'Red Band Society' star Octavia Spencer discusses the show's unexpected humor
Spencer portrays the head nurse at a children's hospital in the new show. 'I thought, "That's probably going to be the saddest thing on the planet,"' she said of her initial thoughts about 'Red.' '"I don't know." And then I read it and I was pleasantly surprised because I didn't realize I was going to laugh as much as I did.'
As the offers poured in for Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to join the many other film actors who have recently transitioned to television, she was clear on what she wanted.
For one, she didn't want to do a sitcom.
She had a recurring role on the first season of CBS' "Mom," playing an addict with a looming prison sentence for embezzlement who befriends Allison Janney and Anna Farris' characters in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Spencer got laughs, but believes regularly performing in front of an audience would be too distracting.
"I have severe stage fright and ... it's very different to be on a television set or a film set where you're working with crew people," Spencer, 44, said in a recent interview. "You're not there to entertain. You're all there to do a job. When you do stuff in front of an audience, you're putting on a miniplay. It's like, 'Ahh! I can't think about whether you're being entertained. I have to think about my character.'"
A role in an ensemble series, however, had potential. "I have the prize in the Cracker Jack box. I don't need to be the prize," she said. "Big distinction. Big difference."
Spencer plays the head nurse in "Red Band Society," which premiered on Sept. 17. The dramedy follows the ups and downs of teens who are long-term patients in a children's hospital.
"I like the fact that it really is about (the kids) and their journey and you have these adult characters who kind of keep them within boundaries," she said.
What made her hesitate was whether the tone of the show would be too depressing.
"I thought, 'Well, do I really want to be a nurse at a children's hospital? That's probably going to be the saddest thing on the planet. I don't know.' And then I read it and I was pleasantly surprised because I didn't realize I was going to laugh as much as I did and enjoy it as much as I did."
Spencer, who won her Oscar for 2011's "The Help," said one of the more challenging aspects of switching to television is adjusting to the quick turnover of scripts.
"I'm a dyslexic and it takes me a lot longer to learn material," she said. "But you know what? It was very refreshing to me to have Halle Berry ask me if I was struggling with it. Billy Bob Thornton asked me if I was struggling and Viola Davis (too).
"All of us have big film backgrounds ... because we're so used to having that one bit of material and spending so much time with that material before you ever start shooting it that when the scripts are coming really quickly it's like, 'Wait a minute.'"
Spencer is shuttling between Los Angeles to the "Red Band" set in Atlanta, with her family living in Alabama, which she says is "tough."
However, being on location has allowed the cast to "gel more," she said.
"We've built this great sense of community for each other and gotten a better sense of each other's personal space (and) personal habits. It's actually very conducive to the whole ensemble vibe," she said.
"But I miss L.A."