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Category: Octavia Spencer

Oscars 2012: Octavia Spencer deserved the Oscar, hands down

February 27, 2012 |  7:31 am

Octavia Spencer
As the deliciously subversive Minny Jackson in “The Help,” Octavia Spencer -- who won the Oscar for best supporting actress Sunday night -- stood out even in a cast packed with terrific performances including another supporting actress nominee in Jessica Chastain.

But as the maid who remade a chocolate pie in ways that will forever haunt that otherwise delectable confection, Spencer was unforgettable. Revenge has never been sweeter.

It was one of those risky bits — the role, not just the pie — that could have slipped into a level of caricature that would have made it less believable, less enjoyable. But watching her Minny huff and puff around the starched, sharp patronizing mistress played by Bryce Dallas Howard, an entire life of trouble took shape.

Oscars: Red Carpet | Quotes | Best & Worst | Key Scenes | Winners

In Spencer's hands, Minny was as layered as the cakes she taught a flighty newlywed to bake, as crispy as that fried chicken steaming on the table. The only one of her friends willing to rattle whatever cage tried to hold her, be it racism or an abusive husband.

Spencer is one of those classic types, a working actress who has been steadily refining her craft since she first stepped onto a stage.

There are moments that resurface on reflection — her breakthrough years ago as a nurse in another story of racial currents in “A Time to Kill,” a nurse again in “Seven Pounds.” Not always in uniform, but always in character, Spencer more than deserves this moment.

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-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Octavia Spencer at the 84th Academy Awards show. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times


Oscars 2012: Octavia Spencer calls 'Help' ensemble a 'beautiful unit'

February 27, 2012 |  5:47 am

Christian Bale and Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer, who was named best supporting actress at the Oscars for her role as Southern maid Minny Jackson in the civil-rights-era drama "The Help," was not in the mood to appear in the press room after the Academy Awards telecast on Sunday night, asking that she not have to take too many questions.

Indeed Spencer, who cried onstage after her win, seemed exhausted and overwhelmed to the point of being edgy. When asked about her thoughts on the lack of diversity in the motion picture academy, which is largely white and male, the African American actress bristled just a bit.

“I don’t have any thoughts about it; it’s not something I’ve thought about. I wish I could be more eloquent — elegant in answering that question,” she said. “I can’t tell the academy what to do, honey. They just gave me an Oscar.”

PHOTOS: Red carpet arrivals | Quotes | Winners | Best & Worst

A moment later, after she took another question, she seemed to feel bad about her answer.

“I didn’t mean to cut you off, ma’am,” she said to the reporter who asked the diversity question. “I just knew where you were going, and I didn’t want to get on that bus.”

The usually chipper actress’ mood brightened when she was asked about her experience working on “The Help.”

“It’s rare that you have the type of ensemble that we had,” she said. “We left our egos at the door and worked as one beautiful unit.”

But at the end of the day, Spencer said that she felt she was accepting the Oscar on the part of those who lived through the civil rights struggle.

“I’m a benefactor of all of the riches that the real-life Minnys, Aibileens and Celias basically reaped,” said Spencer. “I’m very humble because I get to stand here and accept this award, and I haven’t really done anything.”

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— Jessica Gelt

Photo: Octavia Spencer with presenter Christian Bale and her award for supporting actress for "The Help" backstage at the 84th Academy Awards.  Credit: Joel Ryan/Associated Press.


Oscar predictions: We call the four acting races

February 25, 2012 |  6:00 am

Jean Dujardin in The Artist

The Envelope's Gold Standard columnist Glenn Whipp is sweeping through all 24 Oscar categories this week, predicting the winners. Check previous posts for tips on marking your Oscar pool ballots for the music categories, short films, sound races, animation, documentary and foreign filmsvisual crafts and the screenplay and editing races.

Here, a look at the four acting categories.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

The nominees:

Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

And the winner is … Dujardin. It’s not just because he won the SAG Award (and cried while accepting it!), though his victory there indicates the strength of his position. The actors branch makes up more than a fifth of the academy’s membership. The last seven SAG lead actor winners have gone on to win the Oscar. And beyond that, “The Artist” has found favor with other guilds, indicating a broad support for the film itself that gives Dujardin a leg up here.

As for Clooney, he delivered a moving, nuanced turn in “The Descendants” that may well rank as the best work of his career. The problem is, Brad Pitt did the same in “Moneyball.” Academy voters inclined to reward subtlety could go for Pitt, Clooney or even first-time nominee Gary Oldman. But Dujardin carries “The Artist” in a way that is unlike any of the other actors here. That distinctiveness, combined with the Academy’s nutty love for the movie, gives him the win.

Unless … Voters decide they’d rather hear Clooney’s self-deprecating humor than Dujardin’s thick accent from the podium, denying France its first-ever winner in this category.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

The nominees:

Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

And the winner is … Davis. God knows, Harvey Weinstein and his minions went into  full-court press mode to get Streep her third Oscar, not to mention her first victory since “Sophie’s Choice.” Streep’s image has been so inescapable that it wouldn’t have been  surprising to walk into an Outback Steakhouse and find a menu touting Cast "Iron (Lady)" Skillet specials.

Will it work? Academy members still go the career-achievement route when voting (see Bullock, Sandra), just not as often as they used to. (To which we say: Hoo-ah!) Davis won SAG, a Streep-friendly group that has gone with her (“Doubt”) when the academy didn’t. Davis also stands as the only nominee whose film received a best picture nomination. And every time she speaks from the podium, she gives us all the more reason to celebrate both her and her work in the movie.

Mara’s courage and ferocity in “Dragon Tattoo” struck a chord with many voters. Williams arguably does more bringing Marilyn Monroe to life than Streep did with Thatcher. But as we’ve been saying all along: It’s Davis’ year.

Unless … Outback’s Thatcher Tri-Tip tastes better than it looks on the menu.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The nominees:

Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

And the winner is … Plummer. Much has been made of the fact that both Plummer and von Sydow were born in 1929, as if that’s somehow going to split the octogenarian vote. Look at the AARP-sanctioned slate here. Hill’s the only nominee under 50, and he’s not going to win for a role that had him (quite skillfully, mind you) reacting and observing (with impeccable timing) more than stirring the waters. (Huh … maybe he should siphon more votes.)

Plummer has never won, receiving his only other Oscar nomination two years ago for “The Last Station.” But those voting for him aren’t saluting his body of work. They’re lauding his beautiful turn in “Beginners,” an elegiac performance that particularly hits home with older academy members. After winning nearly every other trophy, Plummer will not be denied here.

Unless … That surprise best picture nomination for “Extremely Loud” portends another shocker with a win for Von Sydow.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

The nominees:

Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

And the winner is … Spencer. Here again, there’s the presence of another common competitor that, in theory, could dilute the vote. But because Spencer and her “Help” costar Chastain deliver very different turns playing dissimilar characters, the much-cited Costar Competition Conundrum shouldn’t put much of a ding in the likelihood that Spencer wins.

Unless … It’s a really big night for “The Artist,” in which case, Bejo will have the last wink.

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Oscars 2012: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Jean Dujardin in "The Artist." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Oscars 2012: Despite Halle and Denzel, gold mostly eludes nonwhites

February 24, 2012 |  5:01 pm

Hattie McDaniel

A decade ago, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington made history when they became the first African American performers to win the top acting Oscars in the same year, for "Monster's Ball" (Berry) and "Training Day" (Washington). A third black actor, Will Smith, also was nominated that year, and Sidney Poitier took home a lifetime achievement award. 

"This moment is so much bigger than me," Berry said at the time. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll.... This is for every faceless woman who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."

But in the decade since, Berry's prediction has been slow to materialize, and a new UCLA study explores some of the underlying reasons why.

Oscars 2012: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

Titled "Not Quite a Breakthrough: The Oscars and Actors of Color, 2002-2012," the study was sponsored by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, UC Berkeley School of Law and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.Oscar voters study

Drawing a parallel between 2002 and 2012, the report notes in its opening paragraph that this year's Oscar nominees include two black women, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, as well as the Mexican actor Demián Bichir. The authors go on to observe that from 2002 through 2012, "almost 20 percent of nominees were people of color," a "notable increase" over the 9% of Oscar nominees in the top categories who were people of color between 1990 and 2000.

That's the good news. However, the study further observes that:

• All lead actress winners since 2002 have been white.
• No winner in any acting category during the last 10 years has been Latino, Asian
American or Native American.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color make fewer movies per year after their
nominations than their white peers do.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color are more likely than their white peers to
work in television, which is considered lower-status work.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color are less likely than their white peers to
receive subsequent nominations.

It's questionable whether television still is regarded as "lower-status work" than film, given the critical praise that's been heaped on ambitious, high-quality TV series such as "The Wire," "Treme" and "The Sopranos."

More complex is the question of why Oscar distribution tends to favor white over nonwhite actors. As a recent L.A. Times story documented, the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is indeed overwhelmingly white (94%) and male (77%). But the poor showing of nonwhite actors during Oscar season also simply reflects the under-representation of nonwhite actors in Hollywood films as a whole.

As L.A.Times reporter Lorenza Munoz wrote in a prescient March 2002 story about Washington and Berry's Oscar triumph, when individual nonwhite actors win Oscars they're unlikely to open doors for other nonwhites. That's because today's bottom-line-driven Hollywood studio industry is increasingly reliant on the international market, "where having minorities and women in starring roles is considered a detriment, particularly in action blockbusters," Munoz wrote.

Munoz's story went on to quote James Ulmer, author of "James Ulmer's Hollywood Hot List," which tracks actors' global marketability. "None of this is going to change the fact that you cannot package or sell [a movie] to the world market today with a black woman," Ulmer said of Berry and Washington's achievement. "I don't see [the Oscar win] as changing an industry where white male actors drive the train of the international marketplace." Those comments seem just as applicable, or more, today.

But, as the UCLA study's authors also observe, the issue isn't just the infrequency of nonwhite actors earning Oscar nominations and wins. It's also the limited types of roles for which nonwhite actors do  get nominated for Oscars. For example, they write, the Oscars still tend to reward black females not for playing women like Berry's tough, complex, erotically charged character in "Monster's Ball," but for roles that conform to old Hollywood racial stereotypes of black women "who are sassy, full-figured, maternal, or non-sexual."

"In short," the report asserts, "Hollywood has required black female Oscar nominees and winners to resemble Hattie McDaniel more than Halle Berry."

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-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Hattie McDaniel became the first African American female to win the supporting actress Oscar, playing Scarlett O'Hara's Mammy in "Gone With the Wind." Credit: Marc Wanamaker / Bison Archives


'The Help,' Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer take NAACP Image honors

February 17, 2012 |  7:29 pm

The Help
The box-office hit "The Help" took top honors Friday at the 43rd NAACP Image Awards, winning best film, lead actress and supporting actress.

Viola Davis won lead actress and Octavia Spencer earned the supporting actress prize for the film, a look at domestic help and their employers in the South on the cusp of the civil rights movement. "The Help" is also nominated for the best film Oscar at next week's Academy Awards ceremony, and Davis and Spencer are also nominated.

The Image Awards were presented at the Shrine Auditorium and telecast on NBC. Actress Sanaa Lathan and actor Anthony Mackie hosted the event, which featured a tribute to the late Whitney Houston performed by gospel singer Yolanda Adams.

The romantic comedy-drama "Jumping the Broom" also scored well in the feature film categories with Laz Alonso earning the lead actor award, Mike Epps supporting actor and Salim Akil best director.

Other film awards handed out Friday evening included "Pariah" for outstanding independent motion picture, Angelina Jolie's "In the Land of Blood and Honey" won foreign film honors and Ann Peacock won for her screenplay of "The First Grader."

George Lucas received the NAACP Vanguard Award.

On the television front, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" won best comedy series and Keshia Knight Pulliam won supporting actress for the sitcom. Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross won lead actor and actress in a comedy series for "Reed Between the Lines" and Nick Cannon earned supporting actor for "Up All NIght."

"Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit" took best drama series honors, while LL Cool J won best actor in a drama series for "NCIS: Los Angeles" and Regina King took home best actress for "Southland." James Pickens Jr. earned supporting actor for "Grey's Anatomy" and Archie Panjabi won supporting actress for "The Good Wife."

For a complete list of winners, which also include music and literature categories, go to http://www.naacpimageawards.net

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--Susan King

Photo: Cicely Tyson, left, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, producers Michael Barnathan, Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Tate Taylor accept the award for best film for "The Help" at the NAACP Image Awards. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards.


Oscar nominations 2012: 'The Help' has changed Octavia Spencer

January 24, 2012 | 10:15 am

Click for photos of the top nominees

Sometimes recognition for work in a film can be career changing -- more offers come in, or a better range of roles suddenly seems possible. And sometimes working on a film can be life-changing, as it was for supporting actress Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer, who says her work on "The Help" has changed her world view and propelled her to be more of an activist.

But for nomination morning, well, she's just happy to be included.

How are you this morning?

"I think I’m touching the ground again."

I thought you’d still be in the air.

"It was only a small balloon. The accolades are wonderful but I’m more impressed that this little movie that started out with a group of friends trying to make an independent film has turned into a phenomenon. It’s about the underdogs and it’s grabbing people’s heart strings. I’ve never been a part of something like that. It’s changed my view of the world and my role in the world.

FULL COVERAGE: The Oscar nominees

"It’s made me more of an activist. If you’re not active then you are pretty much allowing things to move at their own pace. And you’re not participating in it. In playing this character who has so little, I’ve learned to appreciate what we have. Appreciate what I have and enjoy every opportunity. Plus, seeing all the hot guys in Hollywood has been wonderful."

Who have you met since all this campaigning started?

"Sidney Poitier and Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood. We’re a huge Eastwood family. And [Steven] Spielberg. I was literally floored by the luminaries I’ve been able to touch. Now that George [Clooney], Brad [Pitt] and I are old pals, that in itself is really great."

How are you going to celebrate? 

"We celebrated last night with a ‘Come What May’ party, me and a lot of the people from ‘The Help.’"

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-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Octavia Spencer. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times


Octavia Spencer: I’m done with the bad parts

January 18, 2012 |  7:00 am

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.

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
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Photo: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in "The Help." Credit: DreamWorks


Golden Globes: Irrelevant? Maybe. But not the speeches

January 16, 2012 |  3:32 pm

Meryl Streep
In the most obvious of ways, the Golden Globes have absolutely no bearing upon the Oscars. No academy member suddenly thought last night, "By Jove, that 'Artist' sure seems to be a favorite of the Hollywood Foreign Press. I'd best check it out." If anything, given the reputation of the people voting for the Globes, you could see academy members wanting to go the opposite way.

But that's not how it works either. At this juncture of the award season, with nomination ballots already in, Oscar contenders can only help (or hurt) their chances by the way they conduct themselves when in the spotlight at public events. So how did this year's crop of Oscar contenders do last night at the Globes? Let's go to the tape:

MERYL STREEP

She's human. Forget for a moment the forgetting of the glasses. Did you see the kiss she gave her husband of 33 years, Don Gummer? Or the smooch she planted on Colin Firth's lips? Mamma Mia! Meryl was bursting with love last night! And then, yes, this master thespian can apparently be reduced to fits of profane yammering without her pair of trusty reading glasses. Granted, her speech went on a bit too long, but the standing ovation that greeted her and the charming humanity she displayed from the stage can only enhance her chances with academy voters. Which brings us to ...

DAVID FINCHER

When Streep did that cute little distress signal at the podium, miming a pair of spectacles with her hands, the call went forth to Hollywood: Get this woman her glasses! A specialized unit immediately sprang into action, an A-list A-Team that had Harvey Weinstein handing off the glasses to George Clooney who then made it almost all the way to the target before (in his words) "chickening out" and giving the final baton to David Fincher who ... started for the podium and then sat back down.

First, let us just remark how odd it is to see Fincher occupying the Mayor of Hollywood front-and-center table spot usually reserved for the likes of Jack Nicholson or Tom Hanks. But more to the fatal Clooney gaffe: There's no way the publicity-shy Fincher makes that final handoff in the spotlight. Clooney might as well have picked up his phone and called Ryan Gosling in Thailand for all the good he did in giving the glasses to Fincher. And viewers would have delighted in seeing him on stage with Streep.

GEORGE CLOONEY

On all other counts, Clooney acquitted himself nicely, displaying his trademark blend of graciousness and charm. His acceptance speech mixed an affable shout-out to friend Brad Pitt's humanitarian work with a profane thank-you to Michael Fassbender to "taking over the frontal nudity responsibility that I had." His remarks were short and sweet and few would mind hearing a variation of them come Oscar night.

OCTAVIA SPENCER

Tears? Check. Surprise? Check. "Seriously nuts" and "trembling ... gonna fall off these high-heel shoes"? Endearing. Quoting Dr. King? Priceless. The shot of Melissa McCarthy crying says it all. This woman will be hard to beat, even in a year dominated by her "Help" costar Jessica Chastain.

JEAN DUJARDIN

Even though (from the look on his face) Mark Wahlberg has no idea how to pronounce his name (nice save, Jessica Biel!), Dujardin enjoyed a nice introduction to Middle America last night, delivering a clever speech that played up his nationality without resorting to Benigni-level antics. The bad news: He's still being upstaged by the dog.

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Complete Golden Globes coverage

— Glenn Whipp

Photo: Meryl Streep hoists her Golden Globe for lead actress in a motion picture drama, which she won for her performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Credit: European Pressphoto Agency


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