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Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer on Fighting Typecasting, Making Films That Are ‘Anthems of Diversity’

Variety logo Variety 12/2/2016 Sarah Ahern

Octavia Spencer won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Minny Jackson in “The Help,” and although she’s willing to play a maid again, she has yet to find a character that tops that one.

“I just played the best damn maid role written,” Spencer said in an interview with Dev Patel for Variety‘s fifth season of “Actors on Actors.” Spencer and Patel talked about avoiding typecasting and the importance of diversity in their most recent films. Spencer said “90% of the roles” she was offered after “The Help” were maids.

She also discussed the sparsity of “great roles” that are available in today’s world of film, and explained the archetypes that filmmakers often look for in the casting process.

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“The archetypes that they really want to see — a woman of zaftig stature and a cute, little Cheshire cat grin — is the nurturer or the sassy whatever,” Spencer said.

The “Hidden Figures” star explained the hardships that the women who inspired the film faced.

“They had it tougher than we do, they had no agency whatsoever, but they persevered. They were de facto segregation, sexism, racism and in spite of that, they took us to space and back,” Spencer said. “I thought if those women could withstand all of that and be unsung heroes … I realized that we have to put this type of positive energy and hope and these stories out into the world.”

Patel, meanwhile, said film has the power to unite, regardless of the political climate.

“That’s why art’s important to put out into the world. That’s why films like yours, ‘Hidden Figures,’ and ‘Lion,’ are really important because they’re anthems of diversity, they’re anthems of love, and they’re anthems of perseverance,” Patel said.

The interview will air on Variety’s “Actors on Actors,” presented by The Venetian Las Vegas, on PBS SoCal, which debuts its fifth season on Jan. 3. Click here to watch the full interview.

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