Octavia Spencer on Her Style Icons, Beauty Secrets, and Everyday Favorite Things


Michael Buckner/ Variety/Rex/Shutterstoc

For all her mega successes, we’d argue that onscreen, Octavia Spencer really hasn’t gotten a fair shake, sartorially speaking: She’s donned a midcentury maid’s uniform (The Help), dystopian hippie garb (The Divergent Series: Allegiant), and mousy secretarial layers (last year’s NASA heartwarmer, Hidden Figures). This month, Spencer, 47, returns to the big screen in The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s twisted Cold War fairy tale. Her look? Drab janitorial dresses. And in next month’s pulp thriller Small Town Crime, she’s again stuck in dowdy cardigans. Maybe that’s why in real life, the effervescent Oscar winner is all about leopard prints, spa days, and look-at-me lashes.

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The Shape of Water

Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

What’s your greatest skill?

Octavia Spencer: I’m a real armchair detective. I’ve always loved mystery novels. John Douglas at the FBI [a former unit chief and criminal-profiling expert]—I’m his biggest fan.

And shortcoming?

I’m impatient.

Where are you right now, and where would you rather be?

I just got out of a pitch meeting, changed into my pajamas, and am lying on my bed. I wish I were at [day spa] Burke Williams in their hot tub, honestly.

What do you collect?

Pale pink nail polishes, [like] Essie’s Limo-Scene (7) and OPI’s Bubble Bath.

Which pieces in your wardrobe get the most play?

I love animal prints: snakeskin, leopard print, zebra stripes. I buy every leopard-print shoe I can find (2), and every room in my house has a leopard-print pillow. What does that say about me? [Laughs]


How old were you when you had your first kiss?

My first real kiss was at 15, but I kissed a lot of boys when I was 7.

All-time favorite songs?

“Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” by Elton John, and “Easy,” by the Commodores (6).

What item of clothing do you buy over and over?

Dark denim—I always buy Torrid jeans.

A recent beauty discovery?

M.A.C’s Haute & Naughty Lash mascara (5). I used to have wonderfully thick lashes, but I started doing [extensions], and they started falling out. The only thing that makes them not look anemic is this mascara.

Any beauty secrets?

My mom’s first cousin was like a grandmother [to me]. At 65, she didn’t have a wrinkle. She would do ice-cold water on her face—never anything hot. It kept her pores very tight.

Do you have a style icon?

I gravitate toward women who look confident: the Taraji P. Hensons of the world, the Jackie Os, the Michelle Obamas (3). They seem relaxed in their own skin, like, “I just woke up like this.” You did not wake up like this, damn it!

GettyHBO + Courtesy

Whom do you talk to every day?

I would say God, but that would be crazy. [Laughs] I don’t know that there’s anybody I want to talk to every single day. I don’t know what that makes me—a misanthrope?

Do you have a Sunday ritual?

I like to get a hike in, go to Sunday school, and then get a massage.

I read that you were only home for six weeks last year! What do you travel with that reminds you of home?

A couple of Nest Fragrances’ Orange Blossom candles. Honey, it is the best smell.

Favorite movie quote?

From Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost: “Molly, you in danger, girl.” That’s my default joke with friends.

Do you have a favorite piece of art in your home?

When I was in Prague for the first time, I bought some street art that looks like a lost Van Gogh haystacks.

A great book you’re reading?

I’m in the process of rereading Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler.

What TV show accurately depicts your life?

Game of Thrones! [Laughs] I feel like a Cersei Lannister, but I’m really a Daenerys (4).

Why Dany?

She’s self-made. She was alongside the Dothraki slaves and started to learn their language. She’s a woman of the people, and I’m a woman of the people. I don’t need the throne. My husband can have the throne—but I’ll tell him what to do.

This article originally appears in the December 2017 issue of ELLE.

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