Octavia Spencer Charms Hollywood
by ben lyons
Octavia Spencer is finally getting her time in the spotlight. Blouse, Michael Kors; jeans, Torrid; shoes, Jimmy Choo; earrings, Melinda Maria; ring, Kara Ackerman
Even after appearing in more than 40 movies including Spider-Man, Seven Pounds, and Being John Malkovich, as well as 34 TV shows such as ER and Ugly Betty, few people knew the name Octavia Spencer until recently. A line here, a scene there—a role as a nurse, followed by one as a salesclerk, and another as a nurse. A working actress? Yes. A household name? Not exactly.
But after seeing her play Minny Jackson, a maid in last summer’s The Help, everybody knows who Octavia Spencer is, and the actress is even garnering awards nominations for her role (she’s already received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for best supporting actress)—proof that one film is all it takes to change everything.
Now that she’s “arrived,” the 39-year-old Alabama native is amused some people think The Help is the first film she has done. “It’s odd because in many ways it is [my first role], even though it isn’t,” says Spencer. “I’m not used to this [being interviewed] part of being an actor. All of the awards season stuff, I’m thrilled about it—trust me—but it’s just different.”
Spencer’s day-to-day life may now consist of frequent photo shoots and rubbing shoulders with A-list actors, but it’s clear she still has her feet firmly planted on the ground. “[My costar in The Help] Viola [Davis] couldn’t be a more gracious person,” she says. “When we first started this whole trip, I had a sort of ‘pie-in-the-sky’ look. Viola was honest and said, ‘It’s kind of not that way for women and not that way for women of color—and definitely not that way for character actors. If the phone rings, great, but don’t have any expectations.’ If she didn’t tell me that then, I don’t think I’d be enjoying this process as much now.”
And while Spencer may have nailed her character in The Help, that doesn’t mean she is anything like her. “[Minny] is very different from me,” she says. “It’s scary to look at a role that is so complex. She’s an abused wife, but to the world she’s a strong woman. She doesn’t like to show vulnerability at all, but how do you go through life without a crack in the façade? How do you stay in an abusive relationship? She’s a mother of five and so poor—I can identify with being poor, but that’s about it.”
Spencer was working behind the camera in a casting office when Joel Schumacher gave her the role of Sandra Bullock’s nurse in A Time to Kill, which he directed. “I remember Sandra was represented by CAA, and I said to myself, I might need to be a part of this CAA thing when I move to LA,” she remembers. “I was so green.” Once Spencer arrived in Hollywood, she worked with Bullock again on the dramatic short Making Sandwiches, which screened at Sundance Film Festival in 1997. According to Spencer, that set her on her current path.
Now she is poised to potentially join Bullock again, this time as a fellow winner of Oscar gold. “This whole experience is just so humbling. I’m living in—and loving—every moment.”
photograph by dove shore
styling by wendi & nicole for the wall group
hair and makeup by valerie noble
shot on location at rosé
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.