I saw Octavia Spencer, 47, in Ma earlier this summer and she was so good! That’s out on DVD now. I love a trashy horror movie, and that’s definitely one, but it’s also worth watching for Octavia’s lead performance. She can really play the villain to a T, and judging from the trailer from new movie with Naomi Watts, Luce, she has a similarly unlikable role. Luce is a drama where Octavia’s character thinks a model student, Luce (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), is contemplating violence due to an essay he writes. His adoptive parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) don’t know who to believe, and it sounds like the audience isn’t sure either.
Octavia is covering Southern Living this month, which is cool! I’m so used to seeing white ladies on those magazines. Octavia is from Montgomery, Alabama and she and her six siblings were raised by a single mom working several jobs. Unfortunately Octavia’s mom passed when she was just 18, and her lessons stayed with Octavia and surely helped her become so successful in life.
SL: Tell us about your childhood. You lost your father when you were young, and your mother worked multiple jobs to keep your family afloat.
OS: We had nothing, but we had a very strong mother who had a strong work ethic. She always dreamed for us and taught us to do the same for ourselves, beyond the boundaries the world placed on us. If I had listened to society, I never would have progressed to where I am. We had very little, but because of my mother, I knew my station in life did not dictate my path.
SL: How did your mother set that example for you and your siblings?
OS: She had mouths to feed, so she took on jobs to make sure we had everything that we needed. We seldom got what we wanted, but we had what was necessary. To me, being Southern means working hard and believing in yourself and God. It’s having that strong sense of community, faith first and then family. It’s funny—the majority of my friends in L.A. are from the South.
SL: Do you ever find yourself defending the South?
OS: I’ve learned to let people draw their own conclusions. It’s hard to defend some of the stuff happening right now, but I hate it when people attribute all of these things only to the South. It’s going on all over our country.
SL: It can be a very difficult and polarizing time.
OS: Yes. Gone are the days when you could have different views and still have a meaningful conversation. I’m from the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s history— some of it is good, and some of it is bad. But that place is also filled with beautiful people. You know, if your car breaks down in Alabama, it doesn’t matter what you look like or who you are, somebody will always want to help, without question. I remember moving to Los Angeles, and my car broke down. I stood there for hours, and nobody stopped. So that tells you who we are as Southern people. We help our neighbors.
Favorite Southern Expression: “I love when people say, ‘Bless her heart.’ it’s just so loaded, especially how you say it—what you follow it with, and what’s before it.”
I moved to Virginia from the northeast about ten years ago. I’ve only had “bless your heart” said to my face once. Really! It was an acquaintance from the gym who asked why I hadn’t been working out. I told her that I was going through some health problems and that was her response. I think she thought she meant it in a nice way, but it felt like shade to me because it always feels like shade! I guess I’m not good at judging the context of it as I haven’t been here that long. It’s more frequently used when you’re talking about someone going through a hard time whom you don’t give a sh-t about or think brought it on themselves. “Did you hear Jennifer was going through a divorce? Bless her heart.”
As for Octavia’s childhood, I really liked what she said about her mother telling her to believe in her dreams. I have to remember to do that more for my son. She’s also so dead-on about the generosity of Southerners. I really noticed that after moving here.
Update: The Bless Your Heart comments may be older. Octavia covers the September, 2019 issue of Southern Living and I found this undated article that I thought was part of that. However it references the James Brown biopic, Get on Up, which came out in 2014.
photos via Instagram and credit: Getty