She might be a petite woman (just 5'2"), but she's a giant as an actress. Octavia Spencer has earned her second Golden Globe nomination with Hidden Figures (she won in 2011 for The Help and doubled with an Academy Award for that same supporting role). She has already gained historical significance in Hollywood: Spencer is just one of six African American actresses to win the Oscar in a competitive category, along with – chronologically – Hattie McDaniel, Whoopi Goldberg, Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson and Mo'Nique.
In Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, she plays Dorothy Vaughan, a brilliant mathematician and computer expert who had a pivotal role in the space race, the development of NASA and the Mercury program, alongside two other African American scientists, played by Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae, little known figures of great importance in the American technological and research world.
Octavia told the HFPA she learned a lot doing Hidden Figures: “I learned that I am extremely grateful to have been born in this time because there were so many women like Dorothy Vaughn, like Katherine Johnson, like Mary Jackson who paved the way for me,” she said. “And I feel very lucky that my mom taught me that I can do or be anything that I dreamed, dared to dream; I don't know, if I never had that upbringing, that I would have been able to face the type of rejection that we face in this industry. So playing this character it makes you thankful. It makes you very, very, very grateful.”
Spencer is a native of Montgomery, Alabama. She's the sixth of seven siblings and holds a Bachelors degree in Liberal Arts from Auburn University. She always loved acting and deep inside knew that she'd someday work in the film industry. In 1995, after paying her dues in theater and endless auditions, director Joel Schumacher gave her a small part opposite Sandra Bullock in the hit film A Time to Kill. In 1996 Spencer teamed up with Bullock again in Bullock's directorial debut Making Sandwiches, a short film that premiered at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.
Since then, Spencer has continued to see success as an actor in both film and television, working alongside Hollywood's elite. After innumerable small roles in both TV and film, in February 2009 Spencer was lauded by Los Angeles Times for her brief but memorable performance in the Will Smith drama Seven Pounds, directed by Gabriele Muccino. She hasn't stopped working since then. She will be next seen in The Shack, The Shape of Water, and Small Town Crime. “Yes, I know, I'm a workaholic,” she says with her big smile. “I basically say yes to everything they offer me, and I'm not going to apologize for that!”
“They cast me more than a dozen times in the role of a nurse... so what?” she asks. “A role is a role is a role. I embrace every single opportunity that comes my way. Doing so I got to play a scientist in Hidden Figures and recognized by the audience, the critics, the HFPA, and I only feel gratitude for that, mixed with humbleness and joy.”