RED BAND SOCIETY: Octavia Spencer Talks Playing Nurse Jackson and What She Loves About Working on the Show (2014)

"Red Band Society"
“Red Band Society”

It is rare for a TV show to peer into a world of the and discover that many still have a love for life and a strong desire to conquer the seemingly insurmountable health obstacles they are confronted with. But in RED BAND SOCIETY, a group of teens band together vowing to fight for their health and to find a way to live their lives to the fullest. Fox’s new drama manages to showcase the moments of heart-warming connection and comedy that can come out of the most dire circumstances.

In a recent press conference call, star Octavia Spence shared what drew her to this unique television show and the surprising things she has learned so far in her role as Nurse Jackson.

Can you talk about how you became involved? Were you approached and asked to do the part?
OCTAVIA: Yes, ma’am. It’s as easy as that. I have a great team at WME. They were fielding a lot of requests for me to read a lot of stuff. I read a few pilots and I just – Steven Spielberg is my favorite director. So, when his name is on anything, of course I’m going to take it seriously. But, I was really relieved that I absolutely, positively loved the show. Everything that you experienced as a viewer, I experienced as an actor reading the material. It’s on the page. We had a brilliant director in Alphonso Gomez-Rejon, who was just nominated for an Emmy for AMERICAN HORROR STORY; Margaret Nagle, who has been nominated for countless Emmys actually for WARM SPRINGS and BOARDWALK EMPIRE. So, I just felt very, very lucky to be given such amazing material and asked to be a part of it.

When you were growing up, did you ever have any interest in nursing? Was that what appealed to you about this project?
OCTAVIA: I can’t say that it was a part of my fabric, no. What appealed to me about the project was the fact that it’s a very fresh perspective on a show set in hospital, and it’s a very fresh perspective on a show that’s centered around teens. The fact that she was a nurse might have been a drawback because I’ve played a nurse so many times. But, it’s a special project and it actually was the best pilot script that I had read. I had been offered so much and I just read that one and I just felt a connection to the work.

Are you aware of any real life programs that are similar to this?
OCTAVIA: Oh, absolutely. It was amazing to have Margaret Nagle as our writer because this is very, very much her wheelhouse. She had all of us in contact, the kids were in contact with patients. And, Dave and I and Rebecca Rittenhouse were all in contact with either doctors or nurses or just caregivers that would be able to give us a ground floor information that we should know. I think coming into it I thought I knew a lot about hospitals because, again, I’ve played a nurse a good many times, but I never played a pediatric nurse and didn’t realize that the hospitals are so different, and thankfully they are. The services that they provide are more than just even the sick. I think it’s about giving kids a well-rounded atmosphere so that they can continue to be kids. We visited several hospitals. This is very much like a town center in Los Angeles and UCLA. As we’ve been doing promotion for the show, we’ve been able to go to several hospitals all over the country. So, it’s a very unique environment. Again, it’s been life altering actually.

Were you specifically looking to do a TV series? Or was it you were looking at everything and this really stuck you?
OCTAVIA: Well, I’m an actor and I am looking for roles where I can continue to evolve, and things that are challenging and I gravitated to the roles, not necessarily television or film. It was the fact that for me the most interesting roles have been television. So it was basically just finding a project (a) that resonated with me; a group of people (b) that I wanted to work with and see every day because you also want to like the people that you work with. So, it was a win-win situation for me because I have a wonderful relationship with everyone over at DreamWorks. So, the fact that Steven Spielberg and Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank are producing this, and Fox I think is really one of the most forward thinking networks out there. So, to be a part of that family and ABC. So, it was a huge, huge undertaking to make that kind of decision. But, it’s one that you have to take seriously. So, the material had to be good and the people that I would be working with had to be people that I wanted to be working with. So, it was not any one thing. It was quite a few mitigating circumstances that made me want to be a part of this project.

Do you think people will be crying more often or laughing or maybe crying from laughing watching the show?
OCTAVIA: I think it’s going to be a bit of both. Everyone has a different path that they walk in life. It depends on whatever, however you view the world. The circumstances are definitely funny within this very serious situation. So, I was in awe when I read and I cried and I laughed a lot. I basically was really, really entertained. I think people will just run a gamut of emotions actually.

What has it been like working with a lot of younger actors. What have you been able to learn from them and maybe what have you been able to teach them as well?
OCTAVIA: Well, I’m glad that I don’t have to teach. This is an amazing group of professionals. They’re really brilliant, very hard working, very, very intuitive of young actors. You know, a lot of them have worked a lot, maybe not a lot in television, not a lot in film; but, they do have great work ethics. So, what I learn from them is to continue to enjoy the process and have that free spirit about approaching the work and to not be so rigid. I think if anything, they learn from me is about professionalism. But, again, they’re all quite professional. They show up ready to work. I feel very blessed because I feel, even though I’m the oldest person on this show, older than Dave Annable, and all the kids combined, I feel very lucky because it’s a very familial atmosphere. We are a very good unit. I feel lucky that I get to work with these guys every day.

Do you have a favorite scene so far you can share with us even if it’s somewhat vague?
OCTAVIA: The scene that I love from what you just saw is where Leo goes to talk to Charlie in the coma. It’s just one of the most grown-up. I don’t know; it was kind of transforming. I mean it didn’t matter what they were talking about, what he was saying to him, that it was about his illness. I think you could substitute your own life or your own circumstances into what he was saying. I thought it was just so beautifully done. Charlie Rowe is a young Daniel Day-Lewis; he was just amazing. Griffin Gluck, who plays our coma boy…just watching his face. It’s really hard to lie still and not blink and not move and not twitch. Every time you’re in a scene with Griffin, it just takes my breath away because he’s just so perfectly present, even though he doesn’t say a single, solitary word to us. So, that’s just, it’s my favorite scene.

Do we get to see some more of your character progression and her life outside of the hospital?
OCTAVIA: Absolutely. This show is really centered around the kids and what they do as they grow with their illnesses. The adults are kind of the glue, I think, that keeps everything together. So, yes, you will see character progression or regression. We shall see. But, definitely you’ll learn more about Nurse Jackson, and some of the other adults on the show. You’ll learn a lot about Dr. McAndrew. You’ll learn a lot about Brittany. It’s a very evenhanded show. It’s a true ensemble.

What do you love about your character the most and what makes her different from the other strong characters you’ve played in the past?
OCTAVIA: I think that there’s a mystery there. You want to know why this woman is the way she is and why she chose to be a caregiver. I think that the show of strength or what people think is strong is not necessarily the case. I think some of the strongest people are people who are quiet and not so brazen with their emotion. What’s interesting about Nurse Jackson is I think her strength comes a lot time in just her quiet moments. So, that’s what I like that you get to see a whole person and that I’ll get to grow with her as an actor. But, I think she’s just a very interesting character.

Can you talk about the diversity on the show and working with Wilson Cruz?
OCTAVIA: It’s definitely one of the most diverse series that I’ve seen on television. I think that’s wonderful because it’s representative of the world that we live in. But, I think diversity comes in the fact that you have an overweight beauty like myself being the lead of a show with Latin, Asian, African-American, gay, Jewish. I mean it’s very, very representative and it will continue to be diverse in the cast. Let me tell you something. The hospital is one of the most diverse atmospheres that you could ever be a part of. So, I’m glad that all the creatives wanted to be truthful to that. I think that’s a testament. Working with Wilson, he’s amazing. He’s an amazing talent. I’m having a great time learning from him and he’s an asset to the show. You’re witnessing something really, I call it magic in a bottle, because these kids are beautiful, obviously. You can look at them. Every last one of them is strikingly gorgeous. But, there’s so much more about who they are as people. They’re exquisitely talented. I think they’ve done an amazing job putting the right people in every single, solitary role. So, you guys are witnessing, at least I feel like I’m getting a front row seat to greatness happening. You see some talent that are going to be around for a while.

Do you think there’s any part of Nurse Jackson that you identify with more and if not, if there is any specific nurse that you pulled your inspiration from?
OCTAVIA: I can’t say that there’s any one thing. I can tell you that Nurse Jackson doesn’t suffer fools gladly and Octavia doesn’t suffer fools flatly. When I have a job to do, I do it. I can say that’s the thing for Nurse Jackson. She takes her job seriously. . .
I can’t say that there’s a specific nurse. I did have a nurse that was my point person that sort of was our guide and giving advice on just procedural and just how things are really at the hospital. But, I think Nurse Jackson is an amalgamation of all the women that have influenced my life: the quiet, the strength, all of that.

There’s a line that stood out to me in the show where one of the young patients says that it’s often believed that when you go to a hospital life stops, but it’s the opposite. I think it’s so powerful because when we go to hospitals, it’s often not for good reasons. But, the story is so heartwarming and it shows that you can find beauty in places where you feel like normally you would not find beauty. So, I’m kind of wondering if you’ve ever had an experience like that where you found beauty or happiness in a place that normally would be unpleasant.
OCTAVIA: Well, I think if you go through life and you don’t find the beauty in an unexpected place, then you really have a sad existence. I think every day that I live, I try to find the beauty in things. That’s what was one of the things that really, really resonated with me about this show. My perspective of hospitals certainly changed. I certainly value medical professionals in a way that I really hadn’t thought about before because gratefully I have my health. But, there are so many people who don’t, who have to exist in a world where they’re not at 100% as far as their physicality, definitely 100% in every other aspect, but with their health they’re not. So, you have to embrace whatever your reality is and that’s what I thought was so refreshing about this show. These kids are sick for sure. But, they are still kids. They still have the same insecurities that those kids that are healthy have. They want to be the prettiest. They want to be the tallest, the smartest. They want to be the fastest on the soccer field. I think there is beauty in that. I think there’s beauty in the fact that the caregivers are on the sidelines giving guidance. That’s what I thought was very beautiful about this show and about a lot of the children’s hospitals around the country, and the services that they provide.

At the end of the pilot, we got to see a little bit of your character’s soft side when she had all the pizzas delivered. What will we learn about your character as the season progresses?
OCTAVIA: Well, I think that it’s so interesting because there are so many series regulars on the show, largely the teens who are in the hospital. Then, Dave Annable and I are kind of like the mom and pop of the situation with Griffin Dunne being the great uncle. I think our stories unfold, I don’t know how much I can tell you except that just like in your regular life you’re not one way all the time. That would just be so dull. I think that Nurse Jackson being a woman who is taking care of people who have, some of them, very serious illnesses, there’s just no time for tomfoolery. There’s a lot that you have to do and she maintains that type of bravado, especially with the patients because you can’t give an inch sometimes, because people will probably likely try to take a mile. But, I think what you’ll learn about her as the season progresses is why she chose this line of work. You will determine whether or not she has a heart of gold or if she has a cold, cold heart, I guess. I don’t want to say too much, but I think that’s just enough.

To see how RED BAND SOCIETY manages to find the moments of joy and celebration in the midst of a hospital of sick kids and over-stressed medical staff, be sure to tune in for the premiere on Wednesday, September 17th at 9:00 p.m. on Fox.

"Red Band Society"
“Red Band Society”

%d bloggers like this: