Octavia Spencer: I’m Grateful Success Didn’t Happen at 22

Celebrity News Apr. 22, 2013 AT 1:11PM
Octavia Spencer Octavia Spencer Credit: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Octavia Spencer worked in Hollywood for 16 years before she became a household name.

She appeared in "E.R.," movies like "Big Momma's House," and many, many more TV shows and films before landing the role in "The Help" that won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar last year. The surprising thing is that she wouldn't have had it any other way.

"I think [success] came at the right time," Spencer tells omg!. "I think success happens when it's supposed to and when you can appreciate it. I am grateful that it didn't happen for me at 22 or 23. I would've been foolish enough to think that we're all entitled to it, instead of it being the divine blessing that it is."

The 42-year-old explains that the movie -- in which she portrays Minny, a woman taking care of the homes and children of white families in pre-Civil Rights Era Jackson, Mississippi -- brought her much more than accolades.

"I'm still good friends with Viola [Davis] and Emma [Stone], Jessica [Chastain] -- we were a tight-knit group," she says, adding that her preparation for the role also left her with a different outlook on life. "I realized that my perspective about my place in the world needed to change. I come from humble beginnings -- very humble beginnings -- but Minny, her beginnings were more humble than mine. And she didn't feel entitlement. She just wanted the best life for her kids, and it made me realize that it wasn't about the glass being half empty or half full, but that you owned the glass. Minny didn't own the glass. I've always owned the glass, and I didn't know that, and getting ready for that role put it all into perspective, and that's why I think it was good that success happened for me at a later date, because I got it; I got the memo."

Last year, while all this change was going on, Spencer also made a big decision about her health after she heard about a product called Sensa, which is a weight-loss supplement that when sprinkled over food is supposed to trick the body into thinking it's full.

"I just joined the 40s club, and I thought if this product will help me lose weight at my own pace, in my own way, and I don't have to follow a crazy, restrictive meal plan, then it's something that I need to do," Spencer says.

At the same time, the actress decided she needed to step up her workout.

"I like to eat, and so I know that I have to be physical at some point, or I'm going to be just a little soft marshmallow," she notes.

The combination of exercise and eating less has already paid off big. Spencer unveiled a 20-pound weight loss in February, and she's not finished yet. She jokingly sings "Everyday I'm sprinkling," to the tune of the line "Everyday I'm shuffling" in LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem."

"As a kid, I was always very thin, and I kind of didn't know that I was skinny," she notes. "I look back at pictures now, and I think, 'Who are you?' I started really gaining weight at around 18 or 19, and then 10 pounds turns into 20. The freshman 15 is what started it for me."

While her dress size is smaller now, Spencer says her red carpet style has remained consistent. She continues to sport dresses designed by the Japanese-born Tadashi Shoji when she steps out for fancy fetes.

"I love a classic look, which is why I love Tadashi," she raves. "I gravitate to whatever looks good on me and whatever maakes me feel sexy. I can't say that that has changed because of weight loss."

The next time you see Spencer at a Hollywood soiree, she just might be being honored for her latest role, in the independent film "Fruitvale." The film is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old man who was shot to death by the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department in San Francisco in 2009, sparking outrage, because he was found to be unarmed.

Spencer, who plays Grant's mother, notes that the project was an important one for her.

"The mentality of how we treat one another needs to be examined, especially how we treat our men of color," she shares. "I have young nephews that would be contemporaries of Oscar Grant, and I thought that if by doing this film it would somehow cause people to assess their behavior -- no matter what side of the issue they're on -- if it would help them assess their behavior and curtail their behavior in some way and how we deal with another, then maybe I've done my job."

The A-list actress's upcoming projects also include a children's book that comes out in the fall, as well as a Lifetime movie, "Call Me Crazy," about mental illness. The flick, which airs April 20, is a series of five short films featuring actresses such as Jennifer Hudson and Melissa Leo. Spencer stars in the segment directed by, of course, another friend from "The Help," Bryce Dallas Howard.

[Related: Photos From the Red Carpet Premiere of 'Call Me Crazy']

"It's time that we destigmatize mental illness and understand the prospects for people suffering from mental illness are hopeful if they get help," notes Spencer. "That's why we are trying to shine that light."

Clearly, Spencer is determined to use the platform given to her by "The Help" to help others.

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