Alfre Woodard on new film, 'Clemency,' and her history of criminal justice advocacy

“Clemency" focuses on how capital punishment affects the condemned and those who put them to death. Woodard, an executive producer of the film, spoke about why the film hits so close to home.
6:18 | 12/21/19

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Transcript for Alfre Woodard on new film, 'Clemency,' and her history of criminal justice advocacy
Do you have any family that would like to claim your body? Reporter: It's a searing look at the death penalty, as seen through the eyes of the people tasked with carrying out the gravest punishment in our society. The point of telling that story is for us to ask whether we should be doing it anyway, the ritualistic murder. It works best, I think, to have a person who actually takes us into that be the person that has the struggle. Reporter: The new film "Clemency", examining the toll capital punishment takes on a condemned man and the warden who must put him to death. Your character is kind of unusual, a black, female warden who is presiding over executions of primarily black and brown men. How does she get through it, why does she do it? The thing is, the system is there. And it's going to operate, so who better to have their administrating this situation than a person, a woman, even, because we bring a whole another level of compassion to the, to the situation, and then -- Reporter: And empathy. Yeah, and the thing is, empathy and compassion doesn't look like oh, like this. It looks like, okay. Everybody's going to be okay. Everybody stay calm. Let's stay balanced. This is how this is going to Reporter: Woodard's character's emotional center is shaken after a botched execution. It's your choice. You get to choose. Reporter: At the same time, she has to prepare for another one, with a man who insists he's innocent. You need to eat something. I'm the warden, and I'm fine. Come on, you're not driving. Reporter: Outside the prison walls, the burden of taking someone else's life is taking a toll on her own. I am the warden. Yeah, you are. I do a damn good job. I do a Damn good job. I've been on death roll, and there's nothing like that role that you step out and something emotional just takes over. The horror is that it is so uneventful, just like, here, lie down. You have no history now. Family, he's gone. That is, that is a horror. Reporter: Woodard, known for her roles in movies like ""12 years a slave."" This is nice. Reporter: And "Primal fear." Met with several female wardens to prepare. They were all sisters. They were all black women, going there, meeting them, seeing the effect of taking a life, the hardest part was being inside the Gates. Because what you're feeling is as an animal, we are feeling caged. For another month, I was spontaneously weeping, and then I realized that it was the tears of others. Reporter: As a mom, some of the raw pain she experienced was personal. We're both moms of black young men. Oh, darling. Reporter: And we both know that, you know, the preponderance of men in prison, and particularly on death row are black and brown men. That disturbs me greatly, and I'm sure it does you. Do you see my eyes fill up now? It is, who would have thought, when we were growing up in our communities, our vibrant black communities, who'd have thought we'd have to be in a state of constant worry every team our sons leave the house. And you know what? If our sons aren't safe, nobody's son is safe. Nobody's daughter is safe. So people, it is happening to us, but everybody should know that when somebody's liberty is compromised, everybody's is. Reporter: The movie opens as public opinion for the death penalty is shifting. 60% of Americans brief life in prison without parole as opposed to capital pun eshment. There are more than 2600 people condemned people on death row. The executive producer of "Clemency" has been outspoken. When I reported on the case of Tyra Patterson, a woman serving a sentence of 43 years of life, Woodard was one of the many advocating for Patterson's release. If you would, the events that took place this morning -- Reporter: A black woman, Patterson was a teenager when convicted based on a confession she says was coerced. Her case became a rallying cry, raising questions about inequities in the criminal justice system. 2017, Patterson was released after serving 23 years behind bars. Failure is not an option for me. It has never been an option. Ever since I became conscious. You know. Woke. I'm woke. Reporter: Now, Woodard's new film may get more people talking about race and justice. My hope is that it increases the conversation. The reason that things are moving. There is movement in terms of criminal justice reform. Reporter: Are you hopeful? Or are you more pessimistic? I am a daughter, a great-granddaughter of Alec Woodard. He was enslaved in Georgia. And I am the product of hope. Hope is in my DNA. We wouldn't be sitting here if there wasn't hope. You can't get hope out of us. You're going to have to take us all out to extinguish the hope. And "Clemency" is in theaters next Friday.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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