Octavia Lenora Spencer (born May 25, 1972) is an American actress, author, and producer. She is the recipient of several accolades, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. She is one of two black actresses to have received three Academy Award nominations and the first black actress to receive two consecutive nominations.
Spencer at the White House in 2016
Octavia Lenora Spencer
May 25, 1972
Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.
|Alma mater||Auburn University|
Spencer made her film debut in the 1996 drama A Time to Kill. Following a decade of brief roles in film and television, her breakthrough came in 2011, when she played a maid in 1960s America in The Help, for which she won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. For her performance in Ryan Coogler's biopic Fruitvale Station (2013), she won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Spencer received further Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for playing other women in 1960s America, the mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in the biographical drama Hidden Figures (2016), and a cleaning woman in the fantasy drama The Shape of Water (2017). She also appeared in the films Smashed (2012), Snowpiercer (2013), Get on Up (2014), The Divergent Series (2015–16), Gifted (2017), Instant Family (2018), and Onward (2020); and had starring roles in The Shack (2017), Luce (2019), and Ma (2019).
On television, Spencer had a recurring role in the CBS sitcom Mom (2013–15) and a starring role in the Fox teen drama series Red Band Society (2014–15). In 2019, she began starring in the Apple TV+ drama series Truth Be Told and in 2020, she portrayed Madam C. J. Walker in the Netflix limited series Self Made. As an author, Spencer has created the children's book series Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective. She has published two books in the series, titled The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (2013) and The Sweetest Heist in History (2015).
Octavia Lenora Spencer was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and has six siblings, including sisters Rosa and Areka. Her mother, Dellsena Spencer (1945–1988), worked as a maid. Her father died when she was thirteen. Spencer graduated from Jefferson Davis High School in 1988. She studied at Auburn University at Montgomery, and graduated from Auburn University, where she majored in English with a double minor in journalism and theater. Spencer has dyslexia.
Spencer worked as an intern on the set of The Long Walk Home, a film starring Whoopi Goldberg. In 1997, she moved to Los Angeles on the advice of her friend Tate Taylor, the future director of The Help, in which Spencer would later star.
Spencer made her film debut as a nurse in Joel Schumacher's A Time to Kill, based on the book by John Grisham. She was originally hired to work on casting, but asked Schumacher if she could audition for a part. Other film credits include: Never Been Kissed, Big Momma's House, Bad Santa, Spider-Man, Coach Carter, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and Pretty Ugly People. She has made a number of guest appearances on television series, including Raising the Bar, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Big Bang Theory, Wizards of Waverly Place, Grounded for Life, ER, Titus, Becker, 30 Rock and Dharma & Greg, plus a recurring role on the sitcom Mom. She is best known for her starring roles as Serenity Johnson on Comedy Central's Halfway Home, and Constance Grady, the amorous INS caseworker on Ugly Betty.
In 2003, Spencer made her stage debut in Los Angeles, in Del Shores' play, The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, starring opposite veteran actress Beth Grant. It was her first and only play, as, she once explained, she suffers from what she called "intense stage fright". Later that year, she starred opposite Allison Janney in Tate Taylor's short feature Chicken Party.
In 2008, Spencer's brief appearance in Seven Pounds as Kate, Rosario Dawson's home care nurse, garnered her high praise and media attention. In April 2009, Entertainment Weekly listed Spencer as among its "25 Funniest Actresses in Hollywood."
In August 2009, Spencer appeared in Rob Zombie's Halloween II. She also had a role in the American remake of the Danish classic Love at First Hiccup, opposite Scout Taylor-Compton. Spencer starred in the feature film Herpes Boy, alongside Beth Grant, Ahna O'Reilly and Byron Lane. She played the voice of "Minny" on the audio version of novel The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. Later that year, Spencer's short film The Captain was honored by the CICFF as a finalist for the REEL Poetry Award.
In August 2010, Spencer joined Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard in the period drama film The Help, an adaptation of the novel of the same name. She played the feisty and unflappable maid Minny Jackson. The film was written, produced and directed by Tate Taylor, and produced by Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe. She won the 2012 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture for her work in The Help. On February 12, 2012, Spencer won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress for her Performance in The Help, and on February 26 she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the same performance; it was her first Oscar nomination and first win. Spencer was given a standing ovation at the ceremony, and was moved to tears during her acceptance speech. In June 2012, Spencer was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 2013, she appeared alongside Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, a film chronicling the last day of Oscar Grant, who was killed at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station in 2009. In September 2013, it was announced that she would reunite with The Help director Tate Taylor in the biopic on singer James Brown Get On Up, opposite her The Help co-star Viola Davis. The film was released in 2014. From September 2014 until February 2015, she starred in Steven Spielberg's Fox drama television series Red Band Society.
Spencer co-starred alongside Kevin Costner in the drama film Black or White (2014) and co-starred as Johanna Reyes in the second installment of the Divergent series, The Divergent Series: Insurgent (2015). She reprised the role in The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016). She voiced an otter, Mrs. Otterton, in Disney's Zootopia, which marks her first animated film.
In 2016, she starred alongside Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe in Hidden Figures, a film about African-American mathematicians at NASA who were critical to its success in the 1960s in the Space Race, and who each had careers there. She played mathematician and human computer Dorothy Vaughan. The role garnered her a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance and earned Spencer a second nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the only black actress to follow up an Oscar victory with another nomination, having previously won for The Help. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Spencer bought out a Los Angeles screening of Hidden Figures to treat low-income families that would have been unable to afford to see the film otherwise.
In 2017, Spencer co-starred with Sally Hawkins in Guillermo del Toro's dark fantasy drama film The Shape of Water, which follows a mute custodian at a high-security government laboratory who befriends a captured humanoid-amphibian creature. The film was screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival, where it premiered to positive reviews on August 31, 2017, and was awarded the Golden Lion for best film in the competition. It also screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Spencer earned Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations for her portrayal, while receiving her third Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category, making her the first black actress to receive two consecutive Oscar nods in back-to-back years as well as the most nominated black actress to date, along with The Help co-star Viola Davis.
In 2018, Spencer has starring roles as a preschool principal in the drama film A Kid Like Jake and a social worker in the comedy film Instant Family. She also executive produced the biographical comedy-drama film Green Book, which went on to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture.
In 2019, she starred as Harriet Wilson, a history teacher who makes an alarming discovery about an all-star student, in the drama film Luce. The film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and earned critical acclaim. She then received praise for her starring role as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington in the psychological horror film Ma, which was directed by frequent collaborator Tate Taylor. For the latter, she received a nomination for the Saturn Award for Best Actress. Also in 2019, Spencer returned to television by executive producing and starring in the Apple TV+ drama series Truth Be Told.
In January 2020, Spencer had a voice role as Dab-Dab, an enthusiastic duck with a metal leg, in the fantasy comedy film Dolittle. It also starred Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character. She had a voice role in the Pixar animated fantasy film Onward, which was released in March 2020 to positive reviews.
Spencer will star alongside Anne Hathaway in Robert Zemeckis's horror comedy The Witches, which will be released in October 2020. Spencer is also set to star alongside Melissa McCarthy as women who suddenly develop superpowers in the superhero comedy film Thunder Force. She will reunite with her The Help co-star Jessica Chastain for a holiday comedy film.
|1997||413 Hope St.||Job Counselor #1||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1998||To Have & to Hold||Clerk||Episode: "Right My Fire"|
|1998||ER||Maria Jones||Episode: "Hazed and Confused"|
|1999||Brimstone||Duty Nurse||Episode: "Faces"|
|1999||Lansky||Evelyn the Maid||Television film|
|1999||L.A. Doctors||Bus Driver||Episode: "Forty-Eight Minutes"|
|1999||Chicago Hope||Nurse Jane||Episode: "Oh What a Piece of Work Is Man"|
|1999||Roswell||Nurse||Episode: "Leaving Normal"|
|1999||The X-Files||Nurse Octavia||Episode: "Millennium"|
|2000||Missing Pieces||Elegant Guest||Television film|
|2000||Just Shoot Me!||Nurse||Episode: "Finch on Ice"|
|2000||Becker||Ticket Woman||Episode: "One Wong Move"|
|2000||Malcolm in the Middle||Cashier||Episode: "High School Play"|
|2000||City of Angels||Nurse Bernice||5 episodes|
|2001||Grounded for Life||Admitting Nurse||Episode: "Jimmy's Got a Gun"|
|2001||Follow the Stars Home||Hildy||Television film|
|2001||Dharma & Greg||Gloria||Episode: "Wish We Weren't Here"|
|2001–2002||The Chronicle||Ruby Rydell||6 episodes|
|2001–2002||Titus||Ms. Alice Hays||2 episodes|
|2002||Little John||Waitress||Television film|
|2002||Presidio Med||Sheryl Washington||Episode: "Do No Harm"|
|2002–2005||NYPD Blue||Dawna Cahill / Eleanor Jackson||2 episodes|
|2004–2005||LAX||Flight Attendant||6 episodes|
|2005||CSI: NY||Child Welfare Rep||Episode: "On the Job"|
|2005||Medium||Jurist||Episode: "Judge, Jury and Executioner"|
|2006||Huff||Demetria||Episode: "Red Meat"|
|2006||Standoff||Rapid Air Clerk||Episode: "Pilot"|
|2006–2007||The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman||Cheryl / Female Security Guard||4 episodes|
|2007||Ugly Betty||Constance Grady||4 episodes|
|2007||Halfway Home||Serenity Johnson||10 episodes|
|2008||Wizards of Waverly Place||Dr. Evilini||2 episodes|
|2008||CSI: Crime Scene Investigation||Sherry||Episode: "Drops' Out"|
|2008||The Big Bang Theory||DMV Employee||Episode: "The Euclid Alternative"|
|2009||Worst Week||Nurse||Episode: "The Epidural"|
|2009||Dollhouse||Professor Jackie||Episode: "Echoes"|
|2009||Raising the Bar||Arvina Watkins||5 episodes|
|2010||Hawthorne||Emily Thomkins||Episode: "Afterglow"|
|2013||30 Rock||Herself||Episode: "Game Over"|
|2013||American Dad!||Shonteeva (voice)||Episode: "For Black Eyes Only"|
|2013||Call Me Crazy: A Five Film||Dr. Nance||Television film|
|2014–2015||Red Band Society||Nurse Dena Jackson||13 episodes|
|2015||Drunk History||Harriet Tubman||Episode: "Spies"|
|2017||Saturday Night Live||Herself (host)||Episode: "Octavia Spencer/Father John Misty"|
|2019||Black-ish||Herself||Episode: "Black History Month"|
|2019–present||Truth Be Told||Poppy Parnell||Main role; also executive producer|
|2020||Self Made||Madam C. J. Walker||Main role; also executive producer|
Awards and nominationsEdit
Spencer has received three nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, including one win. She is the first black actress to receive two consecutive Academy Award nominations in back-to-back years, the first black actress to receive two Academy Award nominations after a win, and is tied with Viola Davis as the most nominated black actress to date.
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- Nolfi, Joey (January 23, 2018). "Oscars: Octavia Spencer makes history with The Shape of Water nomination". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
- Deutsch, Lindsay (January 16, 2013). "Cover reveal: Octavia Spencer's first book, 'Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective'". USA Today. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
- "Octavia Spencer before she was a star". WSFA. Montgomery/Dothan, Alabama. February 26, 2012. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
- Shanahan, Mark; Goldstein, Meredith (January 17, 2012). "WRKO's Areka Spencer thrilled for her sister". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on September 25, 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
- "Public Record of Dellsena Spencer". Familysearch.org. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
- Calkin, Jessamy (July 16, 2009). "The maid's tale: Kathryn Stockett examines slavery and racism in America's Deep South". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
- Pringle, Gill (November 7, 2014). "Octavia Spencer interview: The Help star and Oscar winner on becoming James Brown's aunt". The Independent. Retrieved November 2, 2018.
- "Octavia Spencer, Montgomery native, wins Golden Globe". Montgomery Advertiser. January 16, 2012. Archived from the original on February 21, 2015.
- Carlton, Bob (August 7, 2011). "Montgomery actress Octavia Spencer may become a star with 'The Help'". The Birmingham News. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
- Greene, Teri (August 14, 2011). "Montgomery native stars in 'The Help'". The Tuscaloosa News. Archived from the original on September 15, 2011. Retrieved July 8, 2012.
- Good Morning America (April 6, 2017). "Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer and Mckenna Grace open up about 'Gifted'". YouTube. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
- Dreier, Peter (February 27, 2012). "Will The Help's Oscar Revive Interest in The Long Walk Home?". Huffington Post. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Onstad, Katrina (November 3, 2016). "Octavia Spencer Cracks a Few Hollywood Equations". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- Riley, Jenelle (May 4, 2005). "Octavia Spencer: The Quip Queen". AllBusiness.com. Archived from the original on November 16, 2007. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
- Riley, Jenelle (August 8, 2011). "How Octavia Spencer Landed the Role of a Lifetime". Backstage. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
- Rosen, Lisa (February 4, 2009). "Big impressions in brief roles". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
- "The 25 Funniest Actresses in Hollywood: Octavia Spencer". Entertainment Weekly. April 13, 2009. Archived from the original on April 13, 2009. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
- O'Malley, Sheila (August 15, 2011). "Could Viola Davis, Emma Stone & Octavia Spencer Get Oscar Nods for 'The Help'?". iVillage. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
- Thompson, Arienne (June 29, 2012). "McConaughey, Spencer invited to join Academy". USA Today. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
- Kit, Borys (April 17, 2012). "Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer to Star in Movie About Controversial Police Killing". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
- Fleming Jr, Mike (September 30, 2013). "Tate Taylor Reunites With 'The Help's Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer On James Brown Pic". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
- Harnick, Chris (September 17, 2014). "Red Band Society Stars Octavia Spencer and Dave Annable on Looking for Life and Laughs in Sickness and Tragedy". E! Online. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
- Obenson, Tambay A. (May 8, 2013). "Octavia Spencer Will Battle Kevin Costner For Custody In Drama 'Black And White'". IndieWire. Archived from the original on May 25, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
- Sommersby, Yaunna (May 12, 2014). "Casting News: Octavia Spencer To Play Johanna In 'Insurgent'". PageToPremiere.com. Archived from the original on November 13, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
- Kile, Meredith B. (January 16, 2017). "'Hidden Figures' Stars Octavia Spencer & Taraji P. Henson Share the Love After Another Big Box Office Weekend". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- Anderson, Ariston (July 27, 2017). "Venice Competition Includes Films From George Clooney, Guillermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
- "Guillermo del Toro's 'The Shape of Water' wins Venice Golden Lion". The Guardian. September 9, 2017. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- Fleming Jr, Mike (July 25, 2017). "Toronto Film Festival 2017 Unveils Strong Slate". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
- "Luce (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
- Andreeva, Nellie (May 2, 2018). "'Are You Sleeping' Drama Starring Octavia Spencer Gets Apple Series Order; Reese Witherspoon & Peter Chernin Producing". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
- Andreeva, Nellie (July 29, 2018). "Netflix Orders 'Madam C.J. Walker' Limited Series Starring Octavia Spencer & Produced By LeBron James". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
- Fleming, Mike (March 29, 2019). "Octavia Spencer & Melissa McCarthy As Superheroes? Netflix Closing 'Thunder Force,' With Ben Falcone At Helm". Deadline. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
- Kroll, Justin; Lang, Brent (January 17, 2018). "Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer to Reunite for Holiday Comedy". Variety. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
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