The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s surprise 2009 bestseller The Help faces a couple of potential pitfalls: the racial politics of a white woman telling the story of black domestics in Mississippi during the civil-rights movement (via a book written by a white woman and a film by a white director, Tate Taylor) and Hollywood’s traditionally poor track record of portraying the South—particularly its accents—realistically. Twenty-two-year-old Emma Stone is carrying much of that responsibility. She stars as “Skeeter” Phelan, a new college grad working on a book about the domestic-attendant class with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Against the backdrop of Jim Crow and the murder of Medgar Evers, the trio’s secret project entails real danger. It’s heavy stuff for Stone, who’s best known for comedies like Superbad, Zombieland, Easy A and the recent Crazy, Stupid, Love, but it’s a key part of a slew of upcoming films poised to make her a big star. Stone shows she has the chops for that next step in The Help, buoyed by a strong supporting cast that includes Spencer, Davis, Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Sissy Spacek. Before the film opened, The A.V. Club talked to Stone about doing right by the book’s many fans (including her mom), dealing with the film’s politics, and why she freaks out before starting any movie.
The A.V. Club: There are a lot of potential pitfalls with a movie like this, with the racial politics, portrayal of Southern life, etc. What do you think was the key to avoiding them?
Emma Stone: I think, probably, the reason why everyone wanted to be involved was, it felt like Kathryn had already written a story that didn’t fall into all those pitfalls. In terms of the storytelling, it didn’t feel like we needed to be careful to make this story not a hokey Southern tale, because she didn’t write a hokey Southern tale. The dialect was incredibly hard for me. It was a really difficult thing.
AVC: People don’t really get that there are types of Southern dialects.
ES: Yeah, by county, there’s like 14 different accents in Mississippi alone. [Laughs.] And now, present day, a Mississippi accent is different than in 1963, the way Skeeter spoke, or the way Allison Janney’s character speaks. So we had a dialect coach, which is like going to visit France and having to translate all your emotions into French, and French isn’t your first language. I had to go through that filter, so it was interesting.
AVC: What kind of stuff did she have you do?
ES: Well, she was kind of amazing. She went and met a ton of people in Jackson of all different age ranges and recorded them and sat down with them and had them tell her their life stories. She was Viola’s dialect coach, she was Allison’s dialect coach, she was mine. There were a bunch of different dialects. But she sent me four or five different people talking about their lives that I would sit and listen to, and we honed in on which one we thought would make the most sense for Skeeter, and kind of pieces from all these different accents.
AVC: Like what kinds of pieces?
ES: Have you talked to Kathryn Stockett? She’s the writer of the book and she would say, [Adopts thick accent.] “Awwn” for “on.” But Tate [Taylor]’s also from Jackson, and he says, [Less thick.] “On.” It’s funny. It’s like a puzzle, putting together your individual accent and what you grew up with or what you heard. It must be insane to be a dialect coach, to balance all that out. [Laughs.]
AVC: How much thought went into the unintentional racial politics of the movie? There’s a certain criticism: “Oh, there’s a white woman saving black people.” The book was by a white woman, the movie’s being directed by a white man. How much was that on your mind?
ES: I don’t see this as a white woman saving these maids at all. I think Skeeter’s original intention, especially in the book, is pretty self-[centered]. She’s not a martyr character at all to me. When she first talks to Miss Stein in the book, she comes up with a bunch of ideas, and Miss Stein basically says, “You’re not gonna get published. No one’s gonna find this interesting.” So Skeeter thinks of what would be the most interesting, and that would be if she could speak to the maids in the middle of the civil-rights movement. It’s kind of from a self-serving place of wanting to be published, which I completely relate to, and it seems very human and realistic to me. She’s not a revolutionary in the Junior League; she’s a girl who wants to be published.
As time goes on, she learns more and more about what’s going on, what’s actually happening in society and the kinds of changes they are making. But I think that’s through Aibileen and Minny being brave enough to be part of it. Skeeter’s an idealistic girl who is saying, [Adopts her character’s accent.] “Wouldn’t it be so exciting if I could interview you?” You know, like, “No! You’re gonna get us killed! You’re insane.” Their bravery is what ultimately makes this story even happen. Skeeter doesn’t have a story to tell until the very end, when she’s finally learned just how these women have affected her. I definitely don’t see her as a savior in the story at all. But it has been interesting talking to Viola and Octavia and everyone. Going into the book, they’re reading from Kathryn Stockett’s perspective, and you open with Aibileen’s dialogue. It’s written in this dialect that I can’t even believe [Laughs.] that a white woman is willing to go there, and Viola said by page two, she was completely wrapped up in it and was no longer on guard the way she was when she first started reading the book.
AVC: It’s not like Gone With The Wind.
ES: No, and I think Skeeter even says that when she calls up Miss Stein. “No one asked Mammy how she feels in Gone With The Wind.” Mammy wasn’t really much of a fleshed-out character. She was just kind of there to take care of Miss Scarlett.
AVC: You mentioned in the book that Skeeter’s trying these different ideas to Miss Stein. Was there anything else in the book that didn’t make it into the movie that you wish had?
ES: There were elements of getting to know Stuart’s family. His father in the book is a senator, and she goes over for this dinner, which is a really funny, heartbreaking scene in the book because the father is a drunk. It becomes a really interesting whole level to Skeeter and Stuart that understandably, for time and the fact that we only have two hours instead of 444 pages, that wasn’t in there. But I would’ve liked that. There was also a really interesting scene with a naked man in Celia’s backyard in the book, which is really bizarre, and you see Celia turn into a total badass, and Minny defends her. It was a really strange and interesting scene.
AVC: Did you guys shoot much more than what is in the movie?
ES: Not much more, but there are definitely some things.
AVC: Like what?
ES: Tate has explained it all to me, so I totally understand why it’s not in the movie, but there was one where Hilly kicks me out of this Junior League—it’s a real standoff—after Skeeter puts the toilets on her lawn. But I think it’s pretty much insinuated. Then there was a scene with the maids, and one of them basically sits down with me and says, “You know we hate you, right?” Which was really beautiful and interesting, and again, very realistic. All these women are like, “We don’t trust you. We don’t trust what you’re doing. Why are you here? What are you gaining from this?” Aibileen basically escorts her out, but everyone’s silently agreeing with what she said to me. I thought that was a kind of an incredible scene, and the actress was incredible, so I’m pretty bummed that that scene didn’t make it.
AVC: Did you feel especially nervous about working on this film? The other roles you’ve done haven’t matched the thematic scale.
ES: Yeah. Well, without fail, about a week before shooting anything, I’m always like, “Oh my God, I’m completely unprepared. I haven’t done enough research. I haven’t got anything right.” It’d be like taking a final or something. “Fuck, it’s so much work to get done!” [Laughs.] So it’s like the night before the final. That happens every time I’m about to start a project, as I’m sure it does to most people when they have to start a new job or something you care about a lot, or you want to do right. But the thing about Tate is that he’s insane.
AVC: You’ve talked about how big of a fan of the book your mom is. Does this feel like your first really big, “legitimate” movie in that sense?
ES: Well, the thing that’s also interesting about this is, it’s the first time I’ve ever done a movie based on a book, an adaptation. It’s so funny, because you usually get a script and you tell people what the story’s about, and they have no idea what’s going on. Whereas this, you come into it, and it seems like everyone you talk to has [Laughs.] a million opinions on the cast and the way the story should be told. Viola keeps saying this movie should be called The Big Responsibility instead of The Help, because there were so many groups of people that you wanna do right by. You want to do right by Southerners and the African-American community and the readers of the book and the people that grew up with domestics and the people who worked as domestics. There’s a million different groups that you’re trying to please and satisfy that you’re worried about not loving what comes across onscreen. You kind of have to simplify. But yes, definitely. Coming from my mom… [Sighs, then laughs.]
AVC: But you also have to know that you can’t please everybody.
ES: No. Of course, and that’s something you have to come to terms with in life, growing up, as well. With your work, you have to realize that at the end of the day, you can only do the best you can do, and you have to just live up to your own goals, if possible.
AVC: This is a good time for you, because it seems like you’re on the precipice of big things: a lot of films this summer, a blockbuster next year. To have a film where you’re having to please all these people at this juncture in your career, it seems like there would be a lot of pressure.
ES: Well, this whole world doesn’t really feel like reality. It never has. As much as I try to be present, it just doesn’t really feel like reality. It feels like a fleeting thing. I’ll remember this time and look back on it fondly, but I don’t expect it to last forever. There’s a million other incredibly wonderful girls that are much more talented than me that are out there all the time. So I’m just trying to appreciate it for what it is. But I don’t want it to take on that feeling of pressure, because I don’t know where that’s gonna get me. That’ll drive me crazy. And what’s the pressure? What is the pressure, exactly?
AVC: To succeed?
ES: But success to me is my friends and family are healthy and happy and I feel good about myself at the end of the night and I can sleep at night. I mean, being able to work on projects that I love and care about has been the greatest gift ever, and that’s been a pretty recent thing in my life. But success for me at some point will probably be having a family. [Laughs.] I don’t know how I define it.
AVC: You’ve said you want to emulate Diane Keaton, and Tate Taylor said he was looking for a “Joan Cusack at 20” type for this role, but it also seems like Sissy Spacek would be a role model for you.
ES: Yes! Absolutely. You could reach the scene, and you could never have any idea that she’s Sissy Spacek. She’s like, a mom, so down-to-earth, so relatable and human and not in her head or in her shit at all! Yeah, she’s a total role model. Because I find more and more, as time goes on, these people I meet, they are starting to become these people I look up to more and more. Like Julianne Moore, also, on Crazy Stupid Love: kids, husband, priorities straight. Or Woody Harrelson’s like that. Those are the people I really admire, and that’s success to me: being able to balance that life and not buy into it. And do the work that you want to do and makes you happy, because you’re lucky enough to do it. But if I never got a role again, I’ve got this incredible life.
AVC: And they’ve been able to work—
ES: Steadily, because they followed their hearts and because they made decisions creatively and did what was important to them. That’s the ultimate goal, is never falling into that… thing.
I have just added 59 HQ and MQ photos of Emma Stone presenting and backstage at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards from last night in Los Angeles!
Good news! Out of all the awards that Emma was nominated for at the ceremony, she went home with the “Choice Movie Actress Romantic Comedy” award for her role as Olive in “Easy A”! Congrats to Emma!
The new movie “The Help” stars Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek and Allison Janney. But the film also features a talented supporting cast; names you may not recognize just yet, but after the movie opens you will.
“The Help” is based on the bestselling novel of the same name. The book follows the lives of three very different women — two African American maids and the daughter of a prominent white family — in the 1960s who team up to change their southern town and expose the treatment of African American maids in white households.
Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer are part of the ensemble cast. The actors shot the film away from Hollywood, on location in Mississippi, where the novel is set.
“I felt from the very beginning, from my very first audition, that this was not typical Hollywood,” said Chastain. “The kidness and working with this girl (pointing to Spencer), the second I met her, I knew I had to play Celia.”
Spencer has been friends with “The Help” writer-director Tate Taylor for many years, who, in turn, has been lifelong friends with the novel’s writer, Kathryn Stockett. The actress marvels in the fact that all these friends have been able to see this project through together.
“To get to see Octavia play this role, this really dynamic woman, an amazing character, who she inspired because she’s an amazing dynamic woman, it’s really powerful,” said Chastain.
Their two characters, Celia Foote and her new maid Minny Jackson, forge a deep bond on screen. And it’s obvious the same thing happened with the cast off screen as well.
“I’ve just grown attached to these people, and I don’t know what my life would have been like had I not gotten to do it and certainly I know now what my life wouldn’t be without these women in it. So I’m really grateful for that,” said Spencer.
“The Help” opens on Wednesday, August 10.
“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!