Spencer at the White House in 2016
Octavia Lenora Spencer
May 25, 1970
Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.
|Alma mater||Auburn University|
Octavia Lenora Spencer (born May 25, 1970)[a] is an American actress, author, and producer. She is the recipient of several accolades, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. She is one of two women of color to have received three Oscar nominations and the first black actress to receive two consecutive nominations.
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).
Spencer also 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). She portrays the lead role in the Apple TV+ drama series Truth Be Told (2019-present), and received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her portrayal Madam C. J. Walker in the Netflix limited series Self Made (2020). As an author, Spencer 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 first 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, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character. She also voiced a manticore restaurant owner in the Pixar animated fantasy film Onward, which was released in March 2020 to positive reviews.
Spencer executive produced and starred as Madam C. J. Walker in the Netflix biographical limited series Self Made, which was released on March 20, 2020. For her performance in the series, Spencer received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
Spencer will star alongside Anne Hathaway in Robert Zemeckis's horror comedy The Witches, which will be released in October 22, 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.
|1996||A Time to Kill||Roark's Nurse||Joel Schumacher|
|1997||The 6th Man||Nativity Watson||Randall Miller|
|1999||Never Been Kissed||Cynthia||Raja Gosnell|
|Being John Malkovich||Woman in Elevator||Spike Jonze|
|Blue Streak||Shawna||Les Mayfield|
|2000||The Sky Is Falling||Nurse No. 2||Florrie Laurence|
|Everything Put Together||Nurse B||Marc Forster|
|American Virgin||Agnes Large||Jean-Pierre Marois|
|What Planet Are You From?||Baby Nurse||Mike Nichols|
|Auto Motives||Rhonda||Lorraine Bracco|
|Big Momma's House||Twila||Raja Gosnell|
|Four Dogs Playing Poker||Waitress||Paul Rachman|
|2001||Sol Goode||Unemployment Clerk||Danny Comden|
|The Journeyman||Black Belly||James Crowley|
|2002||Spider-Man||Check-In Girl||Sam Raimi|
|2003||Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde||Security Guard||Charles Herman-Wurmfeld|
|S.W.A.T.||Neighbor in Alley||Clark Johnson|
|Chicken Party||Laqueta Mills||Tate Taylor|
|Bad Santa||Opal||Terry Zwigoff|
|2004||Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!||Janine||Robert Luketic|
|Breakin' All the Rules||Stylist||Daniel Taplitz|
|2005||Coach Carter||Mrs. Battle||Thomas Carter|
|Pretty Persuasion||Woman||Marcos Siega|
|Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School||Ayisha Lebaron||Randall Miller|
|Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous||Octavia - Bookstore||John Pasquin|
|Beauty Shop||Big Customer||Bille Woodruff|
|Wannabe||Lady Chanet Janney Jones||Richard Keith Quintero|
|2007||The Nines||Streetwalker||John August|
|2008||Next of Kin||Grace||Martha M. Elcan|
|Pretty Ugly People||Mary||Tate Taylor|
|The Spleenectomy||Nurse||Kirsten Smith|
|Seven Pounds||Kate / Home Health Care Nurse||Gabriele Muccino|
|2009||The First Time (Love At First Hiccup)||Mrs. Hambrick||Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg|
|Drag Me to Hell||Bank Co-Worker No. 1||Sam Raimi|
|Jesus People: The Movie||Angel Angelique||Jason Naumann|
|The Soloist||Troubled Woman||Joe Wright|
|Just Peck||Detention Room Teacher||Michael A. Nickles|
|Halloween II||Nurse Daniels||Rob Zombie|
|Herpes Boy||Rochelle||Nathaniel Atcheson|
|Small Town Saturday Night||Rhonda Dooley||Ryan Craig|
|2010||Dinner for Schmucks||Madame Nora||Jay Roach|
|2011||The Help||Minny Jackson||Tate Taylor|
|Peep World||Allison||Barry W. Blaustein|
|Flypaper||Madge Wiggins||Rob Minkoff|
|2012||Blues for Willadean||LaSonia Robinson||Del Shores|
|2013||Fruitvale Station||Wanda||Ryan Coogler||Also executive producer|
|Lost on Purpose||Nurse Keller||Eshom Nelms & Ian Nelms|
|Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters||Martha (voice)||Thor Freudenthal|
|2014||Get On Up||Aunt Honey Washington||Tate Taylor|
|2015||The Great Gilly Hopkins||Miss Harris||Stephen Herek|
|Black or White||Rowena Jeffers||Mike Binder|
|The Divergent Series: Insurgent||Johanna Reyes||Robert Schwentke|
|Fathers and Daughters||Dr. Korman||Gabriele Muccino|
|2016||Zootopia||Mrs. Otterton (voice)||Byron Howard & Rich Moore|
|The Divergent Series: Allegiant||Johanna Reyes||Robert Schwentke|
|The Free World||Linda Workman||Jason Lew|
|Bad Santa 2||Opal||Mark Waters|
|Hidden Figures||Dorothy Vaughan||Theodore Melfi|
|2017||The Shack||Papa||Stuart Hazeldine|
|Small Town Crime||Kelly Banks||Eshom Nelms & Ian Nelms||Also executive producer|
|Gifted||Roberta Taylor||Marc Webb|
|The Shape of Water||Zelda Fuller||Guillermo del Toro|
|2018||A Kid Like Jake||Judith "Judy" Lawson||Silas Howard|
|Green Book||None||Peter Farrelly||Executive producer|
|Instant Family||Karen||Sean Anders|
|2019||Luce||Harriet Wilson||Julius Onah|
|Ma||Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington||Tate Taylor||Also executive producer|
|2020||Dolittle||Dab-Dab (voice)||Stephen Gaghan|
|Onward||The "Corey" Manticore (voice)||Dan Scanlon|
|The Witches||Agatha Hansen / The Grandmother||Robert Zemeckis|
|TBA||Thunder Force||Emily Stanton||Ben Falcone||Post-production|
|1997||413 Hope St.||Job Counselor #1||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1998||Moesha||Gloria Eckhart||Episode: "Teacher"|
|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|
|2013-2015||Mom||Regina Tompkins||9 episodes|
|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|
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.
The big 5-0. Ugh! Yeah, I know I've been saying I'm 48.