Octavia Spencer gets her first sinister leading role in the upcoming Blumhouse horror movie “Ma,” but beyond that she flips the script on one of the genre’s most long-standing and outdated stereotypes. Everyone knows the one black character in a horror movie is the first one to die, which is why Spencer naturally figured that was the character that would be pitched to her when director Tate Taylor first called her to gauge her interest in starring in a genre movie like “Ma.”
In an interview with CinemaBlend, Taylor said that “Ma” came together as a result of his desire to direct a movie about “something fucked up” and a conversation he had with Spencer in which the Oscar-winning actress told him that she was “sick of only being offered the same role and never getting to be a lead.” Taylor and Spencer are longtime friends and have worked together in films such as “The Help” and the James Brown biopic “Get on Up.” Jason Blum first brought the “Ma” script to Taylor’s attention and he immediately thought about Spencer even though the original draft was written with a white woman in the title role.
“The first thing I did is I called Octavia, and I said, ‘Would you want to be in a horror movie?'” Taylor said. “She’s like, ‘Am I the black person who gets killed first?’ I go, ‘No, you get to kill the people.’ She goes, ‘Yes.’ She goes, ‘Fuck yes, I don’t need to read it, I trust you!’ ‘Well, you’re going to read it.’ So I came back to Jason, and they were like, ‘Really?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah!'”
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The current version of “Ma” got fleshed out once Taylor and Spencer boarded the project. The one part of the original script the two disliked was that it made “Ma” a complete monster that no audience member could sympathize with, so together they made it a priority to come up with an authentic backstory for the character.
“There was no back story [in the original script],” Taylor said. “A woman buys beer and then they end up…well, the script then had their heads being chopped off and sewn on different bodies. So then I’m like, ‘Well, you got to keep it in reality, you know?’ So that was the journey. The shifts in the script came from me creating her backstory, which has empathy, and as it came in some of the scenes just had to reflect that.”
Taylor continued, “I said this needs to be about something — about trauma, and the sins of our parents and how we treat people, and then I wove that into it. For me, when movies are successful your lead is not so honorable. You relate to them, and you feel bad for them.”
Just what exactly Taylor and Spencer came up with for Ma’s backstory will be revealed when Universal opens the horror film nationwide May 31.