Viola Davis, SAG winner, on “The Help,” Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell By most accounts, this year’s Best Actress race boils down to “Doubt” co-stars Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, competing on behalf of their respective films “The Iron Lady” and “The Help.” Yet choosing a frontrunner has been difficult. Davis might take home a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, but Streep answers with a Golden Globe.

Sunday night, Davis reclaimed the “lead,” so to speak, with a SAG win in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, and once again, the “Help” star appears to have Oscar’s edge.

With that in mind, we’re revisiting a conversation we had early in the Oscar season with Davis and her “Help” director Tate Taylor. We met in Atlanta, long before the film had reached theaters, and discussed Mississippi heat, Southern hospitality, and the importance of Kathryn Stockett’s novel.

Here’s SAG winner Viola Davis and her director, Tate Taylor: Whether it’s true or not, Ms. Davis, I would just love for you to tell me that I am smart, that I am kind, and that I am important.

Viola Davis: [Laughs] Oh, absolutely. You are smart, and you are kind. And you are wearing a very nice jacket. Well, I’ll take that, thank you very much. [Laughs] I need to be honest when I say that the film made me feel a little bit uncomfortable as I realized just how close this era of our nation’s history is to present day. I think in the back of our minds, we tend to say that this significant divide between the races happened oh so long ago, when that really isn’t the case.

Tate Taylor: Yes, but it’s still our history. I think Emma Stone actually said it, where in a lot of education systems in our country, this information is not taught. Emma said she basically knew about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., but had no idea about stories like this. So it wasn’t our intent to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but I think it’s great that later generations can now know about this. Absolutely. And any sort of uncomfortableness, for me, broke in this fantastic uplifting scene where Viola, your character smiles as she recalls the first child she ever helped raise. It might be the first time we see your character smile in the film, and it was like helium filling the room and lifting our spirits. Was that scene as transcendent to film?

Davis: Well, I think that the best thing Tate did was that he didn’t make “The Help” a Civil Rights movie. He made it a movie about these relationships. And I think that it the helium that you are talking about. These relationships were born in the midst of all of this strife, of all this hatred. If Tate had made it a Civil Rights movie, I don’t think that you would see the richness of these interactions because we would have played the social message rather than the complexities of what people do when they have to come together to make something work. Which is this book. Speaking of the book, because it’s so beloved, do you even need to do research outside of what Kathryn wrote?

Davis: Well, the book was the Bible for us. But also, being in Mississippi and shooting in that region helped. Tate wanted us to get there early to gain weight, to eat food. [Laughs] He kept saying, “You’ve got to be here! You have to be part of the culture!” And as an actor on a movie, that freedom to prepare is pretty rare, right?

Davis: Never. You never have that time. Usually, as an actor, you get a script and you have a day, a week, maybe two weeks to prepare. You have to just jump right in. But on “The Help,” we had almost three-and-a-half weeks of rehearsal.

Taylor: It actually used to be the standard in filmmaking. Now it’s considered a luxury, which makes no sense. Because you have these women having these really tough scenes with one another, and it means a lot that when I yell “Cut!” they can truly be friends, hang out and still play with one another. I have to ask about the book’s fan base. So many readers tackled “The Help” as part of a book club, and they’re going to turn out in droves to support, and possibly nitpick, the film. Are you prepared for that scrutiny?

Taylor: So far, we have had the pleasure of screening the film for a lot of people who have read and love the book. I’d just say to them that I loved the book, too. Kathryn and I lived in these cities and lived with these women [portrayed in the book]. And it was important, as a reader, that I stick to the book. The report so far is, “Thank you. You did it.”

Awards Alley brings you the best Oscar coverage. Click below to read our exclusive interviews with:
Harvey Weinstein
– The cast of “The Artist.”
Kenneth Branagh for “My Week With Marilyn.”
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– Producer Jim Burke for “The Descendants.”
Sir Ben Kingsley and Chloe Grace Moretz for “Hugo.”
Tilda Swinton for “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
David Fincher, Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for “The Help.”
Tate Taylor for “The Help.”
Woody Harrelson for “Rampart.”
Gavin O’Connor for “Warrior.”
Gary Oldman and Colin Firth for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”
Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody for “Young Adult.”
Steve McQueen for “Shame.”
Glenn Close for “Albert Nobbs.”
Seth Rogen and Will Reiser for “50/50.”
– Producer Grant Heslov for “The Ides of March.”

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