Octavia Spencer is a movie star. She has been for almost a decade since audiences and Oscar voters fell in love with her as Minnie in The Help.

Since then she's got two more supporting actress Oscar nominations, one of which was for a film that became another "surprise" blockbuster (Hidden Figures), ramped up her production company, acted consistently in film and television and written children's books.

She even executive produced this year's best picture winner, Green Book.

But there was one thing she hadn't done in her nearly 25 years in the business: Starred in her own film. She'd been a lead, but she'd never been first on the call sheet. Until now.

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The film that righted that wrong is Ma, a Blumhouse horror movie in which she plays a small town woman who buys beer for some local high school students and lets them party in her basement, before things take a sinister turn. It's unlike anything audiences have seen Spencer do before.

"There are only a couple of archetypes people are comfortable seeing me in. And for me, it's like, you know you might only be comfortable seeing me this way, but there are so many colours in this crayon box," Spencer, 47, said. "I want to play everything [you] don't think I can do."

She'd found herself, despite all the success, being considered for only "nurturer" or "sage" roles. She wanted to stretch.

Octavia Spencer, left, and Luke Evans in a scene from Ma. Photo / AP
Octavia Spencer, left, and Luke Evans in a scene from Ma. Photo / AP

The only reason Ma came to her was Tate Taylor, who wrote and directed The Help, but also has been Spencer's friend since they were production assistants together on A Time to Kill in 1995, dreaming about a move to Los Angeles and a career in movies.

The script Taylor saw was written for a white woman, but he thought of Spencer nonetheless.

"She had expressed to me she was frustrated," Taylor said. "She's grateful for her career but she was being offered the same thing and never the lead. Women of colour just don't get the lead unless they're a slave or a maid."

So he called his former roommate (they lived together in a mid-city Los Angeles duplex for seven years), and proposed this semi-deranged film that would be a departure for both of them.

"I said, 'Well, usually black people get killed in the first 15 minutes of a horror film'," Spencer said.

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"And he said, 'Not only do you not die within the first 15 minutes, but you actually do all the killing.' I thought, 'Okay, I'm interested.'"

McKaley Miller, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from Ma. Photo / AP
McKaley Miller, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from Ma. Photo / AP

The script needed some work, though. Ma didn't really have a motivation, she was just crazy, and Taylor changed that.

"The things that he changed weren't based on race," Spencer said. "It was just giving her a backstory, to give her a reason, in her mind, as to why she takes such a dark turn."

But ask Spencer what her dream role is and the answer might surprise you.

"I always say, the part of producer," she said. "Not only do I get to create opportunities for myself but for other people. I still live by that. And if there is something that I'm dying to do, if it's not written, as a producer, I have an option now to create it for myself."

She'd been optioning books going back to her time on The Help, but her first executive producing credit came about by accident when Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station lost US$150,000 of its US$900,000 budget.

"I put in some money and then I started making some calls to people ... I don't even know that I had the resources. I just knew that it was important for me to do," Spencer said. "We were not going to let it die on the vine, and I had just worked with people who I knew had the resources and so I called."

She got some nos, but those people regretted it and have kept bugging her for whatever else she's got.

She's got a lot on her plate right now. She's jet-lagged, for one, having just got off a plane from London where she's filming the remake of The Witches.

She's also teamed up with LeBron James to produce and star in a Netflix series about entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, as well as an AppleTV+ crime drama, Truth Be Told.

Her company, ORIT Entertainment, doesn't really have a mission statement but she knows what she's looking for.

"The truth is that I want to tell stories that allow for escapism.

" I want to tell stories that educate, that entertain, that hopefully inspire," she said.

"There are people going through a lot of things and that two hours in the movie theatre should be some type of enjoyment."

Ma opens in New Zealand cinemas on August 22.

- AP