In case you live under a rock (I’m not judging if you do – home is where the heart is), The Help is a New York Times Bestseller by first-time author and Jackson, MS native Kathryn Stockett. The fictional tale follows three women in 1960s Jackson, MS, who form an unlikely bond when 22-year-old Skeeter, a white woman of privilege, endeavors to publish the real, untold stories of the town’s black housekeepers who work for the white families. While working on the clandestine project, Skeeter becomes close with Aibileen, a wise, kind, and patient black maid now caring for her seventeenth white child, and Aibileen’s best friend Minny, whose short temper and tendency to speak her mind to her bosses has cost her yet another job.
Different chapters are narrated by Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, and others — so you really feel like you know each character — and it’s the kind of book that sticks with you long after you read the last chapter. Because I was so sad when I finished it, I was thrilled to learn that Dreamworks is producing it as a movie, which will hit theaters next year.
But you don’t have to wait til next year for this special treat, blog readers! A great friend of mine whom I have known for many years, Octavia Spencer, is actually starring in the film, and she has oh-so-graciously agreed to talk to us about the book and about her character, Minny Jackson.
The Lexingtonienne: The Help has obviously struck a chord with readers across the nation. What resonated with you or affected you most about this book?
Octavia Spencer: Even though it takes place during a time in our nation’s history where race relations were less than stellar, three women of different ethnicities banded together to take a stand against social injustices. The Help is a story about the complexities of relationships and a prime example of the frailties of the human condition. In my opinion, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter were heroes.
TL: For those who haven’t read the book, how would you describe the character of Minny?
OS: Minny is the one person who actually says what other people are perhaps thinking. She’s no-nonsense, opinionated, sharp-tongued, judgmental, but extremely loyal.
TL: Minny was my favorite character. What appeals to you about her? What do you not like about her?
OS: What I like the most about Minny is the dichotomy of her personal and professional lives. She lives in a constant state of bravado. But while she often speaks her mind and constantly defends herself to her employers, she is unable to do the same in her personal / domestic life.
TL: If you could spend an afternoon with Minny, what would you want to do together?
OS: I would beg her to teach me to cook!
TL: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge for you as an actor?
OS: The biggest challenge I am facing in playing Minny is the fact that she distrusts anyone who isn’t like herself: poor and black. My collage of friends crosses all racial and socioeconomic boundaries. Also, dealing with the domestic abuse will be a challenge, as it is outside of my frame of reference.
TL: What research are you doing for this role?
OS: I’ve spent countless hours watching documentaries filmed during that time period. It’s been a humbling experience.
TL: I know a lot of the details about the film are hush-hush at this point, but what CAN you tell us? Can you tell us when and where it shoots? Who else is starring? Surely you can tell me a little bit about the director…
OS: The film stars Viola Davis [as Aibileen Clark], Emma Stone [as Skeeter Phelan], and Bryce Dallas Howard [as Hilly Holbrook] and is set to begin shooting this month in Greenwood, MS. Tate Taylor [the film's director, who is also a friend of The Lexingtonienne - hey, Tate!] is a native of Jackson and is an accomplished actor, writer, and an award-winning director. He is also an AMAZING cook! Most of my favorite meals have been at his dinner table. He’s one of the reasons I have this beautiful rotund physique! This film is lucky to have him. On weekends, I’m praying that he will fire up the grill!
TL: What do you hope the film might accomplish?
OS: More than anything, my hope for the film is that it will resonate with viewers as well as the book does with readers. I also hope it “cleans house” at the box office!
Best of luck to Octavia, Tate, and producer / FOTL (Friend of the Lexingtonienne) Brunson Green… and MANY THANKS to Octavia for so kindly chatting with us!