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Every year there is that one movie. It doesn’t have to be a big budget production (and most times, it’s not), or a far out Indie film that makes you ask, ‘what just happened?’ when the lights go up in the theater. No, it’s that one movie that makes a connection with you, the audience member, that seems personal – yet it must be universal when you begin seeing the accolades it garners at the end of the year.
For me that movie was "The Help." For reasons I won’t bore you with here, I could relate with the topic in a way that few probably could. So when I was offered a chance to speak with Octavia Spencer, who played the feisty and funny Minny Jackson in the film, I couldn’t wait!
No one deserves the buzz she has been getting for this film more, and as recipient of this year’s Breakthrough Performance Award at the 2012 PSIFF, her ride through award season has just begun. She has already been nominated for eight different awards for her role so far, including a S.A.G. and a Golden Globe, and it’s pretty much even money she’ll get an Oscar nod for her scene stealing and heartwarming turn in this film.
I had the opportunity to ask her about the film, the buzz, and being Tate Taylor’s “Go To” gal. And I never asked about her pies …
The BottomLine: Is there a certain irony winning the breakthrough award when you’ve been in the business for 16 years?
Octavia Spencer: Umm, I don’t think so. Because this was the breakthrough, it’s the one that broke the feeling – you know, I don’t know how to answer that one honestly.
I get that people would say that there’s an irony in it, but Melissa McCarthy has been doing it for a long time too and this was her breakthrough year, even though she has been on a couple of series. It’s just the year that she stood out so. I just think everything happens in its own time.
Well a lot of people loved you on "Ugly Betty" and you’ve been around – did you ever get discouraged at any time and think you’d quit the biz?
No, I would never say that I got discouraged, or said that it would never happen. It gets very – the dry spells can be very tough. You need to get paid and you need to get better. I have always made a living [acting]. But I wanted to do more than make a living. I wanted to grow as an actor. To challenge myself with each and every role.
But I never got discouraged – despondent a couple times maybe [Laughs].
Yeah, there’s a fine line between those two.
Oh definitely. [Laughs again].
So how did you manage to grab the role of Minny? I heard there were some big names up for consideration for the part. Do you think you got it because you have such a great relationship with Tate?
Well, this is where I have to clarify. I have always said, because I don’t ever want it to appear that I snatched it away from Jennifer Hudson or Queen Latifah. I don’t know if any of those actors were in talks with the studio.
My assumption as an actress would be it would go through those individuals before the part was ever offered to me. They wouldn’t go through the list of most famous African American women who would fit the body type – not just the type, but fit the height. And in my opinion it would be Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Sherri Shepherd or Mo’Nique. It would go through those four women before it was ever offered to me – that’s just what I’ve always assumed.
Now whether or not the studio ever talked to any of them – I don’t know. But I got the part because I did audition for it, and I did the book on tape, and the studio heard my voice and wanted to see how I would play the character. But it was basically my relationship with Tate who believed in me the entire time.
Why do you think "The Help" hit such a nerve with the LGBT audience?
Because they know what it’s like to want their civil rights. They certainly get what African Americans were going through in regards to feeling and being treated like whole human beings. So I think they can certainly empathize with the plight of African Americans during that time period. They are having a very similar journey in front of them now in regards to the right to marry. They can totally understand.
As an African American woman there’s just no way I would want to restrict anyone’s rights. A) Because I’m an African American woman. We are very young in having our right to vote, and our civil rights. I can’t imagine denying anyone their equal rights in any regard.
So you’re pro-gay marriage?
I’m pro-marriage, if it’s gay it’s gay. [Laughs] That’s what they have to start saying. It’s not about gay marriage, just be pro-marriage. And people will say, ‘Well I’m pro-marriage.’ Just take the gay out of it, that’s what freaks people out. Just be pro-marriage for all. [Laughs].
Do you feel like you’re about to be pulled into a tsunami of press and media attention now that the awards season has kicked off and The Help is garnering so much buzz. Are you amped for the Academy Awards announcements now?
I am definitely sticking to living in the moment. I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t hoping that it would happen. But I can’t live in that hope because that’s so beyond my control. What I can revel in is we have these three nods and that our film is being celebrated. To me the most exciting thing is our ensemble award nomination from SAG – because everyone involved gets to participate.
In Huff Po, director Tate Taylor called you one of his “go to” actors. Are you interested in working with him again on another project?
Oh absolutely! Tate and Brunson [Green] have produced and directed a lot of little things and we’ve done a lot of different stuff together. They’ve put me in every single thing they’ve done. I’d like to think that I’m Tate’s muse…[Octavia bursts into a raucous laugh] And if I’m not he better say that I am damn it [keeps laughing].
Better send him that email right quick. Check with your muse Tate!
What did it feel like to work on "The Help?" While you guys were filming, did you know how special it was?
I think we did. Because it was such a small movie. And to have all these guys like Mary Steenburgen, and Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson and Viola all sign on to this little project – we just knew we were doing something special. All the egos were checked at the door and it was about bringing this story to life and live in that moment. And it’s very hard to do, it’s not your era.
It was also about making it a safe environment to work in emotionally, so there wasn’t any judgment. Because I was really thrown a lot when we first started doing the [press] tour and people would ask, ‘Did you ever get angry and lash out at the other actresses?’
I’d say, ‘No, she’s not Hilly. Why would we get angry and lash out at each other?’ It was pretty asinine question really.
That was just not who we were as a unit. It was a terrific experience.
I’ve heard you’re in the works to do a project with Diablo Cody? Can you share about it?
Well I can tell you that I am a blackjack dealer who also sings. And then I go on a crazy adventure with Russell Brand and Julianne Hough and Holly Hunter.
Sounds fun – and if Diablo Cody is behind it I’m sure it will be.
Finally where are you going to put your Breakout Award, and your S.A.G., and your Golden Globe and your Academy Award?
[Laughs]. You are so sweet. I am going to put my butt down at all these galas and enjoy the free food cause I can’t cook! And enjoy the stargazing. It’s going to be a lot of fun, I can’t wait!
This interview was originally published HERE.