Octavia Spencer: ‘My first kiss was magical’

The actor, 45, reflects on why women of colour are underpaid in Hollywood, being crotchety in public and why she was able to savour finding fame later in life

Octavia Spencer






‘I don’t feel entitled to anything. Hard work is the common denominator’: Octavia Spencer.
Photograph: Randee St Nicholas

My face is still the same, my heart perhaps has changed. It’s more grown up than when I started acting and it doesn’t allow for being put in a box. With time comes experience and you learn that if you don’t break out of those boxes yourself, no one else will allow you to.

I don’t feel entitled to anything. Hard work is the common denominator in every bit of success I’ve had. Growing up, my family wasn’t wealthy, but we had each other and a mother who worked hard to give us the things we needed.

Women of colour have been underpaid in Hollywood for far too long. We are having all of these conversations and marches about equality, but if you’re truly egalitarian, you have to look at everyone. I shared my story about Jessica Chastain [who tied her pay to Spencer’s in an upcoming film] because I felt: “Look. I have all of these things – like awards or whatever – that people deem important, yet you people don’t want to pay me equally.” Jessica’s a friend, but she’d have done it for someone she doesn’t know.

I’m looking forward to the mid-term elections. I want to make it as difficult as possible for that person [Donald Trump] to create policy, so I don’t have to listen to it every day. My job is to be informed and I inform myself, but there’s only so much you can take.

My first kiss was magical. I was seven and at school and there was a boy who I thought was cute. One day the teacher left me in charge and everybody had to have their heads down to be quiet. I just went over and kissed him. He thought it was gross. I thought it was great.

I’m the same person in public and in private. If I’m not feeling well and feeling quite crotchety, I’m going to be that way wherever I am.

Making The Help and getting my first Oscar nomination was wonderful. It felt special to all of us women who worked on it. I was a bit of a film buff and to have Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson in a movie with me was very special.

Finding fame in my 40s allowed me an adult perspective on my career. I truly understood that you have to enjoy it – and appreciate it.

I’m at my happiest when I’m out in nature. When the sun is shining and birds are nearby and I’m sleeping and can appreciate the things around me.

I march to my own drum. I imagine most people like the tune that everyone else is hearing, but for me it’s easier to tune out and change the radio station if I don’t like what’s playing. I guess that’s boring to some and outlandish to others.

From the first time I saw a television I knew I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life in Montgomery, Alabama. I was five or six and wanted to act as soon as I realised people were paid to live fantasy lives.

The Shape of Water is released in the UK on 14 February