Octavia Spencer may have just scored an Emmy nomination for playing Madam C.J. Walker in the Netflix limited series, “Self Made,” but she already knows which real-life figure she would love to play next. “Ida B. Wells would be a great person and she’s known about but her story hasn’t been told. I think it’s about time we tell it,” said Spencer in our recent webchat (watch the video above) before nominations were announced. Wells was a prominent investigative journalist and a key figure in the early fight for civil rights for African-Americans, including being one of the co-founders of the NAACP. Earlier this year, she was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her career achievements.
For her most recent project, “Self Made” shines a light on how a domestic worker named Sarah Breedlove, started her own line of hair care products aimed at black women and built the company into a thriving business, under the name Madam C.J. Walker, and in doing so became the first woman to become a self-made millionaire. It also co-stars Blair Underwood, Tiffany Haddish, Carmen Ejogo and Garrett Morris.
Spencer’s first career Emmy nomination (for Best Movie/Limited Actress) is just the latest milestone in her own incredible journey over the past decade. After years of playing various roles in TV and film, she was cast as Minny Jackson in “The Help” in 2011. Her performance garnered rave reviews from both critics and audiences alike. She would go on to claim prizes for Best Supporting Actress from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, BAFTA and the Oscars. She’s garnered two subsequent Oscar nominations in the category for “Hidden Figures” (2016) and “The Shape of Water” (2017).
While all of this attention and acclaim has been sudden and surreal at times, she maintains that she hasn’t had a problem in keeping her head below the clouds. “I don’t need help staying grounded. I came from humble beginnings and I lead a very modest life,” explains Spencer. Her job may seem glamorous, takes her all over the world and gives her the chance to play dress-up with glittery stuff but it hasn’t changed anything about who she is as a person. “At the end of the day, I’m still a little girl from Alabama and my roots are deep.”
Spencer described the cast of the series as “an embarrassment of riches,” but singled out Underwood as an important scene partner for her due to the constraints of shooting and their friendship that goes back 20 years. “To play husband and wife with history and to do it with such a truncated shooting schedule, it was imperative that I have chemistry with my husband.” With only two weeks of preparation for the shoot, that years-long relationship ended up helping the two easily channel that chemistry into their respective performances.
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