Alfre Woodard can't believe that after an eclectic 40-year career, she still has to answer this question.

After starring in popular series such as Hill Street Blues, The Practice and Desperate Housewives and films like 12 Years A Slave and Love & Basketball, the award-winning actor laughs to herself for a second when asked about the barriers she's faced as a woman of colour in Hollywood.

It's not the question itself - it's the fact that decades after she first started in the business, the question still needs to be asked.

Making the most of blocked roads

"I would be an entirely different person in terms of my career if there was access all along," she said. "I have made a really great situation out of blocked roads."

Woodard received an achievement award Saturday at the Toronto Black Film Festival. The 63-year-old has starred in dozens of films including Cross Creek, Annabelle and the 1997 HBO film Miss Evers' Boys, for which she won a Golden Globe Award.

Alfre Woodard speaks with CBC's Zulekha Nathoo about the "blocked roads" in her career4:19

"I came to Hollywood thinking I would be a film actor but because the roads, they didn't even exist - not only were they not blocked, there were no roads - so it caused me to look, 'OK where else?'"

She says she learned to "follow the material," which took her career into television first. Looking back, Woodard says the reality of our time is that diverse actors paved the road for her, as she will do for future ones. She says the "inaccessibility" she experienced also happened to land her a varied career.

"But let's not fool ourselves," she said. "If you are a person of colour, if you are a woman, if you are an LGBT person, if you are a Caucasian person without money and access and connection, the world is not going to open up for you," she said. "You find a way in. You let nothing stand between you and the ability for you to deliver the gift.

"If I was sitting around waiting for Oscars all this time, I wouldn't have accomplished anything," said the Academy Award-nominated actor.