Opening in Boston area theaters and nationwide this week is the highly anticipated adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel, “The Help”.
Golden Globe nominated actress and rising star Emma Stone visited Boston in advance of the film’s premiere to promote it to audiences. Joining Stone was her co-star in the film, actress Octavia Spencer and the film’s director, Tate Taylor.
All three met with members of the press at Boston’s Liberty Hotel to talk about the film and it’s production.
Tim Estiloz was among the press on hand in Boston to get “one-on-one” TV and print interviews with each of the three as they told of their experiences and how the film has forever changed their lives and perspective.
“The Help” is a film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel of the same name and the film marks Taylor’s directorial debut. The film focuses on the lives of several African-American maids and housekeepers during the early turbulent days of the civil rights movement in Mississippi during the late 1950’s through the early 60’s. The maids’ story catches the attention of young Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan ( Emma Stone ) an aspiring journalist who moves back to her home town after graduating from the University of Mississippi.
“Skeeter’s” desire to tell the maids’ stories intertwines her life with those of middle aged maid Aibileen ( Viola Davis ) and fiery tempered maid Minny ( Octavia Spencer ). The result is an emotional story that explains how life in Jackson, Mississippi, and elsewhere in the south during that era, revolved around “the hired help”. However, despite the intimate confines and homes in which the black employees and their white employers live; there is always a certain distance between them because of racial lines.
The two actresses and director Tate Taylor shared their experiences about making the film and the effect it had on each of them.
Emma, what was your favorite part about playing the character of Skeeter ?
Emma: I loved the way she way was written. I liked so many elements of the character and the challenges of playing her. My favorite thing about her was that Skeeter, the character was so human. She wasn’t written ( in the script ) as a martyr or as a revolutionary. I thought she was written as a girl that really wanted her work to be published. So, the story of these women hit her like a lightning bolt and she really idealistically went to Abilene ( one of the maids in the film / book ) wanting to tell her story… even, though everyone else thinks she’s naive and nuts.
I loved that quality about her because it was so realistic and so believable. I don’t anyone would have related to Skeeter in the book or movie if she had been a holier than thou soapbox kind of character. Instead, Skeeter learns so much in the process through Abilene, Minny and the other women teaching her more than she’s ever known about this world just by being honest and telling their stories… which at the time, could’ve gotten them killed.
The point of view of this film is very unique in the way it depicts the early civil rights movement. How did this story’s perspective resonate to you as modern women; and also, you Tate as a director ?
Octavia: What resonated with me most was that it wasn’t a typical civil rights book, and ultimately a movie. It basically told a story that’s never been told from this perspective, which is the point of view of the domestic help. Usually, in stories the domestics are facilitators or relegated to being one-dimensional stock characters. However, in this story, these characters are far from being simply that.
So, for me to play a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional character is something that any actress: black, white or latina… because there aren’t enough roles for us to play anyway to play. Getting to play such a great character was what stuck out for me.
Tate: When I read Kathryn’s book and what I wanted to bring to the movie as it’s director was how much love could keep rising out of this turmoil and chaos. When Abilene confronts Hilly at the end of the film… in a strange way, it seems like Abilene hates Hilly; and there’s definitely a lot of frustration with her… but also, she kind of gives Hilly a gift which I think is ultimately love… by telling Hilly the truth about herself, even if it was uncomfortable for her.
That’s what kept popping out at me as I read Kathryn’s book. That love kept finding a way to surface in it’s own unique way and form despite all these atrocities.
Emma, you have the least personal connection to this story in terms of your age by not having lived during this era. How did this story affect you ?
Emma : I think the story is not so much about racism. It’s about three women coming together to make an incredibly extraordinary positive change in the world. There’s an ability for everyone to do that as human beings. It doesn’t matter what your background or what your social status is or what your financial means are… everyone has an ability to effect positive change.
In terms of what I learned about the civil rights movement, it was a great deal. To prepare for the film, we watched the incredible documentary “Eyes On The Prize” … and I might possibly have never been exposed to this part of our history or that series, had I not been a part of this movie. I am so grateful that I know, what I know now and it forms my present… and make me more aware of the civil rights movement and how recent it was… and it increases your tolerance and your intolerance of certain people’s bad behavior when you know the history.
Tate, did you as director feel you had a pressure to uphold a certain realistic depiction of the way things were in the south during that era, while at the same time make a commercially viable and entertaining movie ?
Tate : We laid out a certain time and place where things happened, but we could have gone much further in showing examples of the hatred and the violence. However, I think that while showing those things are important; on film, we’ve already seen that depiction in other stories. As a filmmaker, I wanted to bring something new to this discussion… the relationship between Abilene and Minny, and Skeeter, this ( idealistic ) white girl who is so clueless and sheltered to racism. Skeeter doesn’t really understand what racism is and I thought that was so beautiful and fresh as part of this story.
No, I’m not saying the people shouldn’t acknowledge the awful things that happened … in fact, it’s what makes the conflict in this story work so well. We just wanted to show some new things that hopefully people haven’t thought about. I think the relationships in this movie are just beautiful.
Octavia : What’s wonderful about this movie to me is that while it takes place during the civil rights movement, it was a pivotal time in our nation’s history… and sometimes, in order to tell a story and show us where we are today, we have to take a glance at our past. I think the best way to do that is to put fictitious characters into a real setting and see what could have happened, what might have happened.
I think Tate is right in saying we’ve seen the stories about the violence of that time and those stories have already been told. What we haven’t seen told until now, via this movie, is the humanity that was present in the South.
Tate : I liked the opportunity with this film to show these women not as victims, but as people who were victims of circumstance because they had limited opportunities to put food on their families’ tables back then. But they were also smart, hilarious, funny, they bickered with each other… they were real people in a multi-faceted way. They went to church and church circle, and cooked and laughed… that’s what I liked. I like telling human stories.
Emma: This has been the most enriching press tour of my life. We’re talking about things that matter and as Americans, we need to talk about these things. Being part of this movie in general has created so much positive change in my life.
See more of Tim’s interviews, reviews and videos at : www.TimEstiloz.com