That Time Octavia Spencer and I Were Tooootally (but Just Almost) BFFs
I have a habit of going to watch really deep, dark, cerebral films (as opposed to movies, see) on holidays and occasions that are supposed to be mirth-filled. For example, a few New Year’s Eves ago, I went to a late-night showing of Blue Valentine at the ArcLight in Hollywood while my friends partied at a club nearby. Nothing says “Happy New Year! Now go out and get pregnant like its 1999!” like a balding Ryan Gosling crying while having sex with a drained and depressed Michelle Williams. Oh and did I mention a dog died? Yeah.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t go to these films at those times because I’m sad or even lonely. Being at them alone does not cause me to feel sad or lonely. In fact, I’m usually overly excited about getting to eat as many gallons of buttered popcorn as I can shove into my mouth in a 100-minute period. No, I go alone on such occasions because sometimes I’m simply a loner and I tend to enjoy myself more when I’m celebrating things on my own. And by “celebrating,” I of course mean watching a dog die on a 30 foot screen in surround sound.
Because of these awesome life choices, it was really no surprise that I chose to spend part of my 31st birthday at a movie theater alone, watching this flick called Marcy Marlene May I Mickey Mouse My Mouth… oh, I don’t remember exactly what the hell it was called. It was one of those great movies with an unfortunate title, you know? This time I went to the Sherman Oaks ArcLight, because I felt it was important to be a mufuggin’ lady on my birthday and not sit amongst the riff-raff that only pay $14 at the Hollywood location. No, only $15 matinee films would do that day, Jeeves. I was this close to wearing an ascot and a side ponytail. (To be fair, there’s never a time where I’m NOT that close to wearing both).
If you’re not familiar with the film (which I’ve made no easier for you by not remembering what it’s called or having the patience to look it up), it was a small budget indie starring the Olsen twins’ younger sister Elizabeth (who did an incredibly impressive job), John Hawkes, and that openly gay actress I always mistake for Elizabeth Perkins, even though Elizabeth Perkins is a good 15 years older than she is…
Yes, that’s it. Our modern day Elizabeth Perkins. Aw, I miss “Big,” don’t you? Anytime I think of Elizabeth Perkins I think of two scenes: Her talking to Sandy Bullock on a bench in that awesome scene at the end of ’28 Days,’ and — of course more importantly—Tom Hanks touchin’ her boobs in that awesome scene halfway through “Big.” My preteen love of that scene was just one of the many early indicators that I would one day be a big ol’ gay homosexual lady.
Even before the drama unfolded onscreen at the Shermy Oaks ArcLight, drama was laying itself out like a scantily clad mistress in the theater. A small yet beautiful chance event, and the reason you’re reading this and not a film right now. Or hey, maybe you’re gifted and are doing both! Who knows?
So anyhoo, I’m in there with the ten or so other people who thought it would be a smart idea to have our souls just completely wrecked by this downer of a film in the middle of a Tuesday or whatever it was—beautifully shot, exquisitely acted — but a DOWN-ER, folks—and who walks in?
…Wait, I’ve always wanted to say this: “…and who saunters in?”
…Big screen powerhouse and *It Girl* Octavia Spencer! Now this was just a couple of months after I’d watched her on another big screen in The Help and only weeks before she was nominated for the Oscar she would later win. So you can imagine that the awesomeness of this moment was palpable, electric, and…completely lost on the other nine people in the theater. They had no idea! Nor did they care, as I’m sure since they had the luxury of being at the Sherman Oaks ArcLight in the middle of the day on their non-birthdays, they were all probably movie studio hyphenates and big time accountant/lawyer types who were too jaded to spill half of their freshly bought $8 popcorn or geek out silently like I did. Whatever. Their loss. YOLO motherbleepers, YOLO!
The best part of this was that Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, too, was by herself. We were soul mates, you guys. Need further proof? She had about 100 seats she could have chosen to sit in, but she sat two seats away from me. This said two things to me instantly: She 1) was obviously drawn to me by some animal magnetism that only two divas at the top of their game possess, and 2) clearly had at least seven huge bags of shoes from DSW, and she was tired, and wanted to plop down anywhere that wasn’t the floor, and I was the closest thing to that.
Whatever the reason, she was there, I was there, and we were within high-fiving distance. Here I was, alone, sitting next to a future Oscar-winning actress who had just starred in one of the most powerful films on civil rights in our recent history. It had so poignantly and perfectly portrayed the 1950s Jackson, Mississippi that my mother had grown up in, and that my grandmother had in fact been a maid in — just like Octavia! Something to talk about!!—that tears had streamed down my face on more than one occasion during its viewing.
Many were the times I had replayed quotes from it in my mind, each time smiling quietly to myself as I hit the lines just like Octavia said them. Ah, she would have been so proud had she heard me. To top it off, I had discovered one of my favorite actresses of all time, Jessica Chastain, in the movie. Surely Octavia had loads of stories to tell me—and only me—about the movie siren known as Chastain. Surely. And here I was, able to chit chat about it with her. And on my birthday, to boot! I was having an Oprah-transcending moment, and much like most of my Oprah moments, this one had transformed my heart for…ever.
Clearly, Octavia Spencer was going down in history as playing one of the most memorable roles of any black actress of my lifetime. So obviously, I had to use this one moment in time to knock her off of her feet with my opening statement. Do I get right in there with talk of Chastain? Do I lead with the Oscar buzz? Or do I act like a lady and start off slowly with the Golden Globes? Is Viola Davis available? Is Emma Stone available? Is Chastain available? All good questions.
This chance I had to speaking with her freely and candidly, within pinky swearing distance, was too good to pass up, so I went IN:
Me: “I LOVED you in ‘Halfway Home.’ You played that crazy prison girl like WHAT. You feel me?”
To her credit, Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer didn’t flinch or run away in horror, or even tell me to “Talk to the Hand,” but instead politely thanked me for knowing that the brilliant-but-cancelled show ever existed. We swapped a couple of earnest *I hear you girlfriend* exchanges and hearty chuckles and then she went back to being rich, famous and talented without me for a good 5 minutes, while I went back to wondering if it was too late to ask if Chastain was available.
But then, just as magically as when she sauntered into the place, a lightbulb went off: I was about to watch a movie about a girl in a cult, which absolutely had to be something Octavia was interested in since she wasn’t watching Adam Sandler’s Jack & Jill, she was watching this flick, just like me, aaaand I was raised in a ridiculous religious cult— spoiler alert, you guys! Talk about breaking the ice.
Me: “I’ve heard really great things about this film.”
Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer: (politely) “Me too.”
Me: “I didn’t know anyone else liked to go to movie theaters by themselves in the middle of the day.”
Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer: (politely) “Girl, it’s the only time I can get time to myself.”
Me: (sensing this was my cue to shut UP) “Well enjoy it. I’m interested to see if it’s any good, because I was raised in a cult and…”
Octavia: (in a different voice and tone, in an almost *use the force, Luke* sort of way) “Really?? You should write a book. You know…everything happens for a reason.” (Smile, Fairy Godmother eye-twinkle, fade…she may as well have finished the sentence with “…my child.”)
Two hours of creepy silence and about 100 WTF’s later from watching this lovely but cray cray film later, we parted ways. But wait, did Oscar winner Octavia Spencer just tell me to write a book on my 31st birthday at the Sherman Oaks ArcLight in the middle of the day while holding on to about forty pairs of shoes?? Yep. Yep she did.
I’m the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, a seed investment fund that backs high-potential, underrepresented startup founders. I am also a tour manager, currently working with New Zealand Music Award winner Janine & the Mixtape. Not braggin’, but I have been called the “Lebron James” of venture capital (by my brother).
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