Octavia Spencer: 5 things to know about the Oscar nominee

Spencer is nominated for best supporting actress for "Hidden Figures."

February 22, 2017, 6:25 AM

— -- Octavia Spencer is hoping to add a second Oscar award to her collection this year for her role in "Hidden Figures," the real-life story of three African-American women who were crucial to the nation's first space mission.

Spencer, 46, portrays Dorothy Vaughan, NASA's first African-American manager.

"Just doing this movie was good for me, for my spirit," Spencer said on ABC News’ "Popcorn with Peter Travers."

Here are five things to know about the Oscar-nominated actress.

1. She started her film career as an intern.

Growing up in Alabama, Spencer said she never knew movies were made on location.

"When I realized they could be filmed right in your own backyard, it changed my whole life," she said.

So when the film, "The Long Walk Home," came to shoot on location in Alabama, Spencer, then in high school, found out where their production office was and got a job on-set as an intern.

"I went every day and I called every day," said Spencer. "Finally the poor production coordinator said, 'You’re not going to leave, are you?'"

2. Whoopi Goldberg is one of the reasons she went to college.

Spencer said her mom, who passed away when she was growing up, always wanted her to go to college.

While on set for "The Long Walk Home," Spencer befriended Whoopi Goldberg, who starred alongside Sissy Spacek in the film. If it weren’t for Goldberg, Spencer might not have gone to college before moving to Hollywood.

"[I told her], 'I want to move to Hollywood and become an actress,' and she said, 'You promised your mom that you would go to college. You need to go to college. Hollywood will be there.' And so I did," Spencer said.

She said Goldberg had her brother call Spencer right before her college graduation to tell her she was proud of her.

"I remember to this day how committed she was," Spencer said. "I love Whoopi."

3. Sandra Bullock helped get her an acting agent.

Spencer played a nurse for Sandra Bullock’s character Ellen Roark in the 1996 film "A Time to Kill." She only got the role after asking director Joel Schumacher if she could read for another character in the movie.

"'Innocent! Innocent! We won! We won!'" she recalled her lines. "You will never forget that moment or your first lines on camera."

After "A Time to Kill," Bullock gave Spencer her second job on a film short she was working on.

"She had a situation where one of the actresses had fallen out of the short. She ended up giving me the part," Spencer said. Bullock then helped her get an acting agent.

4. If she wasn’t an actress, she’d be in law enforcement.

"I’d be an FBI profiler," Spencer joked. "I have this affinity for the law and the written word, the letter of the law. I probably would be in law school."

5. This is her second Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

Spencer won an Oscar in 2011 for her role as Minny Jackson in "The Help." She said it felt like the award presenter, Christian Bale, was talking in slow motion when he announced the winner.

"I honestly don't have a clear recollection because I know it was about getting my knees to move. They locked up. They just locked up. I couldn't stand up," Spencer recalled. "And I was like, 'Oh God, I've got to get up there. How am I going to get up there?'"

Related Topics