Octavia Spencer: ‘I love when people say bless your heart, it’s just so loaded’

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.”

[From three articles on Southern Living]

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.

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18 Responses to “Octavia Spencer: ‘I love when people say bless your heart, it’s just so loaded’”

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  1. Tiffany says:

    Luce looks really good.

    And I cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot……cannot wait for her series about Madame CJ Walker. I just know she is gonna be awesome in it.

  2. Renee says:

    I say “Bless her heart” or “Bless your heart” a lot out of habit, but I certainly don’t mean it in a negative way. I mean it as a way to empathize or show compassion.

    Also, didn’t the James Brown Get On Up movie come out like 5 years ago (with Chadwick Boseman)? Maybe I’m wrong….

    • Sianlalee says:

      Yeah, this “oh when people say it they’re throwing shade and that’s really clever!” thing is so dull.

      Being a c u next tueday isn’t charming or clever when mildly disguised. It’s just passive aggressive.

      • Kimble says:

        @Sianlalee so much this. Especially eyerolly when the person thinks noone but them is in on it!

    • Celebitchy says:

      I updated that story, Southern Living doesn’t date their articles and I got confused sorry!

  3. L84Tea says:

    I live in Florida (north Florida, which is practically southern Georgia) and I hear bless your heart a lot, but it truly can be said in both a positive and negative way. But it’s all relative to what kind of conversation you’re having. In your case of the gym comment, I think the person was saying that to you in a nice way, almost like “oh you poor thing!”.

    • Renee says:

      @L84Tea, yeah I would take the gym comment made in a nice way too as you said. Maybe the person did mean it as “you poor thing” as genuine sympathy. I don’t get the shade at all…..

    • MellyMel says:

      Yep! I’m in N. FL as well and it’s very common. I say it as well, but normally in a negative way tbh.

  4. BANANIE says:

    I’m from Texas and “bless your heart” usually comes from the older generations, and in the case of my friends and family, it’s very tongue-in-cheek. It’s a way of playful teasing, in my experience at least.

    • raser1 says:

      Same, my Kentucky family would use it to tease or insult, especially when they said “bless their crooked little heart” or “bless their pointed head”. I’ve never heard anyone else say it like that, I think that’s some real old school southern shade.

  5. Jess says:

    Love her and love this photo shoot – she is gorgeous! Her story about breaking down in LA makes me think of a video clip of her that was on Lainey Gossip. She says that Keanu Reeves was the one to help her when she was broken down!

    And I just have to say, people in the south can be rude too. I lived in Texas for 16 years and didn’t find anyone more helpful than back here in the midwest. One time I had a flat tire in Dallas in a parking lot and several people walked by – not one person even asked if I was okay or needed help.

    • SamC says:

      This! I get so tired of the “Southerners are so warm and nice y’all” and people from the “Northeast are so cold and unfriendly.” I grew outside of Boston and NY, did a 20 year stint in the south (Georgia and Texas), came back to New England 6 years ago. Have met just as many cold, rude and passive aggressive in the south as well as lovely, gracious and kind people in the north. One of the biggest differences is women in the south run marathons in full makeup while the north they pretty much show up like they rolled out of bed (volunteer at several). Driving, I was cutoff, tailgated and cursed at way more often in the south, but that experience has actually been beneficial because when someone tries to intimidate me on the roads now, I always yell back that once you’ve been harassed by a raised up dually with a gun rack, some little old F150 on my bumper is nothing, lol.

    • notasugarhere says:

      Her retelling of the Keanu Reeves story is always fun. Both Meredith Viera and Jay Leno ate it up (see YouTube). She’s gone to opening weekend of all of his movies since as a thank you.

      Now I want a silly RomCom starring Spencer and Reeves to be made…

  6. paranormalgirl says:

    One of my friends is a “bless your heart” saying Georgia girl. She once said it “has many different meanings, depending on the inflection.”

  7. Valiantly Varnished says:

    That’s what I said when I found out she produced Green Book. “Bless her heart”. It DOES speak volumes.

  8. DenG says:

    I’m a old Southerner who lived and worked in New Jersey for 11 years. I testify that rude, sly, arrogant, indifferent, ignorant people are Everywhere. When I meet good people, I really appreciate them and truly bless their hearts.

  9. Holly hobby says:

    I was in Atlanta on a business trip and I can honestly say the hospitality was great. People were so polite (I’ve never been addressed as “ma’am” where I live).