PARK CITY, Utah — Octavia Spencer, Oscar winner, is the star of “Fruitvale,” one of the most powerful, emotional, and well-received movies at Sundance. She also produced the movie. She’s fresh off a stint on “30 Rock.” And she’s the Academy’s reigning best actress after winning an Oscar last year for “The Help.”
Has it all gone to her head? Not even a little bit.
“I have to keep things in a small box that I can control,” she told ABC News’ “Popcorn With Peter Travers” today. “Having too big of a life would be scary.”
In fact, she gets starstruck on a pretty regular basis.
“Meeting Oprah Winfrey, I cried like a baby. Meeting Steven Spielberg, I cried like a baby. Meeting Denzel Washington, I gushed like a crazy woman,” she said. “If I don’t get excited or starstruck by someone I’ve been dying to meet, it’s time to retire.”
Not that she’s not proud of that Oscar. (Her words: “I lay him in my arms like a baby. He’s my darling.”) It sits in the middle of her living room surrounded by all her other trophies.
“I call all of the other awards his cousin,” she said. “So that every time I’m in there, I’m reminded of the job that I have to do. You can’t rest on your laurels.”
With that philosophy, she’s taken charge of creating her own roles. She served as co-executive producer on “Fruitvale,” which means she had a hand in pretty much every part of the movie.
“From the outset,” after winning a best actress Oscar for “The Help,” “I knew there were going to be a lot of roles that I would get to play,” she said. “But I march to my own drum anyway. That just means that I have to create my own music. I’m fine with that. It’s a challenge, it’s fun, it’s scary, but you know what, I have a platform to do that.”
“Fruitvale” is a heart-wrenching re-telling of the events leading up to the fatal police shooting of Oscar Grant at a San Francisco BART station in 2009. It’s Sundance screenings have ended with not a dry eye in the crowd. Spencer stars alongside Michael B. Jordan (famous for “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights”) as Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson.
“It’s the toughest role I’ve ever had to play because it’s a real person who can measure the performance like no one else can,” Spencer said. She sat behind Johnson at the premiere of “Fruitvale” and said watching her relive her son’s death was a nerve wracking experience like nothing else: “His family said they didn’t see Michael B. Jordan up there. They saw Oscar.”
But while Spencer’s moved on from playing “The Help’s” firecracker maid Minny, she still considers the cast of the much-awarded film her family. She said she texts or talks with Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, and the rest of the stars “every other day.”
“We’re all in contact,” she said. “We just did a surprise party for Emma’s mom. It’s a very tight knit group. It’s hard to go on to something else where you don’t imagine those people in your lives.”