Celebrated actress Octavia Spencer is busier than ever creating rich stories for the big and small screen, and we’re loving it! The Oscar-winning actress is slated to star as entrepreneur and activist Madam C.J. Walker in the LeBron James-produced Netflix project as well as produce the upcoming Coffee Will Make You Black, starring Gabrielle Union in 2020.
However, the Hidden Figures and The Help star is rounding out 2019 with a buzz and a bang thanks to her new Apple TV project, Truth Be Told, based on the 2017 book Are You Sleeping (Kathleen Barber). The series, which premieres December 6 on the streaming platform, revolves around Spencer’s character, Poppy Parnell, and brings Soul Food actors Mekhi Phifer and Michael Beach together again as the ex-boyfriend (Phifer) and husband (Beach) of Spencer’s character.
Of working with Spencer, Beach said, “I love working with Octavia—and her wigs! She’s a force—she really is a force for good. She’s always trying to get things better and make things make more sense, and for actors, it’s not necessarily simplifying things, it’s making things more complex so that we have more to play. That’s something that she always talks about, and that’s one of the things that I love about her.”
Phifer said that he’s worked with Spencer on two other projects previous to reuniting on Truth Be Told, but stated, “This is my first time being able to work as intimately as I did with Octavia. This gave us a chance to really get to know each other, and get to make things more complex, because the complexity’s what’s interesting. It’s what keeps the story driven, and keeps you intrigued, until you can’t wait until the next episode.”
Throughout the series’ eight episodes, viewers are sure to be intrigued by Spencer’s character, a headstrong yet thoughtful journalist who struggles to reconcile a decision she made some 20 years ago to demonize a teenage boy on trial for murder and garner her power as a podcaster of influence to sway public opinion against him.
As Poppy seeks to revisit the past and course correct her mistakes that have cost convicted murderer Warren Cave, played by Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul, his freedom, we witness how Poppy’s actions impact those closest to her, including her husband, Ingram (played by Michael Beach), her ex-cop ex-boyfriend, Markus (played by Mekhi Phifer), and her father, Leander, played by actor Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us, Luke Cage).
BET spoke with Spencer along with series creator Nichelle Tramble Spellman and actors Aaron Paul, Ron Cephas Jones, Mekhi Phifer and Michael Beach about past lies they’ve told, media portrayals, the inner monster we each possess, as well as their personal truth.
BET: The name of the series is Truth Be Told, but most of us are guilty of telling a lie—be it a big one or a small one—at some point in our lives. What’s your most memorable lie?
Octavia Spencer: My mom was so strict, she could see right through a lie! We have tells when we lie, so I learned early not to lie. Not to my mom!
Aaron Paul: I don’t know if I was a big liar when I was a kid, but I feel like I’m a big liar now. But like in a playful, fun way. I’m more of like a prankster. My old roommate thought the end of the world was happening because the Mayan calendar was ending, so I made him believe that meteorites were slamming into our backyard. I would dig giant craters, and he thought it was actually happening. It made the local news! No joke.
Nichelle Tramble Spellman: My report cards always said, “Nichelle tells really tall stories,” because they just didn’t want to say straight out, “Nichelle lies all the time” [laughter].” So yeah, I remember that. I think that was the beginning of storytelling. That’s what I say.
Ron Cephas Jones: I remember vividly the first really scary lie I told. I had a great relationship with my mother, and I wanted to see this girl, and I played hooky from school one day and told my mother that I had gone to school, and she ended up finding out. I felt horrified, you know, that I’d lied to her, because I probably could’ve just told her that I’d skipped school, but I was afraid because it was about a girl [laughter].
BET: To tell the truth is a powerful and freeing act. Taking a page from the series title, how would you complete this sentence: Truth be told, ___________.
Spencer: Truth be told, life is good if you see the goodness.
Paul: I’m in. Truth be told, it is impossible to follow that up. Wow! Jesus! That was just beautiful.
Spellman: Truth be told, this was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I think that this past year and a half, getting the show up and running, and writing, and the production, and everything else—I learned what I was made of.
Jones: Truth be told, it takes the journey. For me, it’s been about the journey having success later in my life and on this level. Truth be told, it’s all about the journey and not so much the destination, but enjoying and embracing the journey.
BET: One aspect of human nature that is explored in this series is the idea that we all have an “inner monster.” There’s a very powerful scene where Warren’s mother, played by Elizabeth Perkins, implores Spencer’s character, Poppy, to rethink her perception of her possibly wrongfully convicted son. Can you talk about how man’s inner monster is explored in this project and the universal struggle to keep our monsters in check?
Spellman: I’m glad you mentioned that, because that was the scene that made me understand the series and what we were dealing with, and I told Elizabeth Perkins this is the heartbeat—this is the scene that we have to actually get right, because we are exploring those things that we all know are inside of us, but we don’t present to the world. But when that monster, per se, wakes up and you can’t silence it anymore, that’s what’s going on with the Poppy character for this entire series.
Jones: My character, I’m very in tune with his monster. I think that there’s a certain level that Nichelle has already shown, and there’s so much more room there, so I can’t speak about where it’s gonna go, but I’m very much in tune with him and looking forward to seeing how much of him is going to surface.
Phifer: If we didn’t do that, we’d all be locked up by now. I think we’ve all faced so much adversity and to not just take the easy route of lashing out or being violent, or being hateful or vindictive allows you to have a certain inner peace that keeps you going.
Beach: I think as you grow, as you get older, you learn where to channel that energy. There are a lot of things that I did when I was 20 that I would never do today because you know, [I] have experience. So you kind of have to accept that about people, you know, when they’re 20 and you’re blaming them for something. You go, “they’re 20,” you know what I mean? I think that that inner monster, you’re able to handle it much more as you get more experience.
BET: In this era of media dominance and influence that we all find ourselves trying to navigate, Poppy finds herself grappling with the power of media and its ability to shape and influence public opinion so powerfully. How do you navigate the media personally?
Spencer: I don’t really follow myself in the media, because I live with me. I think that’s a very tricky thing with actors, or people whose job… the media is a big part of their job. If you start “believing” whatever it is people write about you—the good or the bad, then you’re really allowing other people to validate you as a person, and that’s just something I refuse to do.
Truth Be Told is streaming now on Apple TV+