Octavia Spencer, Kathryn Stockett on the troubles and triumphs of “The Help” – AWARDS ALLEY
By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s immensely popular novel documenting the South’s racial divide in the 1960s, opens in theaters today.
I’m opting for the former. Disney and DreamWorks have a hit on their hands, as “Help” should play extremely well with its sizeable book-club fan base. Positive word of mouth should drive patrons into theaters at a time when high-calorie summer blockbusters are giving way to meatier, mature dramas. And conversations outside of theaters following screenings no doubt will focus on the award-worthy performances given by Taylor’s cast, most notably Viola Davis (whom we interviewed here), Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard.
To anyone paying attention, it’s clear that “The Help” has only taken its first few steps in this year’s awards race, and I expect to see it running with the pack as the marathon continues.
But we didn’t dive into Oscars or awards when I sat down with Octavia Spencer and Kathryn Stockett in Atlanta. We placed our focus where it belongs — on the characters, the Southern culture, the food and the family atmosphere these artists embraced while making “The Help.”
HollywoodNews.com: Did you always have it in the back of your mind that this book would make for an excellent film?
Kathryn Stockett: Look, I didn’t think that it was going to get published. [Laughs] So I couldn’t even put it in print, much less on the screen.
HollywoodNews.com: We need to figure out how we can serve Minnie’s friend chicken in the theaters. Can you cut a deal with the chains that, instead of popcorn, they serve friend chicken, because the various cooking scenes in the film have me salivating for some home-cooked friend chicken.
Stockett: I have had more people tell me that after they saw the film, they went right out and got a bucket of friend chicken. [Laughs]
Octavia Spencer: Then chicken places need to give you some stock.
Stockett: And the funny thing is this food isn’t just in the movie. It was all over the set. I gained 15 pounds. Tate Taylor gained 35! We could have created a small human being with our weight gain.
Spencer: Yet, I lost 16 pounds from the heat. It was hot, I was sweating. But also, somebody was cooking for me every day, which was wonderful because it meant I was eating lunch on the set. I’m not a cook. I used to be a drive-thru junkie. But when you are on set, you have great caterers, so I was able to have a choice of everything. It was wonderful!
HollywoodNews.com: Kathryn, we all assume that the character of Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, is you. Are we far off?
Stockett: You know, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that there’s a little bit of me in every character, from Mae Mobley to Skeeter to even Hilly. We’ve all been on both sides at some point in our lives, the bully side and the being-bullied side. I’m not Skeeter. I was never that brave. I wrote about something 60 years later, and she wrote about it while it was still very much going on.
HollywoodNews.com: Yes, but if there’s a piece of you in each of these characters, I guess that explains why each of them feels so full formed on screen.
Stockett: I hope so. I tried my best to flesh them out.
HollywoodNews.com: How much say did you have in final casting?
Stockett: I had two requests for Tate. Film it in Mississippi and cast Octavia Spencer as Minnie.
HollywoodNews.com: Octavia, you and Tate have been friends, and even roommates, for years. Did you have to switch off from being friends to seeing him as a boss?
Spencer: Well, he was never the boss. [Laughs] He tries to boss me around. But you know, my relationship with Tate Taylor is more family than work. I don’t think it’s easy to get rid of the familial aspects. That carries over, which can be good sometimes.
HollywoodNews.com: I’d like to talk about costuming. Obviously it’s so important to character, but I’d assume the gray garments of the help that you and Viola had to wear carried a negative connotation. Or did it?
Spencer: It depends. I think that wearing the apron, looking back on the experience now, I was proud to put it on because I was portraying a character and I wore it as a badge of honor. Were it not for the contributions of countless men and women who were domestics, I don’t think I would be able to sit here and play a maid. And the beauty of Sharon Davis, an Academy Award nominee, is that she made all of those maid costumes very different. And she actually gave me a waistline, so I was very thrilled about that.
HollywoodNews.com: Are you curious to see how the film will play outside of the South, in areas where this history isn’t as ingrained in the culture?
Stockett: What actually blows my mind is the belief that this only existed in the South.
Stockett: I’ve never been in a New York City apartment that didn’t have a little bathroom off of the kitchen. Of course, they all have been converted into closets. But it wasn’t so different at a certain point in time. The South was just much slower to change.
Spencer: And more vocal.
Stockett: And yet people from North Dakota write me letters and say, “I truly had no idea this was going on.” I’m proud that I could be a part of that understanding. And then I’ll have Southerners write me and go, “Holy cow, you wrote my story!” I’m just thrilled people are talking about this topic that was off the table for the past 20 years.
Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, opens in theaters on Aug. 12.
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