Octavia Spencer

Octavia Lenora Spencer (born May 25, 1972)[1] is an American actress, author, and producer. She is the recipient of several accolades, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. She is one of two black actresses to have received three Academy Award nominations, the first black actress to receive two consecutive Academy Award nominations in back-to-back years, and the first black actress to receive an Academy Award nomination after previously winning.[2]

Octavia Spencer
Spencer at the White House in 2016
Octavia Lenora Spencer

(1972-05-25) May 25, 1972
Alma materAuburn University
  • Actress
  • author
  • producer
Years active1996–present
AwardsFull list

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 (201516), The Shack (2017), Gifted (2017), Instant Family (2018), Luce (2019), and Ma (2019).

As an author, Spencer has created a children's book series, titled 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).[3]

Early life

Octavia Lenora Spencer[4] was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and has six siblings, including sisters Rosa and Areka.[5] Her mother, Dellsena Spencer (1945-1988),[6] worked as a maid.[7] Her father died when she was thirteen.[8] Spencer graduated from Jefferson Davis High School in 1988.[9] She studied at Auburn University at Montgomery,[10] and graduated from Auburn University, where she majored in English with a double minor in journalism and theater.[11] Spencer has dyslexia.[12]



Spencer worked as an intern on the set of The Long Walk Home, a film starring Whoopi Goldberg.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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".[16] 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.[17] In April 2009, Entertainment Weekly listed Spencer as among its "25 Funniest Actresses in Hollywood."[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22] From September 2014 until February 2015, she starred in Steven Spielberg's Fox drama television series Red Band Society.[23]

Spencer co-starred alongside Kevin Costner in the drama film Black or White (2014)[24] and co-starred as Johanna Reyes in the second installment of the Divergent series, The Divergent Series: Insurgent (2015).[25] 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 only black actress to follow up an Oscar victory with another nomination, having previously won for The Help.[2] 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.[26]

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,[27] and was awarded the Golden Lion for best film in the competition.[28] It also screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.[29] 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.[2]

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.[30] 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.

Upcoming projects

Spencer will return to television by executive producing and starring in the Apple TV+ drama series Truth Be Told, as well as the Netflix drama series Madam C. J. Walker.[31][32]

Spencer will have voice roles in the fantasy comedy film Dolittle and the Pixar animated fantasy film Onward, which are scheduled to be released in 2020. She will star alongside Anne Hathaway in Robert Zemeckis's horror comedy film The Witches. Furthermore, Spencer will reunite with her The Help co-star Jessica Chastain for a holiday comedy film.[33]



Year Title Role Director(s) Notes
1996 A Time to Kill Roark's Nurse Joel Schumacher
1997 The 6th Man Nativity Watson Randall Miller
Sparkler Wanda Darren Stein
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
2006 Pulse Landlady Jim Sonzero
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 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Peep World Allison Barry W. Blaustein
Flypaper Madge Wiggins Rob Minkoff
2012 Blues for Willadean LaSonia Robinson Del Shores
Smashed Jenny James Ponsoldt
2013 Fruitvale Station Wanda Ryan Coogler Also co-executive producer
Lost on Purpose Nurse Keller Eshom Nelms & Ian Nelms
Snowpiercer Tanya Bong Joon-ho
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters Martha (voice) Thor Freudenthal
Paradise Loray Diablo Cody
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 Nominated–Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
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 Nominated–Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
2018 A Kid Like Jake Judith "Judy" Lawson Silas Howard
Green Book N/A 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 Post-production
Onward Corey (voice) Dan Scanlon In production
The Witches TBA Robert Zemeckis Post-production
TBA Thunder Force TBA Ben Falcone Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1997 413 Hope St. Job Counselor #1 Episode: "Pilot"
1998 Moesha Gloria 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 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 Truth Be Told Poppy Parnell Main role; also executive producer
TBA Madam C. J. Walker Madam C. J. Walker Main role; also executive producer

Awards and nominations

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.[2]

She has also won three Screen Actors Guild Awards, three National Board of Review Awards, two Satellite Awards, two Critics' Choice Movie Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and a BAFTA Award.

See also


  1. "Octavia Spencer Biography: Film Actress, Television Actress (1972–)". Biography.com. Archived from the original on August 11, 2016. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  2. Nolfi, Joey (January 23, 2018). "Oscars: Octavia Spencer makes history with The Shape of Water nomination". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  3. Deutsch, Lindsay (January 16, 2013). "Cover reveal: Octavia Spencer's first book, 'Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective'". USA Today. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  4. "Octavia Spencer before she was a star". WSFA. Montgomery/Dothan, Alabama. February 26, 2012. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  5. Shanahan, Mark; Goldstein, Meredith (January 17, 2012). "WRKO's Areka Spencer thrilled for her sister". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on September 25, 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  6. "Public Record of Dellsena Spencer". Familysearch.org. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  7. Calkin, Jessamy (July 16, 2009). "The maid's tale: Kathryn Stockett examines slavery and racism in America's Deep South". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  8. Pringle, Gill (November 7, 2014). "Octavia Spencer interview: The Help star and Oscar winner on becoming James Brown's aunt". The Independent. Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  9. "Octavia Spencer, Montgomery native, wins Golden Globe". Montgomery Advertiser. January 16, 2012. Archived from the original on February 21, 2015.
  10. Carlton, Bob (August 7, 2011). "Montgomery actress Octavia Spencer may become a star with 'The Help'". The Birmingham News. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  11. Greene, Teri (August 14, 2011). "Montgomery native stars in 'The Help'". The Tuscaloosa News. Archived from the original on September 15, 2011. Retrieved July 8, 2012.
  12. Good Morning America (April 6, 2017). "Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer and Mckenna Grace open up about 'Gifted'". YouTube. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  13. Dreier, Peter (February 27, 2012). "Will The Help's Oscar Revive Interest in The Long Walk Home?". Huffington Post. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  14. Onstad, Katrina (November 3, 2016). "Octavia Spencer Cracks a Few Hollywood Equations". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  15. Riley, Jenelle (May 4, 2005). "Octavia Spencer: The Quip Queen". AllBusiness.com. Archived from the original on November 16, 2007. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  16. Riley, Jenelle (August 8, 2011). "How Octavia Spencer Landed the Role of a Lifetime". Backstage. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  17. Rosen, Lisa (February 4, 2009). "Big impressions in brief roles". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
  18. "The 25 Funniest Actresses in Hollywood: Octavia Spencer". Entertainment Weekly. April 13, 2009. Archived from the original on April 13, 2009. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
  19. O'Malley, Sheila (August 15, 2011). "Could Viola Davis, Emma Stone & Octavia Spencer Get Oscar Nods for 'The Help'?". iVillage. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  20. Thompson, Arienne (June 29, 2012). "McConaughey, Spencer invited to join Academy". USA Today. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
  21. Kit, Borys (April 17, 2012). "Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer to Star in Movie About Controversial Police Killing". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 19, 2013.
  22. Fleming Jr, Mike (September 30, 2013). "Tate Taylor Reunites With 'The Help's Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer On James Brown Pic". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  23. Harnick, Chris (September 17, 2014). "Red Band Society Stars Octavia Spencer and Dave Annable on Looking for Life and Laughs in Sickness and Tragedy". E! Online. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
  24. Obenson, Tambay A. (May 8, 2013). "Octavia Spencer Will Battle Kevin Costner For Custody In Drama 'Black And White'". IndieWire. Archived from the original on May 25, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
  25. Sommersby, Yaunna (May 12, 2014). "Casting News: Octavia Spencer To Play Johanna In 'Insurgent'". PageToPremiere.com. Archived from the original on November 13, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
  26. Kile, Meredith B. (January 16, 2017). "'Hidden Figures' Stars Octavia Spencer & Taraji P. Henson Share the Love After Another Big Box Office Weekend". Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  27. Anderson, Ariston (July 27, 2017). "Venice Competition Includes Films From George Clooney, Guillermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  28. "Guillermo del Toro's 'The Shape of Water' wins Venice Golden Lion". The Guardian. September 9, 2017. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
  29. Fleming Jr, Mike (July 25, 2017). "Toronto Film Festival 2017 Unveils Strong Slate". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  30. "Luce (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
  31. Andreeva, Nellie (May 2, 2018). "'Are You Sleeping' Drama Starring Octavia Spencer Gets Apple Series Order; Reese Witherspoon & Peter Chernin Producing". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  32. Andreeva, Nellie (July 29, 2018). "Netflix Orders 'Madam C.J. Walker' Limited Series Starring Octavia Spencer & Produced By LeBron James". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  33. Kroll, Justin; Lang, Brent (January 17, 2018). "Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer to Reunite for Holiday Comedy". Variety. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
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