Octavia Spencer talks her new role on The Shack

Papa (Octavia Spencer) and Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) in THE SHACK.

Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington (Photo by Lionsgate)

The Academy award winning actress Octavia Spencer is in the new drama The Shack, from Lionsgate, in theaters Friday, March 3rd. Octavia won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2012 for her performance in the film The Help. This year, Octavia was nominated again for her performance on Hidden Figures.

But today, we’re here to tell you about the new character Octavia is playing in The Shack. The film follows the story of a man who lives tormented after the death of his youngest daughter, who disappeared and was never found. But some signs found in the investigation show that she had been raped and murdered in a mountain cabin. Years after the tragedy, he receives a mysterious letter to return to this hut, where he will meet God.

Based on William Paul Young’s best-selling The Shack, it was directed by Stuart Hazeldine and had the adapted screenplay by John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Daniel Cretton. In addition to Octavia, who plays God in a spectacular way, the film stars Sam Worthington, Tim McGraw, Radha Mitchell, Avraham Aviv Alush, in the role of Jesus, the Brazilian actress Alice Braga, among others. Alice plays Sophia, the wisdom.

As I mentioned, Octavia plays Papa or God and helps a man who is in mourning because he does not agree with the sudden loss of his daughter. With the exception of Whoopi Goldberg and Alanis Morissette, few actresses in Hollywood played God. Now Octavia joins this small and illustrious group. During the press day for the release of the film, we had the opportunity to talk to the actress alongside with other journalists. Let’s check it out some parts of the interview:

Did you go to Morgan Freeman for advice to play God?

Octavia – No, I didn’t. We played different incarnations of God, I think, mine was more philosophical and his was more fun. For me, it was a huge undertaking and I actually had to try to figure out a way into the character and so what I did was basically boil it down to the relationship between Mack and Papa and it felt very parental for me so I basically did the work as if I were his foster mom who failed him and it was about building those bridges so that he could trust me again.

Did you read the book or the script first?

Octavia – I read the book independently of any movie talk. I read the book a few years ago, so I am one of its legions of fans. When I heard the producers Gil Netter and Lani Netter were making it, I went to them to try and convince them why I needed to be Papa.

What was it about the role that appealed to you?

Octavia – It’s not the role; it’s the material as a whole. I love the message of the book. I love the fact that William Paul wrote this book where a regular man has a conversation with God and he asks him some very hard-hitting questions, and God answered him. I thought it was a very unique way to look at religion and for regular people, to look at their role in how they basically influence their environment.

img_3241Is the movie about trying to do something that nobody can do alone?

Octavia – I hate to tell people what they should think, because I really have an aversion when people tell me what to think. I like to present the material, and let you draw what you need from it. For those people who go to the film and realize perhaps that they can’t do it alone, then perhaps that’s the message that’s meant for them. I just know that the one thing that we all have in common is that we have challenges. No one lives a challenge-free life.

In the story, do you think your appearance to him is as someone he barely remembers from his childhood?

Octavia – It’s funny because I didn’t read the foreword the first time I read the book so I missed all of that information about him being abused and all of that, which is very important. So, reading it again, the second time with the foreword, gave me two different perspectives of things. Not reading the foreword I thought, “Oh this is an interesting way to present man’s struggle with himself and his identity as a Christian.” In the foreword of the book, you realize that the one person to show him kindness was this woman. I feel like it’s definitely a part of the new narrative if a person is betrayed by a parent. Now had it been his mother that had been this abusive to him, I think God would have revealed himself as the conventional father but he had been let down by his own father. Then a man took his daughter from him. God decided that the best way for him to receive the message was to reveal himself as the one person who showed him kindness as a child, because that’s where he had to go back to in order to find that healing. It’s definitely a part of the narrative.

You’ve received a lot of accolades for your performances in The Help and Hidden Figures. How has that affected you?

Octavia – To be recognized by the Golden Globes and SAG and now the Academy for this role is humbling. Again, I’m playing a woman who, in her lifetime, made these contributions to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and NASA, and went unheralded for it. So, for me, it’s coming full circle for her and her family, and I’m appreciative of that. I wanted to be part of that story because I thought it was time that the world knew what these women contributed to NASA. I also wanted to be part of the next generation of young girls in STEM, and changing their dreams and how they dream themselves.

Speaking about Oscars, do you think the Academy has learned their lesson and the nominees are more diverse this year?

Octavia – I am not one of those people that believed in the #OscarsSoWhite in that way because when you say diversity and then people only refer to black people, then you’re only seeing two representations. There are Asians, there are Latinos, there are gender issues, and there are people with disabilities, people with all shapes and sizes. To me that’s what diversity means. So am I excited that there are more black people, yes, I’m happy that there are more films made that warranted the Academy’s attention but to me the problem didn’t begin with the Oscars. That’s the very end of a season. To me it begins with how you green light movies and how diverse those movies are in their casting. So we can have a long conversation about diversity… but there are many more people that want to see themselves represented and that’s the problem. But when I was at the Oscar luncheon, it definitely was a lot more diverse. You see the people who are in different categories. The tech categories, it’s definitely more diverse. But I’d love to see some more females represented in the cinematography, I’d love to see more females represented in directing, I’d love to see more females represented in producing. There’s only one female writer and she happened to be the co-writer of my film. So there’s a lot of under-representation. But what I’m excited about is the Academy has continued to make strides and not as a result of last year or a reaction to last year, they’ve been making these strides the whole time.

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