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Octavia Spencer: Just getting started

MUCH MORE TO COME: Octavia Spencer

IT HAS been four years since actress Octavia Spencer glided up to the stage at the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony to accept her Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

With tears streaming down her face, she exclaimed: “I’m sorry, I’m freakin’ out. Thank you, world.”

After winning the gold statuette for her hilariously sassy role as Minny Jackson, the poo pie-serving maid in The Help, Spencer has been thrust into the spotlight.

“Let me tell you, my career went from zero to 900,” Spencer recently told The Independent. “It’s hard keeping up with that pace but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.”

Her non-stop schedule has seen her feature in several Hollywood and independent films including Fruitvale Station, Snowpiercer and the second installment in the Divergent franchise, Insurgence.

She also starred in the James Brown biopic Get On Up, which is released on DVD this month.

Reuniting with her director pal Tate Taylor – who directed her in her Oscar-winning role – Spencer portrays Aunt Honey, a brothel madam who takes in a young James Brown after he is cast out by his family.

“When James Brown was about six years old, he was dropped off with Aunt Honey,” Spencer explains. “It was controversial because she ran a brothel and he lived there.

“She was no-nonsense and told him early on that he had to be a contributor to the household.”

Despite there being only a handful of female roles in the film, Spencer was adamant that she would be part of the project.

“I called up Tate, who happens to be my best friend and I said, ‘I heard you are doing James Brown’s story?’ He said that he was and I said, ‘Well, you better put me in the movie!’ To which he replied, ‘OK’.


GOLDEN GIRL: Spencer with her Oscar

“[Then] Tate called me and said that there weren’t very many female roles in the film, as it was about James Brown, but that he had found a part for me.

“It was my best friend’s follow-up movie to The Help and I wanted to be a part of it.”

The pair have been close friends for decades, after they first met on the film set of Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill, where Spencer was working as a production assistant.

The movie proved pivotal in Spencer’s life, not only because it provided the launch pad for her friendship with Taylor, who was also working as an assistant, but it also became her first feature film appearance after Schumacher cast her in a tiny role as a nurse.

Spencer and Taylor’s careers both went on to sky-rocket, so it is unsurprising that the actress was thrilled to work with her pal again.

The James Brown biopic also marked another reunion; that of Spencer and fellow actress Viola Davis, who starred alongside each other in The Help.

“When I grow up, I want to be Viola Davis” Spencer gushes over the How to Get Away With Murder star.
“There is no-one like her on this planet and no other actress that can do what she does.

“I’m a bit sad we didn’t have any on-camera time together in this movie [Get On Up], but it was still great for all of us to be down there together again.”

Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, Spencer is the sixth of seven children.

With Get On Up being filmed in Mississippi, the actress said she felt right at home.

“It was amazing,” she said of filming. “I am a Southern woman from Alabama, so Mississippi feels right at home for me.


IN CHARACTER: Spencer and Jamarion Scott in a scene from Get On Up

“I think it was important [for the film to be filmed in the South] because it’s very hard to replicate the feeling and the textures of the South anywhere else.”

Spencer lost her father at 13 and then her mother passed away five years later, but her siblings continued to support and encourage her dreams, never doubting her dramatic ability.

The actress, who graduated with a liberal arts degree from Auburn University, once said: “My mum taught us that we could do or be anything we dared to dream.”

At age 44, with an ever-growing filmography, the performer believes she’s just getting started.
“It took me 15 years to become an overnight success,” she once said. “I think for character actors, a lot of us hit our stride when we turn 40. The shelf life of a character actor is much longer and you do have the ability to be a late bloomer.”

The actress is next appearing as a feisty, yet loving grandmother alongside Oscar-winning actor Kevin Costner in the highly-anticipated drama about race, Black or White.

But for now, she’s full of praise for Get On Up, which saw actor Chadwick Boseman undertake the role of the soul legend.

“Chadwick is one of the best talents out there right now. He is such a hard worker and I believe this role is transformative for him. If you watch the film and don’t feel that you are in the presence of James Brown, then something is wrong with you!”

Spencer believes Brown would have loved the film too.

“If James Brown didn’t like it, I don’t think anybody would! I think he would have loved the movie and Chadwick’s performance because he never made James Brown a caricature and we saw his human side.”

Get on Up is out on Blu-ray and DVD on March 30, from Universal Pictures (UK)

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