Octavia Spencer's Southern Roots Help Her Stay Grounded in Hollywood
“To me, being Southern means working hard and believing in yourself and God. It’s having that strong sense of community.”
Born and raised in Alabama, Octavia Spencer credits her devout faith, supportive family, and deep Southern roots for keeping her grounded as she breaks barriers and accepts daring new roles.
SL: What would you say is the most Southern thing about you?
OS: My faith. It’s the guiding force in my life. It keeps me grounded, aids in every decision that I make—the Golden Rule. It’s the foundation. With a rocky foundation, you will stumble, but with a solid one, you will flourish.
SL: How much was church a part of your upbringing?
OS: We didn’t have a car, so we only went to church on Sundays. We would carpool with people. The services were long. Very, very long. But there was always some sort of snack afterward. You’d better feed people if you keep them there all day.
SL: So you headed to the church basement to dig into those casseroles?
OS: Exactly. But you know what I’ve realized now that I’m older? Our strongest bonds are made over meals. So that type of fellowship, building a sense of community—one of the best places to do that is definitely your church home.
SL: Do you ever find yourself defending the South?
OS: I’ve learned to let people draw their own conclusions. It’s hard to defend some of the stuff happening right now, but I hate it when people attribute all of these things only to the South. It’s going on all over our country.
SL: It can be a very difficult and polarizing time.
OS: Yes. Gone are the days when you could have different views and still have a meaningful conversation. I’m from the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s history— some of it is good, and some of it is bad. But that place is also filled with beautiful people. You know, if your car breaks down in Alabama, it doesn’t matter what you look like or who you are, somebody will always want to help, without question. I remember moving to Los Angeles, and my car broke down. I stood there for hours, and nobody stopped. So that tells you who we are as Southern people. We help our neighbors.
SL: Is there a film or TV show that gets the South right?
OS: I can’t say, really, but I can tell you when the accents are wrong, because I cringe at a terrible Southern accent.
SL: Are you optimistic about what the future holds?
OS: You know, I’m not an optimist. I basically consider myself to be a realist. I see things exactly as they are. It’s not all terrible, but we still have a long way to go. The youth are always doing things that make me smile and give me hope. But I don’t want people to get complacent. I always ask, “What are you doing to keep that ball rolling?”
SL: Seems like you’re trying to do quite a bit to make things better.
OS: Doing something that you hate makes for a very miserable existence. I just want to be happy, to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m living my dreams out every day. And the minute I stop loving it, I’m leaving the party.
SL: And then you’ll be heading back to your private garden sanctuary?
OS: Mm-hmm. Exactly that.