Octavia Spencer: I’m done with the bad parts
Golden Globes viewers got a glimpse of the unruly charm of Octavia Spencer when she stood up and showed some genuine emotion in accepting her supporting actress prize for "The Help," then followed it with an impassioned speech that cited Martin Luther King Jr.
As it happens, Spencer has been displaying these traits behind the scenes for a while. Back in October, we watched the actress on the Los Angeles set of "Smashed," a new dramatic comedy about alcoholism, where she had arrived just a few days after returning from a European promotional tour for "The Help." "You do a movie like that to get a movie like this," she said of her new film.
"It’s nice," she added with typical candor, referencing "The Help" and her new picture, "to play roles when I'm not just a sassy black woman."
"Smashed," which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend, stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate, an alcoholic trying to get sober despite the influence of her hard-drinking husband (Aaron Paul). She's aided by Spencer's character, a recovering alcoholic who serves as Kate's sponsor, and a giving co-worker (Nick Offerman).
On set, Spencer was the dynamo you'd expect, moving from a take to craft services and back with a kind of unguarded cheerfulness you rarely see on a movie set, and doing it in a robe to boot. During the scene, she showed some deft comedic touches, ad-libbing a wide range of snack foods she had used in place of booze when she gave up drinking.
Taking a minute between takes, she told 24 Frames that even the acclaim for her role as Minny Jackson in "The Help" and her piece de resistance scenes -- the ones that will never allow us to look at baking the same way again -- hadn't changed her career much. "The studios are still not going to beat down my door unless it's a small part in a big comedy, and I've done those." (She's next switching it up further, starring in Diablo Cody's directorial debut.)
Indeed, at 39, Spencer has spent too much time in split-second appearances as "troubled woman" and "bank co-worker" in mainstream Hollywood movies. Part of that is a function of the dearth of leading roles for black women; part of it a function of her choosiness.
"If you build it, they will come, and that's what I'm doing, one brick at a time," she said on the "Smashed" set. "That's what this movie is. I get to play somewhat different than who I usually am." (Deadpanned Offerman: "She plays docile and white.")
Perhaps proving his point a moment later, Spencer chimed in to a reporter. "Can I ask you something? Can you just write that I look like Angela Bassett?"
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in "The Help." Credit: DreamWorks