The Untold Truth Of Octavia Spencer
There’s a very good chance that you became a fan of Octavia Spencer’s work when she appeared as Minny Jackson in 2011’s The Help. Granted, you may have also fallen in love with her acting thanks to her roles in 2016’s Hidden Figures, 2017’s The Shape of Water, 2019’s Ma, or 2021’s Thunder Force. She’s also popped up on plenty of shows over the years, per IMDb, like Mom and NYPD Blue, not to mention LAX, Ugly Betty, and Red Band Society, just to name a few.
While Spencer is clearly a show business success, she believes that her fame and fortune (we’ll discuss more about that particular point a little later) “came at the right time.” She told Us Weekly, “I think success happens when it’s supposed to and when you can appreciate it,” before going on to explain that she’s “grateful that it didn’t happen for [her] at 22 or 23,” because she “would’ve been foolish enough to think that we’re all entitled to it, instead of it being the divine blessing that it is.”
The star may feel like her success is a blessing, but it’s also something that she’s achieved thanks to her undeniable talent, drive, and willingness to push ahead even when the odds (and the way things are done in the entertainment industry) are seemingly stacked against her. This is the untold truth about the intriguing and inspiring Octavia Spencer.
Octavia Spencer comes from a big family
These days, Octavia Spencer is the type of Hollywood celebrity who seems like she’s truly one-of-a-kind. However, it turns out that the woman who was destined to be a star was born in Montgomery, Ala., according to AARP, the second youngest of seven children (yes, seven!), who were all raised by her single mother, Dellsena.
Sadly, Spencer’s mother died when the actor was just 18 years old, but she still draws life lessons from her parent to this day. “She tried to make sure that we took advantage of all of the opportunities that were afforded to us,” Spencer told People in 2018. She added, “We had more than she did, and a lot less than a lot of people, even to this day.” Clearly impacted by her mom’s influence, Spencer revealed just how much she feels she owes to her late mother, saying, “She is the one woman that I credit everything to.”
As for Spencer’s siblings, she is pretty hush-hush when it comes to talking about their personal lives. However, she was willing to share details about their annual holiday tradition. She told AARP, “I’ve always spent Christmas with my family. Until I get married, I’ll always spend Christmas with my family in Alabama.” Considering how much this family seems to mean to each other, we have a feeling that she’d still be eager to see her siblings during the holidays even after she ties the knot.
The actor scored her film debut while working behind the scenes
Before Octavia Spencer made a name for herself on screen in the realms of both film and television, she was working as a production assistant behind the scenes. However, she wouldn’t stay off-camera for long. While on the set of Joel Schumacher’s 1996 film, A Time to Kill, which starred Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson, she took a chance that would ultimately shape her future.
Spencer boldly approached the famous director to audition for a role in the film. She told AARP, “I wanted to be a woman who started this riot with the Ku Klux Klan, but Schumacher said, ‘No, your face is too sweet for that. You can read for the nurse.'” The future star nailed the audition and scored the role of a friendly-faced medical professional. Although it wasn’t a major part, there are moments that will apparently stay with her forever. Spencer talked to ABC News about the experience, saying, “‘Innocent! Innocent! We won! We won!’ You will never forget that moment or your first lines on camera.”
That’s not all she never forget about making that particular movie. During filming, Spencer and Bullock hit it off right away. Because of that, Bullock ended up offering Spencer a small role in a short film she wrote and directed called Making Sandwiches. On top of that, ABC News noted that she even “helped her get an acting agent.” Famous friends helping friends get famous.
Octavia Spencer has played the same kind of role a whopping 17 times
Some Hollywood actors have been known to find themselves trapped by typecasting and are then only offered the kind of role that matches what filmmakers, directors, and the public already sees them as. For instance, we tend to think of Danny Trejo as the tattooed tough guy, or Helena Bonham Carter as the eccentric weirdo. And then there’s Octavia Spencer, who has ended up playing a nurse around 17 times over the course of her onscreen career. Yes, 17 times!
Spencer broke down the situation for Newsday, saying, “There are only a few ways women of color are viewed: the nurturer, the caregiver, the wise sage. And I fit the nurturer-caregiver.” Even in her most celebrated roles, Spencer had played a caregiver and caretaker. For instance, in her role as Minny Jackson in 2011’s The Help, she played a maid, and as Zelda Fuller in 2017’s The Shape of Water, she portrayed a janitor.
In 2017, Spencer had the honor of hosting Saturday Night Live and during her opening monologue, she took the opportunity to poke fun at herself, telling viewers, “I guess I have what Hollywood calls ‘resting nurse face.'” She went on to showcase her wide range of medical facial expressions that apparently make her perfect for the certain sort of character. However, thanks to the fact that she has more than paid her dues, she can hopefully look forward to more diverse roles going forward.
Your kids might be into Octavia Spencer's books
Octavia Spencer may be known for her incredible acting skills, but she can also add published writer to her already impressive resumé. The star happens to be the literary talent behind two Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective kids books called The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandits and The Sweetest Heist in History. While you might not have read them, there’s a chance that your mystery-loving little ones will be into them.
The stories follow Randi Rhodes, a twelve-year-old ninja detective, who — along with her drop-kicking, clue-finding companions, D.C. and Pudge — goes on several adventures in search of the truth. The books, which were released by Simon and Schuster in 2013 and 2015, were inspired by Spencer’s love of Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown stories. “For me, mystery is a genre I live in. I honestly can’t go to sleep at night without watching a mystery show,” she admitted to Off Camera with Sam Jones.
But why go with the children’s genre when the popular actor could release a mystery novel that her adult fans would eagerly devour? “There are a lot of thrillers out there for adults,” she explained to American Libraries, adding, “There’s not a lot out there for kids where they get to be the hero — and being a hero not by having superhero powers but by using their brains.” Fortunately, kids now have Spencer to write those very kinds of stories for them.
Dyslexia doesn't hold Octavia Spencer back from success
When Octavia Spencer was younger, she “was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability that can make letters seem to jump around on the page,” according to AARP. Because of that, as a student, she was turned on to mystery novels by a supportive teacher who thought it might help her deal with her condition. “My teacher told me, ‘You have to pay attention to everything because you don’t know what is a clue,'” Spencer explained. “That’s how my brain processes information now.”
This is, in part, what inspired the star to create her Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective novels. Spencer noted that uses her stories to show “kids with dyslexia … that they’re not stupid.”
Spencer can also show her young admirers that just like other notable stars in the entertainment industry who deal with dyslexia — such as Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, and Steven Spielberg — that she won’t let the learning complication stand in her way of success. To deal with her challenges, Spencer had to make some changes to the way that she approaches her job. When auditioning, she insists on “hav[ing] the material for a while” prior to meeting with casting directors and she doesn’t “do cold readings,” according to ABC News Radio. That way, she can take her time when it comes to going over and processing the reading material in order to be the best she can be for auditions or her performances in front of the cameras.
Octavia Spencer made Oscars history
In 2012, Octavia Spencer won the Academy Award for best performance by an actress in a supporting role thanks to her work in The Help. In the film, Spencer plays Minny Jackson, a maid who works for a white family in Mississippi during the 1960s. The movie was based on the book by author Kathryn Stockett, who while writing the original novel was introduced to Spencer by their mutual friend and future director of The Help, Tate Taylor. Spencer made such an impression on the author, that she “partially served as Stockett’s inspiration for her character Minny,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Spencer eventually landed the role of Minny in the film adaptation despite revealing during an interview with Anderson Cooper (via People) that she was up against other notable actors who also wanted the job, such as Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique, and Jennifer Hudson.
Spencer then went on to grab Oscar nominations for 2017’s Hidden Figures and 2018’s The Shape of Water. According to Entertainment Weekly (via Yahoo! Entertainment), that made Spencer the “first [B]lack actress to receive two consecutive nods from the Academy in back-to-back years.” She is also second in Oscar nods in this case only to Viola Davis, who in 2021 received her fourth Oscar nomination.
FYI: Since its introduction in 1929, the Academy Awards have only had eight other Black women who have won a performance Oscar, as of this writing, including Hattie McDaniel, Whoopie Goldberg, Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Lupita Nyong’o, Viola Davis, and Regina King, according to Golden Derby.
This star suffers from stage fright in certain circumstances
Octavia Spencer may be famous for delivering award-winning performances onscreen, but it turns out that she has also been known to get stage fright. However, the actor apparently only suffers from the unfortunate performance-hindering affliction when she is in front of a crowd. Referring to her stage fright as “severe,” she told NPR, “I actually am not the best in front of an audience. … So I had to confront that. And in public speaking, I always get extremely nervous before any speech that I have to do, and that has not dissipated at all. And so I had to embrace the fact that I will likely always have stage fright.”
When it comes to being uncomfortable in front of an audience, Spencer is not the only one in Hollywood who shares that same fear. Emma Watson, Barbara Streisand, and Emma Roberts have all been open about their audience-related anxiety, according to Stars Insider. But why would someone choose a career that often requires them to be front and center in the spotlight with large crowds of strangers watching their every move when they have stage fright? Well, when it comes to Spencer, she told Off Camera with Sam Jones, “Because, if you’re terrified of everything and you don’t venture out and try to get past that fear, you will never accomplish anything, not anything.” And she’s definitely someone who can consider herself to be an accomplished star despite her stage fright.
Octavia Spencer… a big horror fan? Yep!
There’s no doubt that Octavia Spencer is best known for her work in dramatic films and bit comedy parts — honestly, who can forget her few but oh-so-memorable lines as the sex worker, Opal, in 2003’s Bad Santa? However, when the actor was asked to take on the leading (and spine-chilling) role of Sue Ann in the horror-thriller, Ma, she was beyond thrilled to take on a role that was outside of her normal repertoire for a very good reason. “It was a yes for me because I’m a huge genre fan,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. Spencer broke down her love of creepy stories further by adding, “I love psycho, horror, psycho-thrillers, horror-drama, all of the above. And I wanted to do something that was completely different.”
Unfortunately, throughout most of Hollywood’s history, Black actors in the horror film genre have been cast as either side characters who die right away or, as Robin R. Means Coleman, author of Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present, told Texas A&M Today, are characters who are sacrificed in order “to save a white character’s life.”
Luckily, with more films coming out like Ma, which puts Spencer’s disturbing character front and center, as well as Jordan Peele’s movies Get Out and Us, there is a rise of Black actors and filmmakers who are actively taking control of how Black characters are represented in the wildly popular (if super-creepy) genre.
This actor wants to be an impactful producer
After conquering the acting world and raking in plenty of accolades for her work as a talented performer, what could possibly be next for the impressive and accomplished Octavia Spencer? Well, while in conversation with Gloria Steinem for the third annual Makers Conference in 2017, the star shared her career ambitions, specifically mentioning one that goes beyond acting: “The role I’m destined to play is to be one of the greatest producers in Hollywood.”
Plenty of stars like Kerry Washington, Queen Latifah, Reese Witherspoon, and Drew Barrymore have gone on to become producers, even running their own productions companies, as Elle points out. As for Spencer, it looks like she is already well on her way to fulfilling that aspect of her professional destiny. While you might not have been aware of it, she was actually an executive producer for the horror-thriller, Ma, and filled the same role for the three-time Oscar-winning film Green Book, the Image Award-winning mini-series Truth Be Told, and Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, which is a four-part mini-series about the life of “America’s first female self-made millionaire,” according to IMDb.
In 2020, Spencer was even awarded the Producers Guild of America Visionary Award. In turn, she explained (via Variety), “From the very beginning of my career in entertainment, I have been guided by my dream to create an impact through storytelling.” Indeed, she’s doing just that.
Octavia Spencer cares about important issues
Octavia Spencer has used her platform as a famous figure to speak out about multiple causes that affect those around her, including the inequality of pay with regards to female actors in Hollywood — in particular, women of color. Along with being open about the fact that she teamed up with her frequent co-star, Jessica Chastain, in order to increase her pay, she spoke out at a panel at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, saying, “Here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women. So, if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table.”
The star has also been an advocate for proper representation in the entertainment industry. In a public service announcement for Ruderman Family Foundation, Spencer talks about the unjust misrepresentation of people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities within films and television, stating, “All of these communities of people had to endure, not only their stories being told inauthentically, but also seeing themselves portrayed inauthentically.” She added that “nothing can replace lived experience and authentic representation.”
Beyond that, Spencer sits on the board of the Los Angeles chapter of City Year, and in 2017, when she received the Variety‘s Power of Women award, she thanked the organization for their “commitment to education and for helping to keep at-risk students in school and on track to graduate.” Clearly, this is a star who cares.
Show Octavia Spencer the money if you want to work with her
With acting credits that go back to 1996, according to IMDb, Octavia Spencer has been working hard to establish herself as a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. As a result, her films have been incredibly successful and amassed some serious dough. For example, 2011’s The Help and 2016’s Hidden Figures, which both had a budget of $25 million, grossed over $213 million and $230 million, respectively, at the worldwide box office.
Spencer’s time and talent in show business have earned her some major accolades, as well. She has two Oscar nominations and one win, as of this writing, and has also been nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, taking one home for The Help. On top of that, you can add a Primetime Emmy Award nomination to the list of her industry honors, which has made her a powerful force in Hollywood.
Basically, the star has reached the point in her career where studios are now seeking her out instead of the other way around — and Spencer doesn’t mess around. “Time is something ephemeral, so I don’t waste mine. If you’re calling me, you better have some money, and you better have some idea of what you expect from me,” she told The New York Times. That kind of attitude — as well as her talent — is surely why she has earned an impressive $14 million fortune, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
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