Octavia Spencer Shares Her Life-Long Love of James Brown

We sat down with Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer to talk about growing up Southern, James Brown's music, and why she'll always be an Auburn football fan. 

Interview by Lacy Morris

Hometown: Montgomery, Alabama

Occupation: Actress

What's On Her Plate: The August 1 release of the James Brown biopic, Get on Up

Favorite Southern Expression: "I love when people say, 'Bless her heart.' it's just so loaded, especially how you say it—what you follow it with, and what's before it."

My favorite memory of growing up is the way the air smelled after it rained. It's very evocative of the South. I love the earthiness of it. Whenever I smell that, it just takes me back to my childhood.

I am the sixth of seven children. We weren't a rowdy bunch. My mom worked a few jobs, and it was pretty normal to not get in trouble. We definitely didn't want to get afoul of a very tired mom.

James Brown's music reminds me of my childhood and teenage blossoming years. I kind of grew up with him. I wouldn't say [my family] were all musically inclined, but there was always music in the background. There's just something about his music though; it's transcendent. You don't have to be a certain age to appreciate it.

James Brown came from abject poverty to become one of the most iconic entertainers in the world. I think that's a huge lesson to learn. It doesn't matter your situation in life; your path is what you choose it to be. He didn't have the first-rate education, he was self-taught in the way of music, but he had a strong work ethic. It's what you bring to the table, and what you're willing to sacrifice. Those are the ingredients for success.

My go-to karaoke song is "Midnight Train to Georgia." There's a little prelude that Gladys Knight does; it's only a couple beats of the song. It's the note of that moan, done in such a precise way. If you hit that right, people don't realize until later that you're not a good singer.

I try to get home every spring or summer for a couple of weeks. Because everything is so fast-paced now, I just like to be in slippers and sweatpants, hanging out on the porch with my family.

The Gulf shores of Alabama will spoil you. They're snow-white and well maintained—nature made them that way. It's one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

My mom was an amazing cook. Sunday dinner was important. It was often turnips or collards, black-eyed peas, hoppin' John or pinto beans, candied yams, some meat (usually meatloaf), and a glass of tea. But always with her buttermilk cornbread. Oh honey, let me just say, that is heaven. Life is good with that.

I don't cook. It's like, "You're having a party? I can stop and pick up things." I'm not going to whip up a meal. People say it relaxes them. But it stresses the hell out of me!

In Alabama, there was an Octavia Spencer Day on March 21, 2012. There is nothing more wonderful than being recognized by your hometown in your home state by some of the very same people that inspired you. It's very humbling and a time in my life I'll always refer to and try to live up to. We were at the State Capitol, and my high school band played. I got to raise the gavel to officially start the workday at the state legislature.

I will never not be an Auburn football fan—War Eagle all the way. There was a time in my life where, as an Auburn fan, I couldn't appreciate The University of Alabama. Now, I can say I've evolved.

Being Southern is just who I am. I wouldn't know how to be anything else. It's a part of my DNA. The majority of the women I know are Southern, and we're strong, beautiful, and unrelenting.