The Help Interview
The Help Interview
Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis are three well known American actresses who star in the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help, about a young woman living in the Deep South in the 1960s, who begins to document the lives of the black maids that live in her town.

Here they, and director Tate Taylor talk to View’s Matthew Turner about their time on the film set, how America has changed over the past 50 odd years and why its important to remember the bad old days.
Tate, it seems that you have been born to make this film - could you tell us a little about how it came to be in the first place?

Tate Taylor

Well, it began with the book. Kathryn and I were about five years old and have been friends since. We were always there for each other, have always supported each other. When 9/11 happened she called me and she said, “Tate, you know the only thing which could help me feel better right now is if I could go back in time and be with Dimitri in my grandparents’ kitchen, she would tell what me to do.” And that was the woman who worked for her family for 29 years.

And she is now deceased and Kathryn became immediately grief stricken and ashamed with how she knew very little about her as a person, outside of her uniform. And as an exercise she began to write short stories in Dimitri’s voice, just rambling, guessing, where her friends were, what they talked about and she couldn’t stop, and about five years later, that became The Help.

Beyond the nostalgia of our home town, what really hit home was the relationship with Mae Mobley and Aibileen, because I had that relationship with a woman in my life. My mum was a single mum, like Kathryn’s, trying to feed and clothe me and she brought a woman into our home to basically co-raise me so my mum could work. That was when I realised that these women were such pivotal parts in my life and so many peoples’ lives and that we never we got to hear about them and who they are, outside of being in a uniform and in the kitchen, especially in movies.
Emma, your character Skeeter goes on a really enriching journey, being exposed to multigenerational, interesting women. I wonder if you related to that, as you were suddenly working with such good actresses, did you feel that Skeeter and yourself were having a kind of parallel journey?

Emma Stone

Yeah, absolutely, in many ways. Also Skeeter is learning about the truth and the reality of the every day life of these women and I was too. I felt like we were learning in tandem about that because I had been educated on the most well known stories of the civil rights era but not the day-to-day life of the ordinary woman, so getting to live in the South was so enriching for my life, not just as an actor.
It’s a character, its beautiful, its complex and I wanted every frame of the film to be packed with Mississippi...
Viola, Aibileen is such a compelling character but were there other considerations for you, in accepting and going ahead with the film?

Viola Davis

I remember playing a maid in Far From Heaven and I remember telling some friends, “I am never playing a maid again, ever.” But then Aibileen came along. I remember getting these roles in television and they were always described in the same way: ‘Late 30s to mid-40s, strong and sassy …’ or ‘Police officer, mother of two, married, strong with no vulnerability whatsoever.’ So when Aibileen came along and I saw how multifaceted and rich she was, for me it was a no-brainer.
I know that Mississippi has changed a great deal over time - but did any of you get a sense that there are some parts of the state that haven’t changed at all?

Octavia Spencer

Well I’m from the South but I venture to say that the amount of racism which is prevalent at this point in America would be on par with what is prevalent throughout the world. For Mississippi, as well as all Southern regions, it is definitely something which is part of our past, it is not something that I think didn’t play a part in making us grow as a nation, certainly as people, but it definitely helped being there to bring the story to life, for me anyway.
Would you have ever contemplated shooting it anywhere else?

Tate Taylor

No, I had to shoot it there. It’s a character, its beautiful, its complex and I wanted every frame of the film to be packed with Mississippi. All of the homes, all the buildings, those are practical, real locations which were there, except for two sets which we had to build for practical reasons. And then the love of the community. It had to be filmed there; it would have been a different film if it had been filmed anywhere else.
Emma, do you think you could ever be as brave as your character is in the film?

Emma Stone

You know what was great about a film or character like this in a different time period, is that I can say, “Yes, definitely, 100%.” I have no idea, but I would hope so and putting myself in Skeeter’s position and playing the character, I imagined it all the time, but you don’t know.
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Content updated: 18/10/2018 00:44

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