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THE HELP

Casting "The Help"
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.”

Producer Michael Barnathan confirms, "Tate didn't want a ‘Hollywoodized' version of the South. He wanted to have it feel authentic. So that was his gauge for assessing the actresses.”

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 allimportant role, the filmmakers were thrilled when two-time Tony Award® winner and Academy Award® nominee Viola Davis ("Doubt,” "Eat Pray Love”) 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, "We loved Viola and rightfully so. She subtlely conveys the strength of the character, which made her the perfect Aibileen. We weren't certain that we could get her for the role, since she was committed to her Tony Award®–winning role on Broadway's ‘Fences,' but timing was on our side and everything fell into place.”

"Viola is just power. She brings such 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.” —Tate Taylor, director

"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 tell novice writer Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) the painful and potentially incendiary stories about her life.

"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.”

Emma Stone ("Easy A,” "Zombieland”) was a hands-down favorite to portray Skeeter Phelan primarily due to her scene-stealing vulnerability in a series of comedic movies. As Skeeter, Stone portrays an Ole Miss graduate who has come back home, is living with her parents, unmarried and desperately in search of a career in journalism.

"No one else could be playing Skeeter except for Emma Stone. Kathryn, the author, feels the same way. I met Emma and saw some of her work and it was just so obvious. She is so smart and she brings to the character of Skeeter this intelligence, a healthy naiveté, and you just root for her. You want her to win. She is the perfect underdog in so many ways. She is the swan waiting to mature,” says Taylor.

Columbus adds, "The character of Skeeter represents someone who, although she comes from a narrow-minded small town, has the ability to leave and go on and have a career. She is fighting two things in her life. She is fighting her family and her town for acceptance. Emma brings the character of Skeeter to life. Emma has a real, strong sense of naturalism and for what feels right for this character.”

Emma Stone describes Skeeter as "a bit of a misfit. Someone who has never been rebellious, she has always conformed to the laws of her society, her family, her friends. But, when it comes to writing, as time goes on, and as the story unfolds, she begins to understand that her way of thinking is more progressive than the people in her town. In a way, it's a coming-of-age story for Skeeter.”

One of the most difficult roles to cast was that of the antagonist Hilly Holbrook. "Hilly is that type of villain who has no idea that she is doing anything wrong,” says Brunson Green.

Chris Columbus agrees, "I always thought of Hilly as probably one of the most important characters to cast in the film. When I read the book and the script, she reminded me very much of Louise Fletcher's portrayal of Nurse Ratched in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' someone who wholeheartedly believes that what they are doing is absolutely right, absolutely moral. She believes in her own selfrighteousness.”

Bryce Dallas Howard ("Hereafter,” "Terminator Salvation”) isn't necessarily the first person you'd think of to portray an iconic villain, but the filmmakers all agreed that she was the right actress to portray Hilly Holbrook.

"Bryce Dallas Howard did a fantastic job. Bryce has the charisma that Hilly needs to lead. She has the positivity. But, she can also turn on the ice-cold B-word like you can't believe. It's like she is a cult leader. The audience gets to see both sides,” says Taylor.

Howard 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,” she says.

"What I find so remarkable about this story is that it really, holistically depicts the time period,” Howard continues. "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.

"My hope is that the audience will see a fully expressed character. I don't think they need to relate to her and they should never agree with her but I hope we can also see these women in this period of time in an honest way,” concludes Howard.

Viola Davis adds, "We really root for Aibileen and Minny. We all want to defeat the Darth Vaders, whoever that person is in our lives who is cruel to us. But at the end of the day, I don't know how much you can blame Hilly. I don't think that she knows what a terrible person she is. Aibileen doesn't like her, but Hilly actually helps her because she is the cause for Aibileen going to Skeeter and telling her stories.”

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.”

Spencer comments laughingly, "I think that Kathryn created Minny on the part of me that doesn't have a problem speaking up. It's not always a good thing.”

But Spencer points out that playing the character of Minny is much more c

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