She plays the part of Hattie Lemaster, former slave and mother to Sara Freeman (Tessa Thompson), wife of Dr. Matthew Freeman.
"Copper" centers on the melting pot of immigrants in the Five Points area of New York City, crime and social conflicts.
In March 1865, the always-changing social and political landscape in New York is already adapting to the anticipated end of the Civil War, though no one can anticipate what will happen a month later: the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Woodard was on a human rights mission in Zimbabwe for the Robert F. Center for Justice and Human Rights when she was asked to play the part. She hadn't seen the show but "the people I trust most swore by it, the first season," she said.
"They said (producer) Tom Fontana's name. I said, 'OK, I will be there, what plane do I get on?'" she said. "I worked with Fontana years ago, we remained friends. As well as being one of the best guys ever, he is a brilliant writer, and he's our executive producer."
Fontana also produced "Homicide: Life on the Street," "Oz" and "St. Elsewhere." He has won three Emmy Awards, among other honors.
Woodard was amazed at "Copper's" set, built in a giant warehouse in Toronto. "The entire thing is cobblestone streets, dirt, there's animals that live there," she said, "It's just amazing. You walk into a different world."
Hattie Lemaster arrives in crowded Five Points to reunite with her daughter and son-in-law, and is taken aback by the city's living conditions. It's the time of Lincoln's second inauguration, an event marked by popping firecrackers, sparklers and carousing.
"She comes from a plantation in Virginia, which compared to life at Five Points seems very stable, bucolic," Woodard said. "Life is raw and tough on the tip of that island (New York) back in the 1800s."
"Copper" airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on BBC America.
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