RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CALIF. ― Octavia Spencer always knew she would “make it.”
“The thing to me, making it is just being paid to do what you love to do,” she told Gloria Steinem in front of an audience of hundreds at the MAKERS Conference on Monday night. “And that could have been dinner theater, and I would have been happy with that. Quite honestly, I think we need to change the scope of how we dream.”
And today, Spencer says she is expanding her dreams to include a new role: the role of Hollywood producer.
I want to be a conduit for storytellers ― men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Asian, latino, Indian, native. All those stories deserve to be told, especially if they’re compelling. Octavia Spencer
During the Q&A portion of her conversation with Steinem, a young woman in the audience asked Spencer if she had a dream role, or a role that she felt destined to play that felt terrifying to her.
“The role I’m destined to play is to be one of the greatest producers in Hollywood,” Spencer said without hesitating, to huge cheers from the audience. “It’s terrifying because it’s a huge undertaking, but I want to be a conduit for storytellers ― men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Asian, latino, Indian, native. All those stories deserve to be told, especially if they’re compelling.”
In the role of producer, one she has already begun exploring, Spencer is very clear on the types of projects that she wants to work on. (She is currently set to produce and star in a limited series about African-American entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker.)
“I choose things that touch me or resonate within my heart,” said Spencer, “and that’s what I want to put out into the world: things that will inspire, things that will enlighten, things that will educate ― but will also allow for some escapism, because God knows we need some right now.”
Taking on the role of producer as a woman of color who has navigated an often hostile Hollywood gives her an even more vital perspective when she is seated behind the camera.
Spencer spoke to Steinem about her history of being asked to play “women who are subordinate in every way.” She was asked to play prostitutes ― which she said she did once, in “Bad Santa,” and loved it ― nurses, and maids on a consistent basis throughout her acting career.
Her biggest takeaway from those roles? “No is the most powerful word that you have in your vocabulary.”
No is the most powerful word that you have in your vocabulary. Octavia Spencer
And after years of navigating the Hollywood machine, Spencer learned to utilize that “no.”
“It was about learning, meeting people, learning from my experiences,” said Spencer, “and knowing what to do and how to make those decisions when the time was right to say, ya know, ‘I’ve had my share of maids and I’ve had my share of prostitutes and I’ve had my share of nurses.’”