-nominated (Cross Creek) actress says, "I have a classic African look. I'm not a perfect example, but I just have to hold down the fort in Hollywood!" Others are more generous. "She's amazingly beautiful," observes Grand Canyon costar Danny Glover. "I love her lips and those incredible cheekbones."
For more than a decade the Oklahoma-born actress has been hailed for bringing a striking significance to even the smallest parts. She hypnotized audiences with her role as a dedicated nurse in 1992's Passion Fish and stars next as a struggling mother in Spike Lee's upcoming Crooklyn. Although she claims "there's a part of me that wants to curl my hair and do my lashes because that's fun and vampy," Woodard, 40 and married to screenwriter Roderick Spencer (the couple have two adopted children), mostly sees herself as an Everywoman role model. "People have an idea of what it takes to be in the movies," she says, "and they feel separate from it. But on the screen, I look like your mother, your sister, your auntie, maybe your first girlfriend. That's why people like me."