Octavia Spencer

*Although she’s been acting professionally and consistently since her 1996 debut in “A Time to Kill,” actress Octavia Spencer, for the first time in her career, is being singled out among a cast of heavyweights as the one to watch.

You’ve seen her in everything – including such films as “Never Been Kissed,” “Big Momma’s House” and  “Coach Carter” – as well as a multitude of TV shows, from  “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “ER” to “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “NYPD Blue.”

But it’s her role as strong-willed maid Minnie Jackson in the upcoming film “The Help,” in theaters Aug. 10, that finally looks to make Octavia Spencer’s name as well-known as her face.

Viola Davis (R) and Octavia Spencer (2nd from R) in "The Help"

“The good Lord was smiling down on me,” Spencer, 39, says of this opportunity. And that just might be the understatement of the year.

Turns out Spencer has been best friends for years with Tate Taylor, the director of “The Help.”  Tate grew up in Jackson, Mississippi with Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the best-selling novel upon which the film is based.

“As Tate and I got to know each other, he would tell us about each other, and I met Kathryn just as she was putting things down on paper about the book,” Spencer told us during interviews for the film.

Soon, Spencer and Stockett grew really close as well – to the point that Stockett used Spencer as inspiration for the character of Minnie.

In the bonus audio below, Spencer (who also voiced Minnie for the audiobook) takes us back to the very moment she inspired Minnie’s voice for her friend’s best-selling novel.

Octavia Spencer on inspiring the character of Minnie in ‘The Help’ by CherieNic

Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, “The Help” follows the feisty Minnie and her more measured best friend Aibleen (Viola Davis) as they clean the houses of their bosses, not to mention serve as de facto nannies.  It goes without saying how “the help” were treated at the time.  Aibleen and Minnie work for separate families, but their struggles are the same. But the unspoken racial order of the town is threatened when one progressive white woman, Skeeter, (Emma Stone), tries to recruit Minnie, Aibleen and as many other maids as possible to tell their stories for a book.

Watch a featurette on “The Help” below.