Best known for her Academy Award-winning work as Minny in the 2011 film The Help, Octavia Spencer most recently starred in the 2013 feature Fruitvale Station. This month, her children's book is being published, and next February, Black and White, a Kevin Costner film in which she stars, is due in theaters. She talked with WebMD Magazine about how she stays healthy, inspired, and calm in the midst of a soaring career.
Your first book, Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit, features a 12-year-old crime solver with a Tae Kwon Do black belt. Where did you get the inspiration for the character?
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I have always been a mystery buff. Randi's character and all the other kids are an amalgam of different people, but each has some element of my own personality. She's kind of like the neighborhood vigilante, capturing criminals and solving crimes. And while I really imagined myself wanting to do that as a kid, I definitely didn't have that type of outlet.
Your book features what you've called a "multicultural cast of characters." Why was it important for you to include children of different ethnic backgrounds?
I wanted to do something multicultural to promote the fact that kids don't have to look alike to befriend each other and to have a mutual admiration and love for each other.
You're an Alabama native. What's your favorite Southern food?
Collard greens or butter beans, black-eyed peas, cornbread. I can live on that stuff.
How has your diet changed since you moved to L.A.?
Before moving here I couldn't turn down anything that was fried. Fried pickles. Everything. And now I rarely have anything fried at all. I'm kind of glad because I don't need to have anything fried. It's completely different now that I realize each decade that you rack up and that you're fortunate enough to be living, it's even harder to trim down.
You've voiced frustrations about the way the media obsess over women's weight. What message do you think they should be getting out?
I do believe that we should be paying more attention to health instead of body types. I know that women who are way too thin don't get the same type of treatment compared to women who are overweight. I know that I'm heavy and I know that I'm working toward changing it, but not because of an ideal that people think I should be meeting, but because I want to be healthier.
You have several film projects in the works as well as your new book. With so much going on at once, what do you do to stay relaxed and grounded?
I meditate as much as I can in the morning. You always have to be centered in this industry. I realize that I start focusing on things that I don't have any control over. You lose sight of the things you need to be grateful for. So I don't ever want to lose sight of any of that. One thing that playing the character Minny [in The Help] taught me is she had so much less than I did and I needed to be grateful. I learned that it wasn't about your glass being half empty or half full. It was really and truly about the fact that you have a glass.