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Guillermo del Toro

For Octavia Spencer, moving past race to play a 'regular woman' in 'Shape of Water' was refreshing

For Octavia Spencer, moving past race to play a 'regular woman' in 'Shape of Water' was refreshing

Octavia Spencer has an Oscar for her performance as the spirited Minny Jackson in “The Help,” and multiple nominations across the awards spectrum for performances in “Fruitvale Station,” as a commandeering mother, and as mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in “Hidden Figures.” But though film and TV roles keep coming, not many are custom-crafted with her specifically in mind.

“I have very few roles written for me,” says Spencer, 47. She was therefore delighted when her agent informed her that she’d been the inspiration for a part in “The Shape of Water,” which filmmaker Guillermo del Toro wrote and directed. In it, Spencer is Zelda, a cleaning woman in a government facility who works...

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