Red Band Society - Ciara Bravo, Griffin Gluck, Octavia Spenser and Dave Annable
Red Band Society - Ciara Bravo, Griffin Gluck, Octavia Spenser and Dave Annable ©2014 Fox Broadcasting, photo by Brian Bowen Smith

Fox’s new dramedy Red Band Society, starring Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer (The Help), takes place at Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital, telling the story of a group of rule-bending adolescent patients and the staff who mentor them through the ups and downs of their illnesses.

For anyone thinking, ‘This sound depressing,’ I encourage you to watch it – it’s unique, moving and, at times, even funny.

Octavia came to the TV Critics tour to talk about her role as Nurse Jackson in the series, which premieres on September 17th.

With all you’ve got going on, why did you commit to a series?

Red Band Society - Octavia Spencer
Red Band Society – Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) ©2014 Fox Broadcasting, photo by Alex Martinez

Well, I got really tired of being a sex symbol. (she laughs) I wanted to just focus and work on a character that I could evolve with as an actress, quite honestly.

And it was the best pilot I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few through the years.

From page one, I was like what is this going to be? I was just moved and laughed and cried. I ran the gamut of emotions while I was reading the script.  And I think that’s very true to life.

Life isn’t all drama. Life isn’t all comedy. It’s somewhere down the middle.

And when it’s somewhere down the middle, to me it’s the most exciting and that’s what I think this show will offer, because it’s unlike any procedural hospital show.

And it’s not the typical drama, the typical comedy. It walks a fine line.

I was surprised that you would take a role in an ensemble piece instead of starring and carrying a series, were you not interested in that?

Red Band Society - Octavia Spencer, Nolan Sotillo, Zoe Levin, Griffin Gluck, Dave Annable, Ciara Bravo, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Rebecca Rittenhouse and Charlie Rowe
Red Band Society – Octavia Spencer, Nolan Sotillo, Zoe Levin, Griffin Gluck, Dave Annable, Ciara Bravo, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Rebecca Rittenhouse and Charlie Rowe ©2014 Fox Broadcasting, photo by Alex Martinez

I like ensemble pieces. I thought that perhaps I wanted to do a show where I carried it, and you know what, I like having a life outside of work, and I also like being able to have the time to develop the character.

When you are the focal point sometimes there’s not that time. I’m too old to not have a life outside of it.

Did this remind you of The Breakfast Club?

I would say that it’s definitely as complex and funny as The Breakfast Club.

What I loved about the pilot is you thought it was going to be one way and it was absolutely completely on another turn, and that’s what I think is going to be interesting about all of our journeys. I’m excited about it.

Are you still doing movies?

Red Band Society - Nolan Sotillo, Octavia Spencer, Ciara Bravo and Dave Annable
Red Band Society – Stars Nolan Sotillo, Octavia Spencer, Ciara Bravo and Dave Annable at an advance screening in Los Angeles ©2014 Fox Broadcasting, photo by Michael Becker

Yeah, absolutely, and ABC and Fox have been really wonderful. I just got off of a press junket for Get on Up and I just finished Insurgent, the second installment of Divergent.

I’m not snob, I’m an actor and I’m a character actor, so I have to be realistic about the parts that are available to me. [With this series] it’s about really and truly being a part of a show and a character that I can grow with.

Some of the most interesting characters out there for character actresses like myself are in television, so I don’t see that there’s a difference really. I think that stigma is pretty much gone.

Are you worried that the audience might not tune in because they think it’s going to be a depressing show?

Red Band Society - Griffin Gluck and Octavia Spencer
Red Band Society – Griffin Gluck and Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) ©2014 Fox Broadcasting, photo by Alex Martinez

When you think it’s set in a pediatrics hospital, [you go], ‘Oh, my God.  Sick kids. Oh, we have a downer happening.’ But I was surprised at how uplifting it was.

How did winning the Oscar change your life?

My life is still very much the same. I like a small manageable life but my career obviously has exploded. I have access to a lot of great material, and I read this pilot.

I got offered a lot of TV, but it’s a marriage so you want to be married to a project that’s brilliant, and you want to be married to people that you respect and whose work you’ve been a fan of, so that’s what I have in Margaret (Nagle, the show’s Executive Producer) and Steven Spielberg and everybody at DreamWorks and Fox.

I feel very blessed.

Octavia Spencer – Oscar Sound Clip

After the panel, Octavia was asked about the Oscar curse, where actresses sometimes found it hard to get work after winning one. Click here for her reply.