Oc­tavia’s world

Whether act­ing or pro­duc­ing, she looks for one com­mon el­e­ment: A slice of life.

Gulf Times Community - - FRONT PAGE - By Tre’vell An­der­son

Oc­tavia Spencer is at the point in her ca­reer where she can be se­lec­tive about work. An Os­car for her sup­port­ing role in 2011’s The Help — and nom­i­na­tions for 2016’s Hid­den Fig­ures and last year’s The Shape of Wa­ter — al­most ne­ces­si­tates it.

But that doesn’t mean she’s chas­ing only awards-bait movies. Take, for ex­am­ple, her lat­est role in Sean An­ders’ In­stant Fam­ily.

In the­atres Novem­ber 16, the com­edy fol­lows Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg as a cou­ple look­ing to adopt chil­dren. But they find them­selves in over their heads when they wel­come a trio of sib­lings into their home. Spencer shares most of her scenes with co­me­dian Tig No­taro as a pair of adop­tion coun­sel­lors who help the new par­ents find their way.

Ahead of the film’s premiere, The Times spoke with Spencer about the role and things she learned about the foster care sys­tem in prepa­ra­tion for the gig. She also talked about serv­ing as a pro­ducer for one of the year’s most pop­u­lar film fes­ti­val of­fer­ings, Green Book, in the­atres Novem­ber 16, about a white bouncer who be­comes the driver of a black pi­anist on a con­cert tour in 1960s Amer­ica.

What about In­stant Fam­ily made you say yes?

It al­ways de­pends on what that script says, be­cause if it’s not on the page, there is lit­tle chance that you’re go­ing to get any magic in front of the cam­era. The scripts have to be dy­namic. And when I read this script, I just re­mem­ber go­ing through all of these emo­tions. I

Ev­ery­body falls in love with the cute lit­tle baby or the kid that’s just start­ing first grade. But teenagers need homes and love as well

laughed and cried.

And the funny thing is, I had been toy­ing with the idea of re­ally try­ing to fig­ure out if my life, right now, is con­ducive to bring­ing kids into it, mak­ing a home for kids. Then this project comes along and it’s, like, “Oh, Lord, what are you try­ing to tell me?” (Laughs) It just touched me and res­onated with me in a way that was very per­sonal. And when I met with the di­rec­tor Sean An­ders, who also co-wrote it, and found out it was based on his life — and that they ac­tu­ally lived a lot of the stuff in the script, all of that res­onated with me.

Did you speak to ac­tual foster coun­sel­lors to pre­pare for the role?

Yeah, they def­i­nitely had coun­sel­lors there at our dis­posal. … There was so much about the sys­tem that I was un­aware of.

Like what?

I did not re­alise that it’s such a hard­ship for teenagers to find fam­i­lies. And when you think about it, of course it is. Ev­ery­body falls in love with the cute lit­tle baby or the cute lit­tle tod­dler or the kid that’s just start­ing first grade. But teenagers need homes and love as well. And how many of them age out of the sys­tem when they are barely ready to be on their own and they ba­si­cally com­prise a huge number of the home­less pop­u­la­tion. That was heart­break­ing for me to re­alise that.

One of the things I re­ally en­joyed about the film was the di­a­logue was just so real. My favourite line that you say in the foster care group is, “I love see­ing white peo­ple fight.” (Laugh­ing) And I was, like, “Me too! I re­ally do.”

Well, I credit ev­ery­thing to John (Mor­ris) and Sean. I mean, all of the stuff, when Rose and Mark are in bed and they’re, like, “These kids are mean. We should just give them back and then, you know, just say it didn’t work out.” (Laughs) It was re­ally hu­man. And they were able to laugh at them­selves and re­alise, “You know what? This is hard, but we love these kids. And they’ve made our lives bet­ter.” That’s what I love about it — that while it is a com­edy, there are so many real el­e­ments and these are real emo­tions that we feel.

When you sit down with a script, you don’t go in think­ing “I’m go­ing to cry my eyes out in this com­edy.” But you do, and I’m go­ing to laugh hys­ter­i­cally at this com­edy while read­ing it. Real life is not al­ways laugh­ing ev­ery minute. And real life cer­tainly isn’t cry­ing ev­ery two sec­onds. It’s a mix­ture of all of that. And that’s what I loved about it. It’s a feel-good, hope­ful movie. And hope­fully it will move more peo­ple into see­ing if they have a place in their home for a child that needs love. That, at the end of the day, was one of the most beau­ti­ful things about it.

What was it about that story in Green Book that made you want to get in­volved as a pro­ducer?

I grew up in the South and all of this stuff pre­ceded me, but I know it well. When I heard that they were do­ing a movie about the green book (a guide list­ing the ho­tels and busi­nesses that served black peo­ple), I was kind of cu­ri­ous. I was asked to read the script to be a con­sult­ing pro­ducer, if I so wanted that role. And I read it and I thought, “Well, you have two very strong men as char­ac­ters and as ac­tors — both Viggo (Mortensen) and Ma­her­shala (Ali) — and they were weigh­ing in on the script and liked where things were go­ing. So I felt like they did a great job in the re­search and, again, when you see it on the page — when it is ap­par­ent that the script has the ca­pac­ity or the po­ten­tial to move you in a way — you want to be a part of those types of sto­ries, espe­cially in these try­ing times.

And, sadly, some of the scenes that were rep­re­sented in the ’60s are very much a part of what we’re liv­ing to­day. So I wanted to be a part of this movie for the so­cial im­pli­ca­tions. Be­cause if you have these two men from dis­parate back­grounds who are forced in a sit­u­a­tion, one as an em­ployee and one as an em­ployer, to be with each other for an in­or­di­nate amount of time, they have to find a way to work with each other. They have to find a way to see each other as hu­man be­ings, and that’s what hap­pens.

I heard some­where, “Is it an­other white saviour movie?” And I had to laugh at that be­cause there’s noth­ing white saviour about it. It’s about two men sav­ing each other. And that’s one of the things that I re­ally val­ued, that Ma­her­shala’s char­ac­ter, Don Shirley, does a lot to save and change Viggo’s char­ac­ter, Tony Lip, as much as it’s Tony’s job to save and pro­tect Don Shirley. So there’s a lot of give and take, and a lot of learn­ing that both of these men have to ex­pe­ri­ence. And at the end of it, they grow.

The film has gen­er­ated a lot of pos­i­tive buzz on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit as a feel-good movie. Is it sur­pris­ing to see the re­sponse that it’s got­ten thus far?

(Di­rec­tor Peter Far­relly) had put to­gether about 20 min­utes of the movie (in ad­vance), and I felt like I did when I watched The Help and when I watched Hid­den

Fig­ures … that sense of hope, that things can change, that peo­ple can work to­gether and see each other as hu­man be­ings. Pete has such a beau­ti­ful hand with lev­ity, and I think some­times that lev­ity lends it­self as a won­der­ful teach­ing tool. Be­cause if you can laugh at a mo­ment that is tense and scary and you don’t know what’s about to hap­pen, the les­son that you learn from it will more than likely take, if it’s not con­fronta­tional.

There are mo­ments when things have to be con­fronta­tional, be­cause that’s life. And it should be con­fronta­tional be­cause that’s truth. But there are other times when the au­di­ence gets a lit­tle re­lief from the “Oh, God, they’re driv­ing through a sun­down town. Oh, no.” When I’m watch­ing any­thing and a po­lice car pulls over a mo­torist that hap­pens to be black, my stom­ach clenches. And it hap­pened — even though I knew how it was go­ing to end in Hid­den Fig­ures be­cause I read the script and I par­tic­i­pated in the scene, but, you know, you hold your breath. You hold your breath, even though you know that not ev­ery sit­u­a­tion is go­ing to end with vi­o­lence … .

If you’re watch­ing a movie and things in so­ci­ety that hap­pen on a reg­u­lar ba­sis are some­how dis­played on the screen and you tense up, be­cause you feel like you know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, that means we have a lot of work in those ar­eas. And that’s what I love about (Green

Book). Be­cause it’s forc­ing us to have much-needed dis­course about hu­man re­la­tions.

Is there any dif­fer­ence in your ap­proach to look­ing at projects to act in ver­sus pro­duc­ing?

No, I don’t even look at roles, per se. I look at projects as a whole, be­cause you could have an amaz­ing script and a brand new di­rec­tor who’s only di­rected a two-minute short film and some­body’s given him mil­lions of dol­lars and you’re sup­posed to trust that.

I look at all of the cre­ative. I look at the script, first and fore­most. And then I look at whether or not my role is sig­nif­i­cant enough or if it war­rants me tak­ing the role or if it should go to some­one else who needs it or de­serves that op­por­tu­nity. They def­i­nitely have to be movies that I want to see, movies that will some­how have an im­pact. If it’s about pure es­capism, then great. Some­times you need to get away from your prob­lems. But if it’s about life and in­tro­duc­ing in­for­ma­tion and en­light­en­ing peo­ple in a way that they hadn’t been be­fore, that’s usu­ally what I grav­i­tate to­ward.

Both of your fall projects are films with a mes­sage. What do you hope au­di­ences will take away from them?

I try not to ever tell peo­ple what they should think. Be­cause if I tell you to come in and tell you “this is what you should feel” and you don’t feel that, then you some­how feel neg­a­tively. I just want you to come in with an open mind and see what you feel, see if we can make you laugh, see if we can make you for­get about your prob­lems. Or see if we can make you see that, per­haps, you don’t see your neigh­bour as a hu­man be­ing and that you need to be bet­ter at that. —Los Angeles Times/TNS

“I try not to ever tell peo­ple what they should think. I just want you to come in with an open mind and see what you feel, see if we can make you laugh, see if we can make you for­get about your prob­lems”

IN­SPIRED: “When I read this script, I just re­mem­ber go­ing through all of these emo­tions. I laughed and cried,” re­calls Oc­tavia Spencer about her ac­cep­tance of Sean An­ders’ film.

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