In 2011, Octavia Spencer worked with director Tate Taylor on “The Help.” That collaboration earned the actress a number of awards, including an Oscar for Supporting Actress. Now, three years later, Spencer and Taylor are back together for “Get On Up,” a biopic about the life of James Brown.
In the new movie, Spencer has the crucial role of Aunt Honey. Honey isn't James Brown's mother, but she is a mother figure. It is Aunt Honey with whom Brown is left as a young man after his parents separate and his father decides that he can't care for the boy by himself.
The relationship between Aunt Honey and James Brown is something of an odd one. While she is certainly willing to take him in, she also requires that he work to earn his keep. While that may not be so odd, the type of work required might be slightly more questionable. Honey runs a brothel and James' duties mainly revolve around his getting men to come to the brothel and spend their money.
Playing the part of Aunt Honey, Octavia Spencer opts for a very clear understanding of that relationship, and also thinks that the benefits to Brown are more than simply Aunt Honey having been a motherly figure. On a recent Saturday morning, the actress spent some time talking to us about that relationship.
“She doesn't use him,” Spencer begins. Adding that, “She lets him know that if he's going to be under her roof, that he has to be a contributing member of the household. When you have mouths to feed, everybody has to contribute.” Spencer further notes that, “At the end of the day, she did take this child in, and she already had the women there that she had to take care of, and their kids. So, she could have easily said, 'No.'”
One of the things for which James Brown is well known, and which “Get On Up” depicts, is the singer's entrepreneurial side. James Brown was more than just a singer, he was a businessman and approached things differently than had been done in the past. Spencer believes that Aunt Honey may have helped Brown down that road.
“When he's brought to live with her, she lays down the law, which gives him structure – it translates basically to his becoming the entrepreneur that we see throughout the film,” she explains. Spencer also thinks that it is through the relationship with Aunt Honey that James Brown learned self-reliance. As she says, “She gave him wings, and she was happy to clip them if she had to.”
Perhaps the relationship is best described as “tough love,” but however one chooses to read it, it isn't a simple, straightforward, back and forth. In one scene in the film, when Brown needs her, Aunt Honey turns him down. Spencer views Aunt Honey's response their, a lack of money, as truthful, but watching the film, others may not be so sure.
You can see that relationship for yourself when “Get On Up” opens on Friday. It stars Chadwick Boseman as James Brown and also features Nelsan Ellis, Jill Scott, Viola Davis, and Dan Aykroyd.