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‘I’ll Carry Water for Steven Spielberg’: Oprah Winfrey On How She Got Her Role in ‘The Color Purple’ That Set Her On the Path to Billions

Before Oprah Winfrey became one of the most prominent figures in the entertainment business, amassing a staggering $2.5 billion net worth, her big mainstream media break was starring in a Steven Spielberg-directed film based on the best-selling book “The Color Purple.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 05: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage during Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations at PlayStation Theater on February 05, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for THR)

Her revelations about the landing the role have recently resurfaced on social media as a remake of “The Color Purple” is slated to have a 2023 Christmas holiday remake.

The Spielberg film version was controversial yet a critical hit for those involved. It raked in close to $100 million with a production budget of $15 million in 1985 and starred A-listers like Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover, and a musical score by Quincy Jones. Jones and Spielberg were both involved in the remake of the project. Winfrey serves as producer of the remake.

Oprah played the supporting role of Sofia, and she received nominations for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards – impressive for a first-time actress on her debut on the big screen. 

However, her eagerness to be part of the film stands out, as reports of her involvement in the movie initially were her offering to do mundane tasks on the set.

“I told everyone in the world, ‘I want to be in that movie. I’ll carry water for Steven Spielberg. I’ll hold a script. I’ll do anything,’…I didn’t feel that I was [worth it],” Oprah told The Hollywood Reporter’s Actress Roundtable with Julia Roberts, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, Lupita Nyong’o, and Amy Adams back in 2013.

Spielberg, seeing the potential of casting Oprah, then host of AM Chicago on ABC 7 Chicago (WLS-TV), had bigger plans for the “jittery” upcoming star.

“I didn’t know anything about acting,” Oprah said. “I’d never even been to Universal Studios. So I walked in, first scene, first day. I looked directly in the camera because that’s what you do on television. I walked in and went, ‘How you doing, Miss Celie’ and [Spielberg] went, ‘Cut! Cut! Cut! What is wrong with you?’ And I’m standing there, trembling. [I was] terrified.”

Oprah’s desire to be part of the production most likely stemmed from her love for the source material, Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name.

Oprah’s success as an actress in “The Color Purple” helped solidify her influence and popularity. In 1986, “AM Chicago” got renamed and launched as a nationally syndicated talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” 

The show became immensely successful, eventually becoming the highest-rated talk show in television history. It ran for 25 seasons until 2011 and played a significant role in shaping daytime television.

Oprah founded her own production company called Harpo Productions in 1986, which produced her talk show and later expanded to include other television programs and films. Harpo Productions became a major player in the entertainment industry, and Oprah’s production company was responsible for producing acclaimed shows like “Dr. Phil,” “The Dr. Oz Show,” and the critically acclaimed drama series “Queen Sugar.”

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