Octavia Spencer predicts fellow Oscar nominee Viola Davis will win
LOS ANGELES—Octavia Spencer thinks her fellow Oscar best supporting actress nominee, Viola Davis, will win in their category come Feb. 26. “I have no hopes in hell of winning,” quipped Octavia, who is nominated for “Hidden Figures.”
In our interview, Octavia seemed sure that Viola (“Fences”) will beat her, Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) and Nicole Kidman (“Lion”).
The actress explained that her recent nomination for playing Dorothy Vaughan and “Hidden Figures’” best picture nod were already “sweet” recognition, after 50 years, of the real life African-American women mathematicians depicted in the film. The story of Dorothy and her team of black women playing crucial roles in Nasa’s space program in the ’60s has not been told until “Hidden Figures.”
Octavia, who won the Academy’s best supporting actress award for “The Help” in 2012, also talked about portraying God in her new film, Stuart Hazeldine’s “The Shack.” Sam Worthington and Tim McGraw costar in the movie about a grieving man who is invited to meet God in a place called “The Shack.”
Excerpts from our chat:
How much pressure does an Oscar nomination put on you? For me, being nominated puts no pressure whatsoever (laughs). I have no hopes in hell of winning. Viola Davis is winning so I’m excited just to be invited to the party. It is an extreme honor to be nominated.
There were so many wonderful performances. The fact that mine made the top five, I am thrilled to death so there’s no pressure.
Does it mean you are not preparing your Oscars speech? No. Listen, when they called my name on Oscar (nominations announcement) morning and my publicist called me, that right there was a wonderful moment for me. I don’t take it for granted my miniscule chance that my name is called on Feb. 26. I would be grateful but for me, it already has been called in.
Indeed, your costars Janelle Monáe and Taraji P. Henson are equally good as you. I agree.
Do you feel a little bad for them? I didn’t feel bad because it’s beyond our purview. We only get one vote in the Academy and yes, I voted for myself (laughs). If I was only going to get one vote, it was going to be for me. But I also voted for Janelle and Taraji because I felt like they were amazing.
By coincidence, you and your costars in “The Help” are nominated for different films this year. How are you able to maintain your close relationships? Nobody has changed—that’s the beautiful thing. They’re grounded people. We are all usually in different cities but Viola has recently moved close to me. I was at her house on Super Bowl Sunday.
We all communicate via text, e-mail, phone calls whenever we can but it’s also always good to see each other. At the Golden Globes, I was able to see Jessica (Chastain), Emma (Stone) and Viola. At the SAG (Screen Actors Guild Award), I was able to see Bryce (Dallas Howard), Viola and Emma. That was one of those once-in-a-lifetime ensembles.
We all are extremely happy for each other. I’m thrilled for Emma. Neither Viola nor Emma has changed. They’re still the same wonderful women that I met five years ago. When the nominations came out, we all received texts from each other. Also from Tate Taylor (producer) who put us all together in “The Help” so he was excited. He felt like the proud uncle.
When you were nominated—and won the Oscar—for the first time, did it affect the way you choose roles? Absolutely. Before, the roles chose me. Whatever parts you got, you were grateful to get. I’m still grateful to get the parts that I get. I just now choose very differently. I want to choose parts that resonate with me as a woman, as a human being and that offer some type of not only escapism.
If there’s a little education that happens, great. If there’s a little enlightenment that happens, that’s even better. So for me, it’s about the quality of work that I get to put out there now.
Five years ago, you got your first Oscar nomination. Is your experience getting a second nomination different from that first time? This time, it’s very sweet because it took 50 years for these women to get recognition on the world stage. The Best Picture nomination is a love letter to these women. We realize it took 50 years to get here but it’s a little frosting on the cake so we’ll take it.
I’m extremely grateful that it’s for this type of role. It will hopefully change the way young girls dream. They can see themselves as scientists.
What do you think of the Academy nominations this year? I don’t think the Academy got it wrong last year. I don’t believe in diminishing anyone’s achievement. This year, there’s a plethora of movies with people of color.
What I think needs to happen is to make sure that there is more diversity within all departments. By diversity, I don’t mean just black people. There should be more women. There’s only one female writer (Allison Schroeder) who’s nominated (best adapted screenplay) and it happens to be for “Hidden Figures.”
There are no (nominated) female cinematographers although “Fences” had a female cinematographer (Charlotte Bruus Christensen). Our movie had a female cinematographer (Mandy Walker). That is the conversation that needs to be had …
Where did you put all the awards memorabilia you got for “The Help”? I just realized that was such a crazy year that I don’t even have the plaques of all of the awards for “The Help.” I have the Golden Globe and the Oscar and the other awards on a built-in shelf right next to my fireplace. They greet me every day. They’re my children (laughs).
Do you talk to them? I sometimes do (laughs). If I’m a little worried about something, I go and I talk to them.
It’s a pretty good time to be Octavia Spencer. You’ve been around for a long time but “The Help” made you seem like an overnight success. In “The Help,” two of my closest friends were involved. Tate Taylor, writer/director, Brunson Green, producer, and I have been friends for 20 some odd years. They are my friends who are in there breaking things, throwing them out (laughs). I think things happened for me as they’re supposed to. I feel like I’m trained. I’m fit as an actor (laughs).
When you read in the story that God is an African-American woman, what did that represent to you? Truthfully, it’s about expediency. When you realize that the only person to show Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) kindness in his early life as a child was this woman, to me it stands to reason that as an adult who has all but closed the door on faith, and emotionally just goes through the motions with his family, I don’t know that he would have received the message had it not been in the shape of someone who had actually shown him kindness.
I think God gives us what we need and in a form that we can actually receive it.
God was also previously played by Morgan Freeman. That begs the question: Is God black? I think in my family, he is (laughs). Again, for our movie, it’s about expediency, to be honest. My character was the one person who showed this young boy kindness. I think in order for him to receive God, he couldn’t show up as a white man because all the white men in his life failed him. The one person who showed him kindness was a black woman who looked like me.
Many see you as a role model for African-American women. What do you think of that? I personally don’t want to be anybody’s role model. I’m a human being and I’m going to have good and bad days.
E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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