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Ma’s Octavia Spencer wanted ‘something f***ed up’ for her first horror movie leading role

By Jacob Oller
Octavia Spencer Ma

Octavia Spencer isn’t known for her genre performances, though she’s given great supporting turns in the likes of Snowpiercer and The Shape of Water. She’s even had bit parts in a few classic horror franchises, appearing in Halloween II and Drag Me to Hell. But Spencer wins awards for films like The Help or Hidden Figures. Dramas. Period pieces. But now she’s after something different with Ma.

Ma is her upcoming horror film, from Blumhouse and directed by Tate Taylor, which she leads as a character already deeply entrenched in fans’ nightmares after just a single trailer. She’s the strange host of a basement party spot for teens — that’s not creepy at all, right? And that’s just the beginning. Yet, in a new interview with TotalFilm, Taylor explained that this kind of weirdo evil was just the kind of thing the actress was after.

In fact, he’d had her in mind before he’d even gotten the job. “A month earlier,” Taylor said, “Octavia — who’s just one of my best friends — had called me up and said, ‘I am so sick of having to put on period wigs and costumes. I want to do something f**ked up!’ I said, 'You’re not going to believe it…’” It was a match made in heaven, or perhaps hell. The pair had a long history of working together (dating back to a 2003 short film) which is being warped into something deliciously scary for Ma.

The “disturbing more than horrific” film, which has its twisty business under wraps outside of the inevitable turn of Spencer’s title character, is about “bullying and abuse and trauma,” Taylor said. Beyond that, it’s an exercise in taking a new genre for its main players to its limits, something Blumhouse is letting them do — though even that’s not without drawbacks. “The budget absolutely sucks,” Taylor said. “It’s PB&Js for lunch, but without that pressure of a studio and being noted to death, you just go for it.”

And while that may mean more dramatically-oriented scares than “people coming out of closets with knives and women with their tops off,” as Taylor puts it, there’s still plenty of wiggle room to let Spencer get as “f**ked up” as she wants.

Ma brings her terrible party to theaters on May 31.