Octavia Spencer on Horror Film 'Ma': "It's Definitely a Cautionary Tale"

Octavia Spencer -Tate Taylor-Getty-Split-H 2019
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Spencer plays a killer who struggles with rejection, peer pressure and bullying in the horror film.

Octavia Spencer and director Tate Taylor premiered Ma, their first horror film Thursday evening at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE. The two joined the rest of the Ma cast on the red carpet along with producers Jason Blum and John Norris of Blumhouse Productions.

"For [Spencer and I] to drive out here so long ago with no clue and then be here tonight — with her as the lead of a movie — it’s pretty mind-blowing," Taylor told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet.

Spencer and Taylor met in 1995 as production assistants on director Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill, Taylor said. They became best friends and relocated to L.A. together.

"We followed each other in our cars. We didn't know anybody, and we stayed best friends ever since," Taylor said before explaining that while he was adapting The Help, Spencer would scream from the next bedroom over, "You better make sure I'm in that movie." Taylor did, and Spencer earned an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

"To see two people so passionate about their jobs truly work their way up in the industry proves anything is possible," Diana Silvers, the actress who plays Maggie, told THR.

While Ma gave Taylor and Spencer an opportunity to work together in the horror space, it also gave Spencer a chance to play a role that she said was unlike any character she’s ever played before: a killer who struggles with rejection, peer pressure and bullying. 

"Bullying is a crisis, and I think people need to know that their actions leave scars," Spencer told THR. "Ma’s definitely a cautionary tale."

Ma screenwriter Scotty Landes said he wrote the horror film about "somebody that was on the outside their whole life." He hadn’t written the main character Sue Ann for any particular ethnicity, leaving Blumhouse Productions to read his script and recommend Spencer. Landes said, Taylor and Spencer wanted to do the piece because Spencer was "sick of playing the nurse, the nanny, the janitor," and Sue Ann worked none of those jobs.

"Octavia took that role and just added 1,000 percent more personality, more background, more layers," Landes told THR. "I think the weird thing about this movie is, people aren't going to hate the person that's messing up kids. People are going to look at this woman and go, 'I would've done the same thing, too.'"

For Blum, working with Taylor and Spencer was terrific. He commented that the two best friends still lived next to each other, offering their joint property as a shooting location. He didn’t have to worry about "actors not getting along with the director." In addition to Spencer's leading role, she also served as producer.

All of the actors who played the high schoolers in Ma — including McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown and Silvers — found Spencer’s work ethic to be inspiring. She would watch the dailies and come in the next day to tell them exactly what she needed, Fogelmanis said, going on to explain that Spencer had such an intense focus. She lead by example, helping every actor rise to their level. 

"I just felt so honored to watch her," Silvers said. "A woman in Hollywood who is producing the roles that she wants to play. That is badass."

After the screening, everyone ventured off to Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill and mingled excitedly over dinner and a wide selection of deserts, including ice cream served in shot glasses. A DJ played hits while Ma's writers, actors and producers circled the room. 

Ma will be released nationwide by Universal Pictures on May 31.