Before she signed on to play Madam C.J. Walker in the Netflix limited series “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker,” Octavia Spencer was already extremely familiar with the legendary businesswoman. “I’ve always known about Madam Walker. My mom used her as a standard-bearer of what we could become if we applied ourselves,” she tells us in our recent webchat (watch the video above). She went on to explain that it “felt like the time had come for her story to be told.”
“Self Made” chronicles 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 has had 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).
Shooting the project proved to be a difficult endeavor for Spencer for a very unexpected reason. “For the first few weeks of shooting, I had vertigo and didn’t know why I was so nauseous and dizzy all the time,” she reveals. She ended up having to use it in her performance as Madam Walker suffered from high blood pressure and was prone to fainting and dizzy spells. But her colleagues on set proved to be the kind of support she needed. “I had a great supporting cast and we had an amazing crew who stuck it out with me and then when we finally realized it was vertigo, I was able to get it treated.”
Spencer also discussed how she’s become more involved in the projects that she works on in the form of being a producer or executive producer. “For me, now, there are very few things that I participate in where I don’t have an active voice as a producer.” When the project was brought to her by Mark Holder and Christine Holder, she said there were certain things that would need to be addressed. “After I voiced my concerns about what I would need, since it’s a black female story, I wanted to make sure we had some black female storytellers and they realized how important that was.” From there she teamed up with LeBron James’s company, SpringHill Entertainment and Warner Brothers to get the project off the ground.
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