“The Help”, a collaboration between lifelong friends Kathryn Stockett, who wrote the best-selling novel of the same name, and Tate Taylor, the film’s writer-director, portrays three unlikely cohorts who expose scandals and civil-rights injustices in 1960s Jackson, Miss.
The feature film is lead by a strong female cast, including Emma Stone, who plays Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan and breakout star Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny Jackson, an outspoken maid with a devilish secret.
In a video interview with ComingSoon.net, the leading lady Emma Stone, in her first major dramatic role, reveals how she stepped into character as the ambitious writer Skeeter.
“Since it’s based on a book, I felt so lucky,” said Stone in the ComingSoon.net exclusive video. “When I read a book, it’s like I know those characters and my interpretation of those characters so well. I’ve never gotten to be in a movie version of a book before, so Skeeter felt pretty fleshed out for me as a reader…there’s 120 short pages in a script; there’s 444 long pages in “The Help”. It was just so incredibly helpful because I didn’t know too many people who were 23 in 1963.”
However, for one actress, her inspiration came from real-life experience and deeply seeded raw emotions.
“These characters, like Aibileen, and Milly, and Constantine and Yule May, they’re my family,” said Viola Davis, who stars as the kind-hearted maid Aibileen. “I know those women. Those women are very specific in my history. My aunt Joyce, my mom May Alice, my grandmother…I know those women. I didn’t even have to search. I could just have emotional recall.”
The flick has already been getting Oscar buzz, so this is definitely one film you won’t want to miss. “The Help” opens this Wednesday.
PBS’ long-running staple, Sesame Street is set to launch its 42nd season September 26. But, not without a little help from its vast array of celebrity friends.
The new season, which will focus on teaching kids about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), will continue in the tradition of featuring celebrity guests stars.
Nicole Kidman, Robin Williams, Amy Adams, Naomi Watts, Mark Ruffalo, Mila Kunis, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Emma Stone are set to appear. The show will also feature spots from Conan O’Brien, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Andy Samberg and Seth Rogan among others.
Arriving in theaters this week amid a groundswell of rapturous buzz is The Help, Disney/Dreamworks’ adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel about three women living in pre-civil rights-era Jackson, Mississippi, who collaborate on a secret literary project. Much of the reason for that buzz is the film’s cast, which includes such formidable talents as Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer – all of whom are at the top of their game in the film, helping to craft a story that resonates deeply without ever succumbing to sentiment.
We sat down recently with the stars of The Help, as well as its director-screenwriter, Tate Taylor, and his childhood friend, Stockett, to talk about the process of bringing the beloved novel to life on the big screen.
Movie “It” girl of the moment Emma Stone is kind, sweet and, hey, she wanted to be a journalist as a teen so we can relate to her bigtime! We’ve always enjoyed talking to Emma, visiting her set in Ojai, California for Easy A and watching her career expand.
We’ve witnessed Emma’s great comic timing since Superbad and now, in the much anticipated drama The Help based upon the best-selling novel, Emma takes on drama featuring racial prejudice in the deep South of the 1960’s as she plays budding journalist Skeeter Phelan, a young woman who was basically raised by her family’s African-American maid. When Skeeter realizes how horribly these strong, helpful women are being treated by her friends, she sets out to interview them and tell their stories and, in the deep South, it won’t be easy!
We’re in Beverly Hills again with Emma learning that she took on the role with a lot of anxiety since Skeeter and the book were her mom’s favorites. Could she please mom and live up to the massive reader expectations for the character?
TeenHollywood: You had read the book so when they told you you got the part, what went through your mind as the biggest challenge you would have to face?
Emma: Everything! Everything about every role for me is a challenge but this was the first time I’d ever done a movie based on a book and to me it’s very, very important to live up to the character I read in my head. I called my mother first and she was obsessed with this book. She was like “Oh, you have to play Skeeter just like she is. You’ve just got to make sure Skeeter is Skeeter!”
TeenHollywood: So no pressure whatsoever (we laugh).
Emma: There was that pressure. Nobody reads the scripts and if you have a movie coming out they say, “That sounds good”. Here, with this book you say “It’s from the book” and they’re like “Did you capture this nuance? Did you see how subtle this was?” It’s like everyone has read the script for this movie. But, I became possessive of the book and the characters so I can relate.
TeenHollywood: What especially drew you to want to play Skeeter?
Emma: Many, many elements of Skeeter drew me to her. I really liked her curiosity and the way she reached the conclusions that she reached. I liked that she still wanted to fit in but was different from her friends. I liked that she had a different opinion and was a modern woman in that era and wasn’t a martyr at all and did some of this stuff for selfish reasons (furthering her career). She learns these lessons in an authentic way for a girl of that time period. She wasn’t Scarlett O’Hara or a (Southern) woman like that. I loved Skeeter.
TeenHollywood: How can Skeeter have this great moral center when all the women around her are so prejudiced?
Emma: It comes from what Constantine (her family’s “help” when Skeeter was growing up) taught her. It comes from how lucky she was to have Constantine, a woman who loved her in the same way Abileen (played by Viola Davis) loves (the white child she cares for). Skeeter was lucky enough not to lose Constantine at age three and to be messed up by her mother. These women grow up and turn into their mothers. It just happens. Nurture affects you so much. You either have to overcome what your parents taught you or you become what they taught you. Constantine was her emotional guide and center to tell her she could become anything she wanted to. That’s where she gets her strength.
TeenHollywood: Do you have a favorite scene?
Emma: My favorite one was with Cicely Tyson (Constantine) when Skeeter is fifteen and sitting on the bench with her when you see who Constantine is. It gives so much depth to the entire story and why Skeeter is later writing this book and why she’s the way she is. That was such a beautiful, important scene.
TeenHollywood: If Constantine was Skeeter’s role model, who was Emma’s?
Emma: My mother has always been emotional barometer and my guidance. I was lucky enough to get to have one woman who truly helped me through everything and I think Skeeter had that same thing and how would I feel if my own mother was taken away and nobody explained it to me and nobody was telling the truth about it and I knew they were lying? I would lose my mind. I don’t know what I would do so that was always my personal connection.
TeenHollywood: You are a modern young woman so did you have to research the early 1960’s and what women were like in the South then?
Emma: I was lucky in a way because Skeeter was relatively a modern woman with, like me, the goal of having her own career in not necessarily wanting to get married and have kids at 22. I’m twenty-two so I can relate to her now. In terms to relating to that time period, she felt a bit different than her peers. I realized that Skeeter’s knowledge was relatively limited and I learned so much as that process goes on. Learning the dialect (accent) alone was huge and hard.
TeenHollywood: Skeeter wants to be a journalist. You deal with us all the time. Could you relate?
Emma: When I was a kid I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to go to school for journalism. I always seemed that journalism could be a great thing. I think that was another reason why it was exciting to play Skeeter. I get to be a journalist. I grew up loving Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolf in stuff I read. I thought it was incredible. I think we do something similar; I read scripts and you interview people and we break them down and try to get these points across. We both have a lot of interest in humanity and what makes people tick and the psychology of human beings. We’re not so different, you and I.
TeenHollywood: Skeeter wrote about injustice and something she thought needed to change. What would you write about today? What needs to change?
Emma: Addiction to notoriety; a culture of addiction to escapism and avoiding some truths. We are in a middle of another civil rights movement right now. There’s a lot. I think a lot of people are disturbed by this stuff.
TeenHollywood: What about Skeeter is unlike you?
Emma: I think Skeeter specifically, character-wise and story-wise, hit a chord with me. I just felt that I could kind of relate to her viewpoint in a lot of ways. But I don’t think I possess her bravery, which instantly made me want to play her. I think a lot of times with characters, there’s something in you that you really want to access and that you want to feel at times in your life. Her bravery may have been something that I wanted to feel in that time. That was a big draw. And even if they would only let me do craft service on the movie, it would have been great because I just think it’s such an incredible story. That struck a chord with me and with millions and millions and millions of other people.
TeenHollywood: You worked with Bryce Dallas Howard on this film and you are taking over her role in the new Spider Man movie,..
Emma: [laughing] Not taking over, just assuming it. We both play Gwen Stacey.
TeenHollywood: Did you get to talk about the role or did she give you any tips?
Emma: No. This takes place with Gwen in high school. Hers was a grown up an older Gwen. It’s not a prequel, more of a reboot.
Emma Stone is currently at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards to present the “Ultimate” award to her best friend, Taylor Swift. Check out a preview of Emma presenting the award here – we’ll have complete coverage soon!
Her ability to convey vulnerability, intelligence and naivete is what landed actress Emma Stone the coveted role of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan in the big screen adaptation of the best-selling novel, The Help. Set in Jackson during the 1960′s, Skeeter is a graduate of the University of Mississippi who has come back home, is living with her parents, is unmarried and is desperately in search of a career in journalism. Wanting to make a name for herself as a writer, she starts a secret writing project with the help of African American maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), a complex and conflicted woman who agrees to tell Skeeter the painful and potentially incendiary stories about her life raising the children of wealthy white families. As more and more maids agree to tell Skeeter about their experiences, what started off as a passing idea quickly builds an unlikely friendship that breaks societal rules and puts them at risk, changing all of their lives forever.
At the film’s press day, Emma Stone talked about getting to shoot The Help in relatively chronological order, working with Viola Davis, the horror of being in a bikini on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, staying so grounded on account of her great mother, how her friends don’t care that she’s involved with a project as high-profile as The Amazing Spider-Man, how she hopes everyone will be happy with the way that story is told and translated for the screen, and how she’s been taking a break from work since that film wrapped at the end of May.
Question: You have some really great moments with Viola Davis in this film. How did you develop the chemistry between your characters, Skeeter and Aibileen, that sustained itself through the movie?
EMMA STONE: I think we were pretty lucky because, for the most part, we were relatively chronological in shooting. Skeeter and Aibileen don’t really know each other very well, at the beginning. They slowly get to know each other better and better, which was our experience as well, throughout the movie. It was relatively chronological, so it wasn’t that we felt the need to develop this deep, long-lasting friendship chemistry, from the very beginning.
Working with such a talented and accomplished group of actresses, did you have any conversations about your experiences with and in this business?
STONE: That’s outer perspective. That would be like people sitting around and saying, “People view me this way. How do people view you?” “They view me this way.” We’re all just people hanging out. You don’t view yourself the way that people view you, most of the time. I don’t think that’s ever really a thought because that’s put on you.
Having all these films coming out and being on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, do you feel like this is the year that’s going to change your life?
STONE: If I had a nickel . . . Let me say something. There’s nothing you can know until you know. There have been a million times in my life where that’s happened. I was like, “When I turn 13, I’m going to get my own phone line in my room and I’m going to make so many phone calls to all my friends and I’m going to be up all night talking on the phone.” And, it was exciting for two days, but the phone never rang. Then, I was like, “When I’m 16, I’m going to get a car, drive wherever I want and do whatever I want.” And, I picked up my friends for a couple weeks, and then I was like, “Oh god, I just want to say home.” There are a million things in life where people say, “This is going to happen,” or “That is going to happen,” or “Here’s how it’s going to feel.” And, pretty much, it just feels embarrassing.
I’m in a bikini on Vanity Fair, and I don’t wear bikinis in real life, but there was one set-up where they were like, “Wear a bikini because we’re in St. Bart’s,” and I was like, “Okay.” I had the stomach flu for that whole shoot and I was vomiting, so [when I look at that cover], I see the stomach flu and a really great photographer. It just feels so different than you think it would feel, and it’s so fleeting. Life will inevitably change again next year, and you’ll either be asking me that question again or you’ll be laughing that you ever asked me that question. It will just be different.
With so much success, how have you managed to stay so grounded?
STONE: I’m crazy. It’s nice that it’s not coming across so much, though. I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s the case or not. My mom and my dad never boosted me up, irrationally. They never told me, “Oh, you’re so great! Look at you go!” They said, “We’re proud of you and we’re happy you’re doing what you want to do.” But, I could drive a garbage truck and they would say the same thing, if that was my passion. I’ve just got a good momma.
When you do a project that’s as high-profile as Spider-Man, are you surprised with the interest that it brings, not just from fans, but also from your own friends and family?
STONE: It’s pretty much just you guys. My friends are always like, “Where do you want to go to dinner?,” or “What movie should we see?” They’re not really sitting around asking me about what it’s like to be in Spider-Man.
Are your friends also actors?
STONE: Some of them, yeah. I’m not Spider-Man. Maybe Andrew [Garfield] is [having that happen]. I don’t know.
What do you think will most surprised people about that film?
STONE: I don’t know. We’ll have to see. It’s that expectation thing. I always struggle with expecting anything. I don’t know what people are expecting from Spider-Man. It’s like that with The Help, too. When you are part of a movie that has a fan base already built in and it feels like everyone has read the script, which is rare because usually you know the story, as the actor, when you’re talking about this stuff, and people have just seen the movie, but it’s also that everyone has read the book or everyone has read the comics, and they come in with these expectations. You just hope that they’ll be happy with the way the story was told and the way it was translated for the screen.
With all the work you’ve been doing, have you been able to take a break at all?
STONE: We wrapped Spider-Man at the end of May, so I’ve been on a break since then. It’s been about two months.
The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, doesn’t bow until next July, but Sony has already announced plans for a sequel, scheduling it for May 2, 2014, to kick off the summer blockbuster movie season.
Sony’s decision to reboot the franchise has taken some heat since Sam Raimi’s version hit theaters less than a decade ago, and many consider those efforts (especially I and II) the definitive film version of the character. It does seem rather soon for a “reboot” of such a familiar franchise, especially if it’s going to detail the origin again. Why bother? That story is pop culture legend by now.
Trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man appeared earlier this year to mixed reactions. Some thought the trailers looked good enough, but others felt there was too much CG on display, making things seem artificial. The first-person perspective used in the trailer looked like a video game, which was distracting. Also, it seems director Marc Webb is going for a “grittier” tone in this reboot. That doesn’t seem like the best approach for a character known for his sarcasm and wisecracks.
For all the questions about the film, The Amazing Spider-Man must be scoring well with test audiences. Otherwise, why would Sony announce a sequel before the first film is even released? If history is any guide, that could mean great success for the webslinger. Paramount green-lit a sequel to their Star Trek reboot before it premiered, thanks to positive audience feedback. As they say, the rest is history.
As the young, rising star, the breakout-poised veteran actress and the big-leap-making director enjoyed a lunch of oysters, salads and seafood in town recently, they appreciated the power of personal connections and excellent timing.
Emma Stone, 22, is having her “It Girl” moment, bleached-blond and bikini-clad on the cover of Vanity Fair and seemingly everywhere else, including a spate of high-profile movies such as “Friends with Benefits,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” and next year’s “The Amazing Spider-Man.”Octavia Spencer, 39, has had dozens of roles since playing a nurse in “A Time To Kill” (1996), though she may be best-known as Constance Grady from TV’s “Ugly Betty.”
Tate Taylor, 42, has acted in various movies (“I Spy,” “Winter’s Bone”), but as a director his sole previous feature, “Pretty Ugly People” (2009), grossed a total of $6,537, according to Box Office Mojo. Yet here he was in the middle of a jampacked, 12-city tour to promote the high-prestige film of this late summer, his adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s mega-best-seller, “The Help,” which opens Wednesday.
“‘What are your intentions?'” Taylor said executives kept asking him as he pitched the movie to studios. “What that meant was, ‘You can’t be serious. You think somebody is going to pay for this huge book and let you direct it? Who the hell do you think you are?’ I guess they just thought I was this green idiot fool, and I get it.”
But he’d gotten something else as well: The novel’s screen rights. See, the genial, clean-cut Taylor has been friends with Stockett since they were in preschool together in Jackson, Miss., where “The Help” is set. He said when they spoke immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she related how much she missed the African-American woman who had raised her, and soon began work on a novel exploring the lives of domestic workers taking care of white children during the civil rights era.
After the 60th agent had rejected Stockett’s manuscript, Taylor said, she finally let him read it, “and I knew right then what she had done, and I had to be a part of it — because it made me think about the woman who raised me, and I’d never gotten behind the curtain of these women’s lives at home and what they thought, who they were.”
She gave him the film rights “a year before she even had it in print,” he said, “so I started this journey adapting it, thinking that maybe we were going to make this independent film called ‘The Help’ and maybe we could help her get a publisher if the movie’s good.”
He laughed. She didn’t need his help. Penguin released the novel in February 2009, it debuted on The New York Times best-seller list and it has been a phenomenon ever since. (It’s now No. 1 on the Times’ fiction Print & E-Books and Trade Paperback charts.)
Meanwhile, Taylor’s phone started ringing, and he wound up partnering with “Home Alone”/”Harry Potter” director Chris Columbus’ production company and striking a deal with DreamWorks. He cast his longtime friend Allison Janney in the role he said he wrote for her: Charlotte Phelan, a mother who sways with the era’s racist breezes.
He also had the perfect person in mind for the outspoken maid Minny: Spencer, a Montgomery, Ala., native who (like Janney) appeared in Taylor’s previous feature and short films and also was his longtime roommate. What’s more, Stockett had told Spencer she’d based some of Minny’s characteristics on her.
“Two were taken from me: the fact that I’m short and round, and, given circumstances, I have the ability to speak my mind,” Spencer said, recalling a rocky six-hour stretch that she, Stockett and Taylor spent together years back. “It was a perfect storm: I was on a diet, 100 pounds heavier, I don’t like to be hot, we were in New Orleans and Tate decided to take us on a walking tour of the town.”
“I kept looking at Kathryn walking behind, just tears (of laughter) rolling down her face every time (Spencer) would throw a fit,” Taylor recalled as Spencer laughed. “She’s on a diet, and I would say, ‘Let’s go to Mother’s and get fried oyster po’ boys. She’s like, ‘AHHHHHGGGGH!’ And then Kathryn just fell in love with her.”
The feeling wasn’t immediately mutual when Spencer began reading “The Help.”
“That very first line, I could tell that she was writing in a dialect, and I thought, ‘Oh, my, this is Mammy from “Gone with the Wind,”‘” Spencer said. “And I had a problem with that, because we’ve seen that — I didn’t like it then, and I would not have liked it now. And as I continued to read, I realized Kathryn wasn’t making a statement about race. She was just writing women of a certain socioeconomic status and limited education. So then after I got that little chip off my shoulder, I was able to be drawn into the story.”
Taylor also had a specific idea for the pivotal role of Skeeter, the young, fledgling journalist who elicits Aibileen (Viola Davis), Minny and the other maids to tell their stories: Joan Cusack at age 20.
Her 2011 equivalent? Stone.
“She’s self-deprecating, but she’s really smart and secure,” Taylor said as the young actress looked up from her tray of unfinished oysters with her wide, green eyes. “That’s just a tough thing to find, somebody who can laugh at themselves but is also secure, and she’s naturally funny and you root for her.”
He turned to Stone, suddenly wondering about that Cusack comparison. “You get it, right? I’ve been wondering if you were like, ‘I wish he’d quit saying that.'”
“Are you kidding me?” Stone boomed in her throaty voice. “I love her. It’s, like, the biggest compliment in the world.”
Does she see herself as a modern-day Cusack?
“I don’t see myself as anything,” laughed Stone, who grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I don’t think that anyone can accurately gauge themselves.”
Stone certainly has had ample opportunity to view herself lately. Does she think that Vanity Fair cover looks like her?
“Of course not,” she laughed. “No way. That was a million hours in hair and makeup and a really good photographer and a really talented editing team.”
It’s also a specific image: the blond bombshell in contrast to the red-haired girl-next-door image she has cultivated in movies such as “Easy A” and “Superbad” (though she’s said to be naturally blond).
“It’s playing a part,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable in a bikini.”
“And she was ill. Weren’t you ill?” Taylor said. “She had stomach flu.”
“Which I can see in the pictures,” Stone said with that deep laugh. “But they did the best they could to make me look human.”
“You look beautiful,” Spencer said.
“Thank you, Octavia,” Stone said.
“Beautiful,” Spencer repeated. “But she’s a beautiful person too. We all applaud the great group of young actors that we had on the set, and she should be held up as a model of behavior.”
Stone said she sees her newfound attention as a mixed blessing.
“The only thing I can embrace about it is the opportunities that it afforded me,” she said. “To be able to say, ‘Oh, this project is really interesting; can I go on a meeting with this person?’ and to hear yes instead of no, which for years it was no, I will never take that for granted or take that lightly. But it’s fleeting, and it ebbs and flows, and someday they’ll say no again, and I’m expecting that. So I’m trying to hold the whole thing lightly and not see it as reality, just see it as a special time.”
As for her loss of anonymity: “No, I’ll never be comfortable with that, and I think that every human being has a right to equality and a right to privacy. It’s like someone sawing the doors off of your room or something. But I haven’t really had a negative experience. I’m not getting followed or anything like that, so it’s still very livable.”
Stone said she enjoyed playing Skeeter, who brings forth the maids’ stories while exposing the society women’s hypocrisy. More troublesome, perhaps, would have been to step into the shoes of Hilly, the queen bee of the local racists played by Bryce Dallas Howard (who was Gwen Stacy in “Spider-Man 3,” the same role occupied by Stone in “The Amazing Spider-Man”).
“I always, always, always struggle with that type of character,” Stone said.
“Really?” Taylor said.
“It’s really hard for me.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Stone said. “I’m not saying it’s not in me, but it’s hard for me as an actress to access it. I don’t think I’d be very good at it.”
She’s also intimidated by — but much prefers — doing comedy, which is why her hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live” last fall was a dream come true.
“To this day the thing that scares me the most and makes me happiest is improv. Getting to go up and do improv somewhere is my favorite thing on the planet, hands down.” Stone turned to Spencer. “You’re great at that stuff.”
“I, uh, am not,” Spencer replied with a laugh.
“Nooo. I like my stuff written down.”
Stone said she has taken some improv classes at the Groundlings in Los Angeles — where Taylor also performed — but isn’t actively pursuing the craft now. “I got to do improv on ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’ and ‘House Bunny’ and ‘Superbad’ and all that stuff,” she said. “A little bit on ‘Easy A.'”
“Not on ‘The Help,’ though,” Taylor said.
“I don’t think we did too much improv on ‘The Help,'” she agreed.