Davis speaks candidly about playing a role that was assumed to be mammy-like and feeling the pressure from readers who was rooting for Oprah to get the role
In 2011 you don’t play a maid in a movie.
Or so actress Viola Davis says was the consensus of folks who pressured her to perhaps turn down a role in wildly popular The Help Movie, which was written by a white woman and directed by a white man, she said.
During a roundtable discussion with a group of press at The Ritz Carlton-Buckhead in Atlanta on Tuesday, Davis was open and honest about her experiences as she prepared to take on the role of one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, adapted for screen by Tate Taylor from Kathryn Stockett’s New York Times best-selling novel, The Help Movie opens today August 10th nationwide.
“I’m playing a maid. A black actress playing a maid in 2011. A lot of pressure,” Davis said.
“You don’t play a maid. That is something you do not do. I’m essentially playing a mammy so I felt a lot of pressure. Absolutely. Then of course pressure from the readers who wanted Oprah to play the role and saw her 70 years old and about 250 pounds… I felt a lot of pressure…but Tate said if you work from that point of pressure or fear your work is going to be crap.”
Davis is referring to Tate Taylor who took on writing the script for The Help just to help his friend Kathryn Stockett out. Stockett’s book was rejected 60 times by book agents and she was getting nowhere fast. Tate adapted the book for the screen for free, and free of any hands in the pot from Hollywood execs telling Tate just how the script should be tailored.
Davis said when she read the script it was a “no-brainer” to take on the role.
“The script struck me right away,” she said. “A lot of times people say you’ve been working so long, had an illustrious career and usually I get 3 or 4 scenes in a movie and that’s it at the most. And I work a total of 9 days, maybe. And that’s a lot… And people will say, ‘Yeah you were in that movie,’ but I was a (brief) character. This (the Help Movie) was a chance for me to develop a character to really be a part of it and a character who I could fully explore beyond taking care of babies and cooking in the kitchen for black women.”
Tate Taylor, Author Kathryn Stockett, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, all discussed their insight about the movie and the experiences of women in the south during such a turbulent time in the 60s.
The Help is about the intense relations between privileged white families and their maids. Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter (Emma Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives — and a Mississippi town — upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families.
Taylor and Stockett were childhood friends and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, where the book is based. Both grew up with single parents who had maids in the home.
During the interview, Taylor said he didn’t so much experience the negativity depicted in the film when it came to his own experiences growing up with Carol Lee, his maid he refers to as his “co-mother”.
“I didn’t experience that treatment,” Taylor said. “My mom was a ‘Celia’ and so was Kathryn Stockett’s. They were shunned by the Jackson elite. And were considered undesirable. They had a very lonely existence as single mothers. I can’t really speak to the first hand account of the horrors of the way people were treated. I focused on the love.”
In the movie, Celia Foote was a character that was treated like white trash and an outcast by Hilly and her friends.
Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny in the film, is a longtime friend of director Tate Taylor, having met him when they both worked on a film. The two eventually became roommates in LA for four years. In addition, producer Brunson Green (also from Jackson, Miss.) is also a longtime friend of both Taylor and Spencer and the three used to hang out together, occasionally with Kathryn Stockett, author of “The Help.”
So far I saw the movie TWICE and I loved it. (I will review it next week). It’s also backed by the stellar on-screen performances of Viola Davis (Aibileen), Octavia Spencer (Minny), Emma Stone (Skeeter) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly).
All I can say is Aibileen is sweet and I believe her character has characteristics of the maid Stockett grew up loving, named Demetri. Minny has a lot of sass but needs to worry about her own ass! (I can’t say anymore than that!) Skeeter is feisty and brave and you’ll want to slap the hell out of Hilly.
Stockett said she didn’t intend to write the movie to have a moral of the story at the end. She said that she’s just glad that people are talking about race, and class and unearthing these stories that have been buried for so many years.
“It’s not my role in life to teach anybody a lesson,” Stockett said. “I’m just glad somehow people are talking about this topic of race and relationships that people have somehow forgotten. I wanted people to look back and think and see how ridiculous some of those rules were.”
This movie definitely deserves an Oscar. And it’s one of the most important movies you’ll see this year. So take your husbands, and take your kids so you can have an all-important conversation with them about race and class and open dialogue about our painful history.
Win this Help Movie Pack by leaving a meaningful comment below stating why you want to see the movie. And please leave email address and the contest will run until Friday August 12th
– THE HELP t-shirt in adult female sizes of S, M, L, XL
– THE HELP pocket jotter & pen
– THE HELP fan
– THE HELP nail file/mirror