Not even Hurricane Irene could stop the juggernaut that is The Help. The movie was #1 at the box office for the third straight weekend, adding $14.5 million to its impressive $96.8 total to date. Riding that wave is Octavia Spencer, who’s winning raves for her portrayal of a maid who gets sweet revenge against her racist employer. Spencer, who has worked steadily but largely unnoticed for years, playing mostly small roles in films (Seven Pounds, Spider-Man) and TV shows (CSI, Ugly Betty, The Big Bang Theory), is suddenly being mentioned alongside co-stars Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain as a possible Oscar nominee.
“Anything that happens career-wise will be frosting on the cake. I’ve already won in my mind because I got to work with the best cast and crew and walked away with some amazing friendships,” she says, mentioning Davis and Chastain. “I’m excited but I also have no expectations. Whatever happens will be a blessing and I’m looking forward to whatever that is.”
Spencer came to The Help with connections: she has known director Tate Taylor since they were staff assistants together on the Mississippi set of A Time to Kill in 1996, and he championed her for the role of Minny Jackson. She met novelist Kathryn Stockett when she was writing the book and, in fact, inspired aspects of the character. To play her, Spencer didn’t have to look far. “Minny is an amalgamation of a lot of people. As far as the sassy attitude, she’s part–my mother, part–a couple of my sisters, part–me, any morning before I have my coffee. That part was easy. But for the abuse and that other stuff, I had to do a lot of research to know how to play a person who had such strength at such an oppressive time.”
Spencer’s higher profile will likely bring more attention to three independent films she’s done: Flypaper, Lost on Purpose, and The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, and the children’s book she’s writing. “I’m trying to be a jack-of-all-trades,” she says.
The Help is in theatres now.
(Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)