U.S. Release date: August 10, 2011
Running Time: 137 mins.
From DreamWorks Pictures comes the inspiring and poignant drama, “The Help.” Based on the critically acclaimed, No. 1 New York Times best-selling debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” boasts an illustrious ensemble cast, including, in alphabetical order, Jessica Chastain, Academy Award® nominee Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emmy® Award winner Allison Janney, Chris Lowell, Oscar® winner Sissy Spacek, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Academy Award® nominee Cicely Tyson and Mike Vogel. The film is written for the screen and directed by Tate Taylor, with Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan producing.
Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s, “The Help” chronicles the relationship between three different and extraordinary women who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk.
A remarkable sisterhood emerges from their improbable alliance, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to be crossed—even if it means bringing everyone in town face to face with the changing times.
Deeply moving, filled with humor, hope and heart, “The Help” is a timeless and universal story about the ability to create change.
As friendship is so vital to the story of “The Help,” so was friendship vital to how the film got made. Director/Screenwriter Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett, author of the book “The Help,” were childhood friends who grew up together in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1970s.
After taking five years to write the novel and facing over 60 rejections from literary agents, Stockett was close to giving up when she gave it to Tate Taylor for a read. As Taylor recalls, “I started reading the manuscript and was blown away. I was moved by the truth of the story, about these unlikely women coming together to create change in Mississippi in 1963.
I called Kathryn and just said, ‘This is fantastic. You cannot give up…this will be published. If it doesn’t, I’ll make it into a movie.’”
The authenticity of the story of “The Help” resonated with Taylor from the moment he opened the book. “This was our childhood. Kathryn and I weren’t quite raised like the characters in the book because we were raised in the ’70s. But our mothers were single moms who had to work. And they, like the women in the story, needed to get help with the children. Kathryn and I like to refer to the women who raised us as our co-mothers. Mine was Carol Lee and hers was Demitri.”
With Stockett’s blessing, Taylor, with the help of their mutual friend and producer Brunson Green, acquired the film rights to “The Help” and Taylor began to adapt the novel into a screenplay. About a year later, in 2009, “The Help” was published by Penguin Books.
Spurred by passionate word-of-mouth from readers, “The Help” stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 103 weeks, six of which were in the No. 1 spot. In the meantime, Taylor and Green embarked on a mission to set the movie up with a veteran producer.
It was only natural that Taylor would take the project to Producer Chris Columbus who had known him for some time. When Taylor asked him to read the manuscript, Columbus agreed. “I read the book and it was phenomenal,” Columbus recalls. “It was so complex and socially relevant for our time.”
Columbus was also impressed with Taylor’s screenplay and felt strongly that Taylor was the best choice to direct the project. As he explains, “Tate’s the only guy who could have directed this movie because he lived in this world; he grew up with these people. He understands every detail, every nuance. And that’s what you look for in a director.”
ABOUT THE CASTING
One of the biggest responsibilities in casting “The Help” was living up to the book readers’ expectations. Everyone who loves the book loves the characters, and the filmmakers felt a great obligation to the readers to bring them to life in an authentic way, while at the same time casting with an eye for reaching the audience who had never read the book and bringing them into the world of “The Help.”
They searched for actors who could transcend who they are as a personality and become the real, honest characters that were in the novel. Director Taylor says, “When we were looking for actors, I was looking at how they talked, the way they moved…and these actresses just have such great body language that I swear they could be in Jackson, Mississippi. That really guided me a lot of the way. It’s just a regional authenticity.”
In many ways the character Aibileen is the heart and soul of “The Help.” She is also perhaps the most complex and conflicted of the women. For this all-important role, the filmmakers were thrilled when two-time Tony Award® winner and Academy Award® nominee Viola Davis read Tate Taylor’s screenplay and accepted the role. However, it wasn’t an easy process to lock her down.
As producer Brunson Green recalls, “Tate loved Viola so much and rightfully so; she’s the perfect Aibileen. But we weren’t certain that we could get her for the role because there were a few scheduling problems and she was committed to starring on Broadway in ‘Fences,’ for which she won the Tony Award®. But we waited for her.”
And Taylor couldn’t be happier about how it turned out. “Viola is just power,” says Taylor. “She brings such a truthfulness to the role. The role of Aibileen with the wrong actress could turn into a cliché, but Viola brings a bravery to this role that will break your heart.”
“For me it felt like a movie where it wasn’t just a chance for me to create a character that was interesting and complicated but it was also a chance for me to be in a movie that illuminated a part of our history that we have a tendency to be silent about,” says Viola Davis of her heart-rending portrayal of Aibileen, the maid who agrees to reveal painful and potentially incendiary truths about her life to novice writer Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone).
“I see Aibileen as being a reluctant hero,” continues Davis. “She is just getting by after her son dies, just being invisible, until Skeeter enters the picture. And what Skeeter stimulates in her is the excitement of having a purpose; something else to drive her life, which is telling her story. I want to honor Aibileen.”
Skeeter is a character who comes from a narrow-minded small town and family, but she has the strength to change her deeply ingrained social attitudes. For Emma Stone, who was cast in the role, her character is “a bit of a misfit.” As Stone explains, “She’s someone who has never been rebellious. She’s always conformed to the rules of society. However, she begins to understand that her way of thinking is more progressive than the people in her town. This is a coming-of-age story for Skeeter.”
Bryce Dallas Howard, who portrays the malevolent Hilly Holbrook, was first introduced to “The Help” through her mother, who had read the novel. However, it was Tate Taylor’s screenplay that captured her attention. “I read the script first and just thought, oh my gosh, this is wonderful. I auditioned for it immediately. Only then did I go back and read the book.”
Howard continues, “What I find so remarkable about this story is that it really holistically depicts the time period. It’s not necessarily vilifying anyone, but rather vilifying certain mentalities and belief systems that were evil at their core. Playing Hilly has been a journey for me to understand her ignorance. She’s extraordinarily self-righteous and really believes that she knows what’s best for her family and community and preserving certain old values. Hilly believes that her cruel actions are justified even though she’s deeply and devastatingly misguided.”
Versatile, talented actress Octavia Spencer (“Dinner for Schmucks,” “Seven Pounds”) was Tate Taylor’s first choice for the dauntless Minny. “Octavia and I were roommates for four years, and Brunson, Octavia and I all ran around,” says Tate Taylor. “And since Kathryn modeled some of Minny’s traits after Octavia, we felt no one else could play her but Octavia.”
But Spencer points out that playing the character of Minny is much more complex than just displaying her own personality. “A lot of playing Minny was stripping away what is inherently me and leaving what is inherently Minny—a strong woman who lives in an oppressive environment, an abused wife and mother of five…and a good cook,” says Spencer.
Rounding out the all-star cast are Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother, Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote, Sissy Spacek as Hilly’s mother, Ahna O’Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt, Anna Camp as Jolene French and Cicely Tyson as Constantine.
MISSISSIPPI AS A CHARACTER
Director and screenwriter Tate Taylor knew from the beginning that “The Help” had to be filmed on location in Mississippi, where the story takes place. He wanted to capture the period of time in a very honest and entertaining way and that could not be accomplished on a movie studio back lot.
The producers agreed with Taylor’s premise that Mississippi itself is a character in the film, and though filming in the heat of a southern summer would be challenging, they set out to find the perfect representation of what the South looked like in 1963.
When they discovered the town of Greenwood, Miss., they knew that they had the ideal setting.
Producer Michael Barnathan says, “Greenwood is an interesting place. It is like stepping back in time. It affected the movie in a big way and I don’t think we could have made the same movie if we were shooting it somewhere else. It was inspiring to be there.”
The town provided the perfect setting to go back to the 1960s and offered the filmmakers exactly the authenticity of time and place they were looking for. Production Designer Mark Ricker (“Conviction,” “The Accidental Husband”) searched the local area for the perfect exterior locations for the characters’ homes and then created interiors that represented the feel and look of the ’60s and were true to the characters’ personalities and lifestyles.
Taylor notes, “The South is an oppressive, complicated, beautiful, tragic, loving place all in one bundle. And being there as a group, like we were in summer camp, really bled into these performances and into the film.”
“It’s about taking the audience to a time and place,” sums up Chris Columbus. “All the films that have done it well have made it feel real. And that’s what I think Tate did so beautifully.”
“THE HELP” IN THEATERS
When “The Help” opens in theaters on August 10, 2011, the audience will be treated to a moving story of hope and courage, laced throughout with large doses of humor.
Director Taylor sums up his hopes for the film’s impact on the audience: “I hope it will make people stop and consider their past and start sharing their own personal stories about what someone meant to them. It’s honoring these people, past and present, because these characters are heard and seen in this movie and that serves as a touchstone for remembrance and tribute for the people watching the movie.”
Change begins with a whisper…