If the future of the James Bond franchise ends up in the hands of Lashana Lynch, then producers should consider also casting a woman as the supervillain. And put Octavia Spencer at the top of the wish list.
That may seem like a bizarre suggestion, considering the actor is best known for playing sympathetic underdogs. Her latest project, “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker,” is no exception.
The miniseries, now available on Netflix, covers the professional life of Walker, who became wealthy in the early part of the last century from selling cosmetics and hair-care products for black women.
But over the course of four fast-paced hours, “Self Made” only offers one surefire business tip: Speak loudly and carry a big stick. Better yet, a small pistol.
The first episode, directed by Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”), imagines Walker in a boxing ring, figuratively jabbing back at those who dare to get in her way, most notably a rival entrepreneur who dismissed her ability based on looks alone.
“Even in your Sunday best, you look like you just stepped off the plantation,” says Addie Monroe, a fictionalized version of real-life mogul Annie Malone, played with too-cool-for-school ’tude by Carmen Ejogo.
Walker’s counterpunches are formidable — and it’s hard to imagine any other actress delivering with them such ferocity.
When Walker’s husband (Blair Underwood) suggests that they celebrate a breakthrough with a steak dinner, she responds with a stare that could set a sirloin on fire.
A request to hobnob with wives rather than seek an audience with Booker T. Washington triggers Spencer to raise her eyebrows so high that you may need a bigger TV set to follow them.
“I didn’t come here to make sandwiches,” she says with the kind of steely grit that would compel Bond to order a triple martini. “I came to do business.”
Spencer has shown us she’s a force to be reckoned with in previous films.
In “Snowpiercer,” Bong Joon-ho’s underappreciated thriller, she channels Bruce Willis while barreling through a train in search of her son.
In “Hidden Figures,” a rah-rah tribute to the black female mathematicians who played a key supporting role in the Space Race, she stuns a condescending policeman by repairing her own broken-down car.
She won an Oscar for playing the maid in “The Help” who gets revenge on a racist socialite by adding an unspeakable ingredient to a pie.
“Self Made” ultimately wants Walker to be as beloved as those cinematic saints — and that’s too bad. The character is so much more interesting when Spencer dares viewers not to fully embrace her with open arms.
She’s a bully and a thief. Her desire to be as rich as Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller put together is overwhelming. When her exasperated husband finally cheats on her, you may find yourself wondering what took him so long.
The series could have used a few more of these moments. I could also have spent more time with Walker’s loyal daughter, Lelia, if only because she’s played with such quirky charm by Tiffany Haddish.
In one memorable moment, she dumps her two-timing husband while doing a jig on the sidewalk, a move you’d never see from Spencer. She doesn’t have to. Lifting those menacing eyebrows is a dance number all its own.
Prepare to sweat, Mr. Bond.
Njustin@startribune.com Twitter: @nealjustin