Octavia Spencer Thanks Her Childhood Teachers for Her Acting Career
“I’m living my dreams out every day. And the minute I stop loving it, I’m leaving the party.”
Currently filming The Witches in London with Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer will dive immediately into her high-profile Netflix series about Madam C.J. Walker, the first African-American female self-made millionaire, followed by a comedy called Thunder Force, with her friend Melissa McCarthy. Also, be on the lookout for Truth Be Told, a thriller for Apple TV+ that examines the American obsession with true crime. In her spare time, Spencer writes her children’s book series, Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective. All of which, she admits, leaves little opportunity for smelling the roses or watching birds. “My mom taught me that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” she explains. “I’ve definitely taken that to heart.” Spencer laughs and then adds, “As an actor, I’m always like, ‘I’ve got to get to the next gig and the next.’ But you do need to unplug, and there is no better place to do it than at home in the South.”
SL: What do you watch in your nonexistent free time?
OS: Game of Thrones. And police procedurals such as CSI, Criminal Minds, Law & Order, that type of stuff. I like figuring out the crime. I love horror and mystery.
SL: And you also write mystery books for kids.
OS: I grew up dyslexic, so I would read mysteries constantly to keep from falling behind. And I fell in love with them. I want to give children some of what I enjoyed growing up. I think, in time, I will be a fantastic writer, but it’s hard.
SL: When did you realize that you had dyslexia?
OS: Very early on, and I had really supportive teachers. My homeroom teacher in eighth grade, Miss Holly, was a favorite. Miss Broadford in first grade; Mr. White, my biology teacher; Miss Williamson, my English teacher; and Miss Moore, my guidance counselor.
SL: It’s impressive that you can still remember all of their names!
OS: My interactions with them made it difficult for me to ever forget them. They really uplifted everybody, not just me. Even the problem kids had their moments in the sun.
SL: In your latest movie, Luce (out now), you play a teacher, Harriet Wilson, who is not exactly what you’d call uplifting.
OS: That was a really challenging part. I had issues with her. I’m from a family who had no money, but education was stressed in our lives. Had there been a Harriet in my childhood, I would’ve languished rather than flourished.
SL: Harriet seemed to relish deciding who was a “good kid” and who was a “bad kid.”
OS: When you look at it on paper, her intentions were great. She wanted to upend stereotypes for black people. I just think she was misguided. I chose that part to illuminate the fact that there are gatekeepers, when in fact, every child’s potential should be recognized and nurtured. All kids need a little bit of encouragement. You would not believe the number of people who are disregarded just because their potential on paper doesn’t seem so great.
SL: Speaking of gatekeepers, you’ve actively optioned books and scripts that reflect diversity and voices that aren’t heard enough in Hollywood. The same goes for the collaborators you hire. Why is doing that so important to you?
OS: One thing that I always knew I wanted to do was to create more opportunities for other people with my production company. I’ve been collecting and optioning books for the past 10 years.
SL: You don’t seem to ever slow down. How do you keep from getting depleted?
OS: I’m in that battle right now. Once I’m done filming the movie with Melissa McCarthy (and the next season of my series), I’m taking three months off.