Octavia Spencer inspired her formidable character in "The Help," but the actress turned into a softy Sunday as she accepted an Oscar for the role.
"Oh, thank you," a tearful Spencer said as many in the audience rose to their feet. She expressed gratitude to her family, her colleagues from "The Help" and her native "state of Alabama" as she received the best supporting actress trophy.
The actress played tart-tongued maid Minny Jackson in the movie, which depicted Southern life as the 1960s civil rights movement unfolded. The film is based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel "The Help," and the author drew on her friendship with Spencer in creating Minny.
The two were introduced by a mutual pal, "The Help" writer-director Tate Taylor.
After the show, Spencer said her plans included "a quarter of a glass of Champagne" and celebrating with her cast mates.
"I'm just going to live in this moment because it's never happened, and Lord knows it may never happen again," she said.
Spencer saluted her co-stars, including fellow nominees Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain, and the working relationship they shared: "We just left our egos at the door and worked together as one beautiful unit. ... It was an award-winning cast," she said.
Asked about what she would tell girls who might want to follow in her footsteps, Spencer made an indirect reference to what she had earlier called her "zaftig" physique.
"I hope that in some way I can be some sort of beacon of hope, particularly because I'm not the typical Hollywood beauty," she said — then jokingly chastised the media for not contradicting her, saying, "I hear crickets" in the room.
Spencer is one of just a half-dozen black actresses to have won an Oscar in the awards' 84-year history. In the supporting actress category, Hattie McDaniel won for "Gone with the Wind," Whoopi Goldberg for "Ghost," Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls," and Mo'Nique for "Precious," while Halle Berry won best actress for "Monster's Ball."
Spencer's role as a domestic worker in "The Help," which included baking a pie aimed at vengeance, was a career change of pace.
After playing a nurse in the film "A Time to Kill," Spencer was cast as a nurse in several different TV series including "City of Angels" and "Chicago Hope," and played the same medical role in films including "Halloween II" and "Seven Pounds."
Spencer, 39, who was favored to win the Oscar, was composed enough to enjoy the company of Christian Bale, who presented the award to her.
"Thank you, academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," she said.
She also thanked Steven Spielberg for "changing my life." Spielberg's DreamWorks is the studio behind "The Help."