Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the evening with Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer … and about 40 other folks. Spencer visited a Chicagoland Barnes & Noble to promote “Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit,” her new pre-teen novel series. While waiting for Spencer to arrive (she got stuck in Chicago traffic, which is starting to rival Los Angeles and Atlanta’s), the 7-year-old sitting next to me questioned her mom about every black woman walking toward us, asking, “Is that her?” She even thought Spencer was Oprah Winfrey on the cover of the O, the Oprah Magazine I held. I laughed. No, honey, only one woman would be on this magazine’s cover. When our special guest arrived minutes later with her bestie, Valerie, she offered us the option to either listen to her read from her book or ask her whatever we wanted. We voted for the latter. I’ve included some highlights from the conversation with the lovely actress, who’ll be the lead in the NBC reboot of the classic mystery drama , “Murder, She Wrote,” as well as star in the James Brown biopic, “Get on Up,” due out next year. She’s currently crisscrossing the country as part of a rigorous book tour and will be in La Verne, Cali. today. Whew!
On whether she’s ever written anything before “Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective” …
I never really wrote anything for other people’s consumption. I mean I really didn’t write this for anybody else. Then I thought, ahh, is it me or is this kind of fun? And I gave it to a friend to read and it was odd because she brought me into her office and took me to her agency. And nothing really happened. It was years and years and years ago. The book has gone through several iterations since then. I mean, it’s been a 10-year process from the first idea to this point. But I wrote a lot of stuff, volumes of things that people will never read. This is my passion and mysteries and deductive thinking was my way of overcompensating [for her learning disability], because I would always have to ask myself if I read something correctly. So I was already logically connecting the dots. And I thought, well, if it helped me with my disability, I wonder how it would help other kids because you still have to read. Why not have a fun narrative? Why not have something tactile for people who like to touch things? I love mysteries and I worked with a real criminologist to make this practical for the kids.
Watch Octavia Spencer discuss her new book on “The View”
On her acting path from her native Montgomery, Ala. to Hollywood..
I really don’t have a path from Montgomery to Hollywood as far as the acting. My mom was the type of person who really tried to encourage us to dream big and follow our dreams, pursue them. I remember telling her that I wanted to work in the film industry and she said great. Then I said as an actress and she said, “No, not that. Because you want to be able to provide for yourself.” Then I sort of rethought it and thought I wanted to be a producer. I didn’t do plays or anything as a kid. It wasn’t my thing. I really started to study acting when I moved to LA. Like a lot of people, I thought, “Well, you know, what do actors do? They don’t really do much but talk.” It’s horrible but I did. And then I did my first movie and got cut completely out of it and realized I need to take some lessons and studied from that point on. I decided, maybe my mom was right: Every job that you ever get you have to train to do. Whether you’re a fry cook or a surgeon, you have to have to be trained to do it. So I took my mom’s advice. But it was, of course, trial by fire. And I just stayed with it and it is one of the things that I love doing. And one thing led to another and here we are.
On how she was cast as the lead in “Murder, She Wrote” …
I worked with Bob Greenblatt on a show a few years ago and now he’s the head of NBC. And I’ve always known that I wanted to do TV. I guess there’s this perception that once you win an Academy Award that you have no desire to do TV. For a character actress like myself there are few roles that are challenging that are lead roles. So I knew that I would ultimately be doing television. When was the question. Then I had a meeting with Bob and he asked me, “What type of role would you ever see yourself doing?” Obviously, my favorite genre is mystery and two of my favorite characters of all time are Columbo and J.B. Fletcher. So I told him J.B. Fletcher meets Columbo. One thing led to another [and] they found out that the rights were available and we’ve just been talking about it. And it’s been very hard keeping that a secret because you don’t talk about it until it’s really real. That’s really and truly what happened. But here is the thing: There is only one J.B. Fletcher. There only needs to be one J.B. Fletcher and that was Angela Lansbury. I have no desire to try to recreate J.B. Fletcher as Angela Lansbury. So, I’m not trying to be her. Ours is a reimagining of the show, reimagining it with a different character not J.B. Fletcher. She is sacred, in my opinion. I don’t know about you guys but I’ve seen every episode of the show and that’s why I just threw it out there.
On my watchlist this weekend? What I’m tuning in to see…
“Grimm”: Nick’s a zombie?! Gotta see how this turns out. It comes on at 9 p.m. EST tonight on NBC. [Watch here]
“Dracula’: I don’t know about you but Nonso Anozie’s convinced me to definitely check out this show and not just because he’s one of the stars. It comes on at 10 p.m. EST tonight on NBC. [Watch it here]
“Boardwalk Empire”: This Dr. Narcisse character’s got me curious about his real intentions and Dunn Purnsley — SMH! It airs at 9 p.m. EST Sunday on HBO. [Watch here]
The Hot List: Who/What’s Hot, Not
HOT: Anthony Anderson — he’s slimmed down, hosting “The Soul Train Awards” and has a few other irons in the fire. (I liked him even before the weight loss. Seem like an OK dude).
NOT: An inebriated Sean “Diddy” Combs arriving to do an interview on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (Bro, c’mon, you have to have your wits about you during an interview — especially a televised one!)
HOT: Viola Davis on “The Talk” today. (She’s glowing!)
NOT: Another person of color stepping forward to say they were racially profiled by Barneys staff and the NYPD (I could say a lot of things about this but will reserve comment for another time.)
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.