Octavia Spencer has spent the years since her 2012 Oscar night cashing in on the success “The Help” brought her. And not with cash alone.
She was the mother of a police shooting victim in the critically acclaimed “Fruitvale Station,” an alcoholic helping a much younger drunk change her life in “Smashed,” the fatalistically brave Tanya in the fanboy favorite “Snowpiercer,” the formative aunt in James Brown’s childhood in “Get on Up” and an enterprising mom who somehow raised a crackhead in “Black or White.” She also headlined the cult TV series “Red Band Society.”
That’s a pretty good career, and that’s just the last three years.
Critic fans such as Jackie Cooper of The Huffington Post admire her ability to “not rest on her laurels” and take low-paying, challenging films that keep her relevant and ensure she’ll “be around for a long time to come.”
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But her newest film? Not low budget, not “indie.” She did “Insurgent,” the second film in the “Divergent” series, for love.
“Listen, there is no bigger fan,” Spencer admits with a giggle. “I didn’t care what I played. I was just excited to be doing a part in a series that I really enjoyed as a reader. Not quite ‘Erudite’ of me, I know. But I’m such a fangirl!”
She gets why these many young adult sci-fi dystopias, from “Hunger Games” to “Maze Runner” and “Divergent,” have fans.
“The stakes are heightened. Everything these young people, their age, do, is a life-or-death thing. It’s a bleak, bleak future. But Triss (Shailene Woodley) makes decisions that matter – her actions matter. I think we all want to believe that at whatever age.
“And there’s this love story, which I think teenage girls connect with. It’s not just her love for Four, but her love for her family that makes her noble and heroic. She loves her family and their selfless place within this society. She has a lot on her plate at that age, and a lot of exploration and personal discovery to do.”
In “Insurgent,” Spencer is Johanna, motherly leader of “Amity” in a post-apocalyptic future where society has re-started, organized into factions. The smart, rational types are in Erudite, the truth-tellers are Candor, the fearless fighters are Dauntless. Spencer, the 44-year-old Alabama-born fangirl, has given some thought as to what Faction this future might sentence her.
“If they forced me into a Faction, they might give me credit for enough wisdom to be in Erudite, the selflessness of Abnegation. You hope that you can be Dauntless in your most fearful moments. And yes, I have Candor. Oh yes. Funny, but that was Johanna’s first Faction, before she moved to Amity. I have Amity. I can be easy to get along with.”
She’s too busy to be pigeonholed, and too much the polymath. The end of March sees her second children’s novel in the “Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective” series come out. And she was an unexpected star of last month’s Oscars, even though she wasn’t nominated. Host Neil Patrick Harris drafted her to watch a locked briefcase where he allegedly hid his picks for all the Oscar winners.
“Not planned, at least on my part,” Spencer laughs. “That was fun, getting all that camera time for that ‘bit.’ No idea how he got those answers in there. I thought it was hilarious.”
So she’s not leery of getting that seat a little too close to the stage on future Oscar nights? Even if none of these critically acclaimed performances find their to an envelope?
“Honey, if you go to the Oscars and you’re not sitting in the front row, that’s a reason to stay home.”