Q & A: Octavia Spencer on ‘Red Band Society’ and Working with the Cast of “Very Intuitive” Young Actors

Octavia Spencer Red Band Society

Octavia Spencer stars in the new FOX series, Red Band Society, an unconventional coming-of-age dramedy about a group of unlikely friends and the adults who mentor them through the ups and downs of adolescence in Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital. The pediatric ward is run by Nurse Jackson (Spencer), a caregiver with a take-no-prisoners approach to helping the teens get the most from their lives. What they don’t don’t know, is that she puts her own life second, and her stern manner hides her incredible heart that secretly makes their lives more ordinary.

I love the success that Spencer has gotten in the past couple of years. It just shows that hard work and a keeping your dream alive will always work out for you in the end.

I talked to her during a recent conference call to talk about the show and her character, working with the young cast and her decision to work in TV.

Red Band Society airs Wednesdays at 9pm on FOX

When you were growing up, did you ever have any interest in nursing? Was that what appealed to you about this project?

Octavia Spencer: I can’t say that it was a part of my fabric, no. What appealed to me about the project was the fact that it’s a very fresh perspective on a show set in hospital, and it’s a very fresh perspective on a show that’s centered around teens. The fact that she was a nurse might have been a drawback because I’ve played a nurse so many times. But, it’s a special project and it actually was the best pilot script that I had read. I had been offered so much and I just read that one and I just felt a connection to the work.

At the end of the pilot, we got to see a little bit of your character’s soft side when she had all the pizzas delivered. I was just wanted you to talk a little bit about what we’ll learn about your character as the season progresses.

Octavia Spencer: Well, I think that it’s so interesting because there are so many series regulars on the show, largely the teens who are in the hospital. Then, Dave Annable and I are kind of like the mom and pop of the situation with Griffin Dunne being the great uncle. I think our stories unfold, I don’t know how much I can tell you except that just like in your regular life you’re not one way all the time. That would just be so dull. I think that Nurse Jackson being a woman who is taking care of people who have, some of them, very serious illnesses, there’s just no time for tomfoolery. There’s a lot that you have to do and she maintains that type of bravado, especially with the patients because you can’t give an inch sometimes, because people will probably likely try to take a mile.

But, I think what you’ll learn about her as the season progresses is why she chose this line of work. You will determine whether or not she has a heart of gold or if she has a cold, cold heart, I guess. I don’t want to say too much, but I think that’s just enough.

You mentioned you’ve read a lot of pilot scripts and this is the one that really stood out for you. So, were you specifically looking to do a TV series? Or, was it you were looking at everything and this really stuck you?

Octavia Spencer: Well, I’m an actor and I am looking for roles where I can continue to evolve, and things that are challenging and I gravitated to the roles, not necessarily television or film. It was the fact that for me the most interesting roles have been television.

So, it was basically just finding a project (a) that resonated with me; a group of people (b) that I wanted to work with and see every day because you also want to like the people that you work with. So, it was a win-win situation for me because I have a wonderful relationship with everyone over at DreamWorks. So, the fact that Steven Spielberg and Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank are producing this, and Fox I think is really one of the most forward thinking networks out there. So, to be a part of that family and ABC.

So, it was a huge, huge undertaking to make that kind of decision. But, it’s one that you have to take seriously. So, the material had to be good and the people that I would be working with had to be people that I wanted to be working with. So, it was not any one thing. It was quite a few mitigating circumstances that made me want to be a part of this project.

The show is being billed as a dramedy because the pilot was so emotional and so funny. Do you think people will be crying more often or laughing or maybe crying from laughing.

Octavia Spencer: I think it’s going to be a bit of both. Everyone has a different path that they walk in life. It depends on whatever, however you view the world. The circumstances are definitely funny within this very serious situation. So, I was in awe when I read and I cried and I laughed a lot. I basically was really, really entertained. I think people will just run a gamut of emotions actually.

What has it been like working with a lot of younger actors. What have you been able to learn from them and maybe what have you been able to teach them as well?

Octavia Spencer: Well, I’m glad that I don’t have to teach. This is an amazing group of professionals. They’re really brilliant, very hard working, very, very intuitive of young actors. You know, a lot of them have worked a lot, maybe not a lot in television, not a lot in film; but, they do have great work ethics. So, what I learn from them is to continue to enjoy the process and have that free spirit about approaching the work and to not be so rigid. I think if anything, they learn from me is about professionalism.

But, again, they’re all quite professional. They show up ready to work. I feel very blessed because I feel, even though I’m the oldest person on this show, older than Dave Annable, and all the kids combined, I feel very lucky because it’s a very familial atmosphere. We are a very good unit. I feel lucky that I get to work with these guys every day.

Can you talk about how you became involved? Were you approached and asked to do the part?

Octavia Spencer: Yes, ma’am. It’s as easy as that. I have a great team at WME. They were fielding a lot of requests for me to read a lot of stuff. I read a few pilots and I just – Steven Spielberg is my favorite director. So, when his name is on anything, of course I’m going to take it seriously.

But, I was really relieved that I absolutely, positively loved the show. Everything that you experienced as a viewer, I experienced as an actor reading the material. It’s on the page.

We had a brilliant director in Alphonso Gomez-Rejon, who was just nominated for an Emmy for American Horror Story; Margaret Nagle, who has been nominated for countless Emmys actually for Warm Springs and Boardwalk Empire. So, I just felt very, very lucky to be given such amazing material and asked to be a part of it.

Do you have a favorite scene so far you can share with us even if it’s somewhat vague?

Octavia Spencer: Well, the scene that I love from what you just saw is where Leo goes to talk to Charlie in the coma. It’s just one of the most grown-up. I don’t know; it was kind of transforming. I mean it didn’t matter what they were talking about, what he was saying to him, that it was about his illness. I think you could substitute your own life or your own circumstances into what he was saying. I thought it was just so beautifully done. Charlie Rowe is a young Daniel Day-Lewis; he was just amazing.

Griffin Gluck, who plays our coma boy…just watching his face. It’s really hard to lie still and not blink and not move and not twitch. Every time you’re in a scene with Griffin, it just takes my breath away because he’s just so perfectly present, even though he doesn’t say a single, solitary word to us. So, that’s just, it’s my favorite scene.

Do we get to see some more of your character progression and her life outside of the hospital?

Octavia Spencer: Absolutely. This show is really centered around the kids and what they do as they grow with their illnesses. The adults are kind of the glue, I think, that keeps everything together. So, yes, you will see character progression or regression. We shall see.

But, definitely you’ll learn more about Nurse Jackson, and some of the other adults on the show. You’ll learn a lot about Dr. McAndrew. You’ll learn a lot about Brittany. It’s a very evenhanded show. It’s a true ensemble.

You’re known for playing strong characters, one that you actually won an Oscar for. So, what do you love about your character the most and what makes her different from the other strong characters you’ve played in the past?

Octavia Spencer: Well, I think that there’s a mystery there. You want to know why this woman is the way she is and why she chose to be a caregiver. I think that the show of strength or what people think is strong is not necessarily the case. I think some of the strongest people are people who are quiet and not so brazen with their emotion.

What’s interesting about Nurse Jackson is I think her strength comes a lot time in just her quiet moments. So, that’s what I like that you get to see a whole person and that I’ll get to grow with her as an actor. But, I think she’s just a very interesting character.

Could talk about the diversity on the show?

Octavia Spencer: Well, it’s definitely one of the most diverse series that I’ve seen on television. I think that’s wonderful because it’s representative of the world that we live in. But, I think diversity comes in the fact that you have an overweight beauty like myself being the lead of a show with Latin, Asian, African-American, gay, Jewish. I mean it’s very, very representative and it will continue to be diverse in the cast.

Let me tell you something. The hospital is one of the most diverse atmospheres that you could ever be a part of. So, I’m glad that all the creatives wanted to be truthful to that. I think that’s a testament.

Do you think there’s any part of Nurse Jackson that you identify with more and if not, if there is any specific nurse that you pulled your inspiration from?

Octavia Spencer: I can’t say that there’s any one thing. I can tell you that Nurse Jackson doesn’t suffer fools gladly and Octavia doesn’t suffer fools flatly. When I have a job to do, I do it. I can say that’s the thing for Nurse Jackson. She takes her job seriously. What was the second part of your question?

Who, if there is any specific nurse that you pulled your inspiration from?

Octavia Spencer: No, I can’t say that there’s a specific nurse. I did have a nurse that was my point person that sort of was our guide and giving advice on just procedural and just how things are really at the hospital. But, I think Nurse Jackson is an amalgamation of all the women that have influenced my life: the quiet, the strength, all of that.

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