In the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter (THR), 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o, Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and Oprah Winfrey (The Butler) sat down for the Actress Roundtable.
The hourlong conversation will air as a PBS special in December and features the actresses giving advice and talking about their ups and downs. Check out highlights below:
What’s the best or worst piece of advice you’ve been given in Hollywood?
OCTAVIA SPENCER: Well, I’ll break that ice. When I first started acting, my acting teacher said, “Imagine if you’re doing a scene and someone is out in the hall. If it sounds like you’re doing a scene, you’re doing a scene. If it sounds like you’re actually having a conversation, you’re having a conversation.”
LUPITA NYONG’O: My teacher at Yale, Ron Van Lieu, once said, “It feels like it’s all about you, but it’s not about you at all. It’s about the person you’re playing.” And that always helps me get out there and do the thing I’ve been hired to do. I am fighting for what my character wants, and if I’m pursuing that, then I’m good.
Are people writing better parts for women now?
SPENCER: Well, you have a fresh crop of female writers, and men are writing better parts for women and realizing that women can open films. I think we’re making strides. We’re not there yet, but I’m really excited about the past couple of years.
Lupita, how did you prepare to take on 12 Years a Slave?
NYONG’O: It was tough. I knew I couldn’t go about it in any sort of method way because I would have not survived the experience. I was always so close to tears, and plenty of times, I’d be in my hotel room, just crying.
WINFREY: When you do something like that, do you somehow touch the energy space of the ancestors? When I did Beloved, I [had] a collection of slave memorabilia. I have the names of the slaves on my wall. I have them all listed by their names and their prices. You see the horse cart and the shoes, and the donkey and the lamb, as listed with “Sam” and “Anne.”
Would you play a villain?
WINFREY: I would, but there is a limit to the amount of darkness I want to bring into my own personal space.
NYONG’O: What was so extraordinary about Patsey was that she was filled with so much light despite the darkness. [Writer] Khalil Gibran says, “The deeper sorrow carves itself into your being, the more joy you can contain.” That was my experience of working on 12 Years a Slave.
Whose career would you love to emulate?
NYONG’O: Hold on. (Takes a tissue.) When I was a little girl, the first time I thought I could be an actor was when I watched The Color Purple.
WINFREY: Oh my God, give me a tissue.
NYONG’O: I grew up in Kenya, and a lot of our programming was from all over the world, and we didn’t see ourselves onscreen. It was very rare that you’d see people that look like me. And there was Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah and everything. It’s so meaningful to be sitting here beside you.
WINFREY: It is equally meaningful for me.