Academy Award-winning Help actress Octavia Spencer has paid her dues in the business. She started as a nurse in A Time to Kill that led to Bad Santa and Spider-Man. Her television roles have included ER, Becker and Ugly Betty.
Recently, she was in the James Brown biopic Get on Up as well as Fruitvale Station, which is about the last day of shooting victim Oscar Grant. Spencer will be in the second installment of the Divergent series next year on the big screen.
Steven Spielberg's television production Red Band Society takes place in Los Angeles' Ocean Park Hospital, and it involves a group of patients checked in for various ailments. Octavia Spencer plays Nurse Jackson, who runs the pediatric ward in the series. The patients form a bond, wearing red bands.
Windy City Times rang up Spencer to discuss the show and her character.
Windy City Times: Hi, Octavia.
Octavia Spencer: How are you?
WCT: Great. How did you become involved with Red Band in the first place?
Octavia Spencer: I have a great team at WME ( William Morris Endeavor ). They were fielding requests for me to read a lot of stuff. Steven Spielberg is my favorite director, so when his name is on anything of course I'm going to take it seriously.
I was really relieved that I absolutely, positively loved the show. Everything that you experienced as a viewer, I experienced as an actor reading the material. It's on the page.
We had a brilliant director in Alphonso Gomez-Rejon, who was just nominated for an Emmy for American Horror Story and Margaret Nagle, who has been nominated for countless Emmys actually for Warm Springs and Boardwalk Empire. I just felt very, very lucky to be given such amazing material and asked to be a part of it.
WCT: What made you want to do a television show after so many successful movies?
Octavia Spencer: Well, I'm an actor and I am looking for roles where I can continue to evolve, and things that are challenging and I gravitated to the roles, not necessarily television or film. It was the fact that for me the most interesting roles have been television.
It was basically just finding a project that resonated with me and a group of people that I wanted to work with and see every day because you also want to like the people that you work with. It was a win-win situation for me because I have a wonderful relationship with everyone over at DreamWorks.
It was not any one thing. It was quite a few mitigating circumstances that made me want to be a part of this project.
WCT: Do you have a favorite scene on the show so far?
Octavia Spencer: Well, the scene that I love from what you just saw is where Leo goes to talk to Charlie in the coma. It's just one of the most grown-up. I don't know; it was kind of transforming. I mean it didn't matter what they were talking about, what he was saying to him, that it was about his illness. I think you could substitute your own life or your own circumstances into what he was saying. I thought it was just so beautifully done. Charlie Rowe is a young Daniel Day-Lewis; he was just amazing.
Griffin Gluck, who plays our coma boy … just watching his face. It's really hard to lie still and not blink and not move and not twitch. Every time you're in a scene with Griffin, it just takes my breath away because he's just so perfectly present, even though he doesn't say a single, solitary word to us.
WCT: I met him at a recent Chicago screening of the show.
Octavia Spencer: You're witnessing something, really. I call it magic in a bottle, because these kids are beautiful, obviously. You can look at them. Every last one of them is strikingly gorgeous but, there's so much more about who they are as people.
They're exquisitely talented. I think they've done an amazing job putting the right people in every single, solitary role. I feel like I'm getting a front row seat to greatness happening. You see some talent that are going to be around for a while.
WCT: I spoke with Wilson Cruz at a red-carpet event in Toronto and he told me his character is gay on Red Band Society. Can you talk a bit about the diversity on the show?
Octavia Spencer: Well, it's definitely one of the most diverse series that I've seen on television. I think that's wonderful because it's representative of the world that we live in. But, I think diversity comes in the fact that you have an overweight beauty like myself being the lead of a show with Latin, Asian, African-American, gay, Jewish. I mean it's very, very representative and it will continue to be a diverse cast.
Let me tell you something. The hospital is one of the most diverse atmospheres that you could ever be a part of. I'm glad that all the creatives wanted to be truthful to that. I think that's a testament.
Working with Wilson, he's amazing. He's an amazing talent. I'm having a great time learning from him and he's an asset to the show.
WCT: Did you have an interest in being a nurse growing up?
Octavia Spencer: I can't say that it was a part of my fabric, no. What appealed to me about the project was the fact that it's a very fresh perspective on a show set in hospital, and centered around teens. The fact that she was a nurse might have been a drawback because I've played a nurse so many times. But, it's a special project and it actually was the best pilot script that I had read. I had been offered so much and I just read that one and I just felt a connection to the work.
WCT: Was some of the show based on real-life programs at hospitals?
Octavia Spencer: Well, it was amazing to have Margaret Nagle as our writer because this is very, very much her wheelhouse. She had all of us in contact with either doctors or nurses or just caregivers that would be able to give us a ground floor information that we should know.
I think coming into it I thought I knew a lot about hospitals because, again, I've played a nurse a good many times, but I never played a pediatric nurse and didn't realize that the hospitals are so different, thankfully they are. The services that they provide are more than just even the sick. I think it's about giving kids a well-rounded atmosphere so that they can continue to be kids.
We visited several hospitals. This is very much like a town center in Los Angeles and UCLA. As we've been doing promotion for the show, we've been able to go to several hospitals all over the country. It's a very unique environment and it's been very life altering actually.
WCT: Your character softens a bit at the end of the pilot episode. What do we learn about Nurse Jackson as the season progresses?
Octavia Spencer: Well, I think that it's so interesting because there are so many series regulars on the showlargely the teens who are in the hospital. Dave Annable and I are kind of like the mom and pop of the situation, with Griffin Dunne being the great-uncle. I don't know how much I can tell you except that just like in your regular life you're not one way all the time. That would just be so dull.
I think that Nurse Jackson being a woman who is taking care of people who have, some of them, very serious illnesses, there's just no time for tomfoolery. There's a lot that you have to do and she maintains that type of bravado, especially with the patients because you can't give an inch sometimes, because people will probably likely try to take a mile.
I think what you'll learn about her as the season progresses is why she chose this line of work. You will determine whether or not she has a heart of gold or if she has a cold, cold heart, I guess. I don't want to say too much, but I think that's just enough.
Red Band Society runs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.