One of the biggest surprise best-sellers of the past ten years is The Help, the first novel by Jackson, Mississippi native Kathryn Stockett. It is now one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the year. The story of the book takes place in Jackson in the early 1960’s, just before the Civil Rights era. It is told in the alternating voices of black and white female characters including two maids, one quiet and thoughtful, one impulsive and outspoken, and a naive and awkward but earnest young Southern woman just out of college. She decides to write a book with the stories of the maids of Jackson. The book was rejected 60 times before it was published, but Sockett persisted and it became an international best-seller.
But her lifelong friend believed in the book from the beginning. Actor Tate Taylor grew up with Stockett in Mississippi and he loved the book immediately. He optioned it before it was published so that by the time the big movie studios came to her with offers she explained that she had already sold the movie rights and if they wanted to make the movie Taylor would have to direct it. She knew his understanding of Jackson in the 1960’s was essential for the film. Fortunately, one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, Chris Columbus (the first two “Harry Potter” movies) agreed. He signed on as a producer to assure the studios that an experienced film-maker would be on hand. And another close friend, Octavia Spencer, the actress who inspired one of the key characters, the irrepressible Minny, was cast in the role.
I could not have been luckier in making my very first-ever visit to a movie set a trip to Mississippi eleven months ago to see the filming of “The Help.” And I am thrilled to be able to bring you the insights and interviews from my trip, including comments from Taylor, Columbus, Spencer, and co-stars Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Emma Stone, beginning Monday, July 11.