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Alfre Woodard (17 noms, 4 wins)

With an Oscar nomination for the 1983 period drama Cross Creek and a film résumé that boasts more than 40 titles -- including the critically acclaimed Grand Canyon, Primal Fear and Fox Searchlight's buzzy forthcoming awards contender 12 Years a Slave -- it's easy to forget Woodard is a record-shattering television icon.

Not only is she the most nominated nonseries performer (guest and miniseries/movie roles), but the Tulsa, Okla., native is also the most lauded black actor in TV history, having earned more accolades than other barrier-breaking stars such as Cicely Tyson and Andre Braugher.

Such a tidal wave of attention understandably can cloud the actress' memory. "Gosh … I know I wore a blue dress!" laughs Woodard, 60, of her first Emmy win in 1984 for a three-episode arc on NBC's Hill Street Blues. "It's funny: When you act, your job is to work with the director to find your character. Then suddenly you go to this big party, and maybe you'll get to shout, 'Bingo!' The nomination really does hit you; it's the thing that says, 'OK, I'm on the right track.' "

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As for her distinction among black actors, Woodard is frank about the challenges facing all performers trying to break into the business. "Most actors, whatever color or size or age, are pigeonholed," she says. "So you have to think past the obvious and find the specificity in that role, even if on the page it seems obvious."

With recent nominated arcs on Desperate Housewives, True Blood and this year for her acclaimed reinvention of Ouiser in Lifetime's Steel Magnolias reboot, Woodard nonetheless can't hide her gratitude. "I've been so fortunate," she says with a smile.

Photographed by Fabrizio Maltese on Sept. 6 at Brassaii in Toronto

Next … The Creators: John Wells, Christopher Lloyd, Greg Daniels, Marshall Herskovitz and Mitchell Hurtwitz

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