When Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) was asked about her decision to go into TV during a conference call in which The Michigan Daily participated, she noted the opportunities the medium can provide.
“I’m an actor and I am looking for roles where I can continue to evolve, and things that are challenging … It was the fact that, for me, the most interesting roles have been television.”
Spencer’s new series “Red Band Society” follows a group of teenagers in a hospital’s pediatric ward, and the doctors and nurses who care for them. For the actress, it was an easy decision to commit to the FOX dramedy.
“(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.”
Another reason Spencer was drawn into the project was the level of talent behind the camera, as the show comes from Amblin Television, the production company of Steven Spielberg. “(He’s) my favorite director. So, when his name is on anything, of course I’m going to take it seriously.”
“Red Band Society” has been described as “Glee” meets “The Fault in Our Stars,” and Spencer found the series’ tonal ambiguity fascinating.
“Everyone has a different path that they walk in life … The circumstances are definitely funny within this very serious situation. I was in awe when I read and I cried and I laughed a lot … I think people will just run a gamut of emotions actually.”
Spencer had nothing but nice things to say about the kids she works with on the show. “They’re really brilliant, very hard working, very, very intuitive young actors.”
She added, “I feel very blessed because I feel, even though I’m the oldest person on this show … 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.”
What does she learn from working with the younger actors? “To continue to enjoy the process and have that free spirit about approaching the work and to not be so rigid.”
The upcoming television season will feature an increase in the diversity on network television, with shows led by minority actors such as “Cristela” and Viola Davis’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” There’s also an expansion in the diversity of ensembles, including “Red Band Society.” Spencer thought the increase in diversity on her show was worthy of celebration.
“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 (and) Jewish people. 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.”
She also had a lot to say about the strength behind her character, a nurse in the hospital.
“You want to know why this woman is the way she is and why she chose to be a caregiver … I think some of the strongest people are people who are quiet and not so brazen with their emotion,” she said. “What’s interesting about Nurse Jackson is I think her strength comes a lot of times 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.”
Spencer also alluded to what viewers can expect from her character’s journey throughout the season.
“I think that Nurse Jackson being a woman who is taking care of people who have, some of them, very serious illnesses … 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.”
She added, “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.”
“Red Band Society” premieres this Wednesday at 9 p.m. on FOX.