TV Interview: Octavia Spencer Joins ‘Red Band Society’, Finding Beauty in Dark Places

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Preston Barta // Critic

RED BAND SOCIETY | Stars: Octavia Spencer, Dave Annable, AstroCiara Bravo, Griffin Gluck, Zoe Levin, Rebecca RittenhouseCharlie Rowe and Thomas Ian Nicholas

Octavia Spencer as Nurse Jackson. RED BAND SOCIETY will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 17 (9:00 - 10:00 ET/ PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

Octavia Spencer as Nurse Jackson. RED BAND SOCIETY will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 17 (9:00 – 10:00 ET/ PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

From her Academy Award-winning performance in THE HELP (and, oh, those pies) to a loving mother in both FRUITVALE STATION and SNOWPIERCER, Octavia Spencer has had quite the career. Now, the acclaimed actress brings her talents to the small screen to play Nurse Jackson in FOX’s RED BAND SOCIETY.

RED BAND SOCIETY is a provocative, unconventional, and unique coming-of-age “dramedy” about a group of unlikely and rule-bending friends, and the adults who mentor them through the ups-and-downs of adolescence in the Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital.

Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to speak with Spencer about making the move to television, how doing the project changed her internally, and finding beauty in dark places.

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.”

Were you specifically looking to do a TV series? Or, was it you were looking at everything and this really stood out to you?

Spencer: “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, 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.”

From Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television and starring Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer, Dave Annable and a charismatic cast of fresh faces, RED BAND SOCIETY is a provocative, inspiring and, at times, comic young ensemble drama told through the eyes of a group of teenagers who meet as patients in the pediatric ward of Ocean Park Hospital in Los Angeles. Pictured L-R: Griffin Gluck and Octavia Spencer. © 2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Annette Brown / FOX.

From Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television and starring Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer, Dave Annable and a charismatic cast of fresh faces, RED BAND SOCIETY is a provocative, inspiring and, at times, comic young ensemble drama told through the eyes of a group of teenagers who meet as patients in the pediatric ward of Ocean Park Hospital in Los Angeles. Pictured L-R: Griffin Gluck and Octavia Spencer. © 2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Annette Brown / FOX.

Were you approached and asked to do the part?

Spencer: “Yes, sir. 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.”

There’s a line that stood out to me in the show where one of the young patients says that “it’s often believed that when you go to a hospital life stops, but it’s the opposite.” I think it’s so powerful because when we go to hospitals, it’s often not for good reasons. But, the story is so heartwarming, and it shows that you can find beauty in places where you feel like normally you would not find any. So, I’m kind of wondering if you’ve ever had an experience like that where you found beauty or happiness in a place that normally would be unpleasant.

Spencer: “I think if you go through life and you don’t find the beauty in an unexpected place, then you really have a sad existence. I think every day that I live, I try to find the beauty in things. That’s what was one of the things that really, really resonated with me about this show.

My perspective of hospitals certainly changed. I certainly value medical professionals in a way that I really hadn’t thought about before because gratefully I have my health. But, there are so many people who don’t, who have to exist in a world where they’re not at 100% as far as their physicality, definitely 100% in every other aspect, but with their health they’re not. So, you have to embrace whatever your reality is and that’s what I thought was so refreshing about this show.

These kids are sick for sure. But, they are still kids. They still have the same insecurities that those kids that are healthy have. They want to be the prettiest. They want to be the tallest, the smartest. They want to be the fastest on the soccer field. I think there is beauty in that.

I think there’s beauty in the fact that the caregivers are on the sidelines giving guidance. That’s what I thought was very beautiful about this show and about a lot of the children’s hospitals around the country, and the services that they provide.”

RED BAND SOCIETY premieres tonight at 8 p.m. CT only on FOX.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.