Octavia Spencer Talks The Help, Kathryn Stockett, and Racism

Turning a New York Times best seller into a movie is a daunting task. No director or star of a film wants to hear, "The book was better." And Octavia Spencer, one of the stars of the new novel turned screenplay The Help, has absolutely nothing to worry about.

Getting her start as a production assistant with The Help director Tate Taylor, she has been featured in films such as Spider-Man and Coach Carter and is probably best-known as Constance Grady in Ugly Betty. Her biggest role to date as Minny in The Help, has already generated lots of Oscar buzz. 

She and director Tate Taylor sat down with us in Miami for their

South Florida stop on their press tour. Though our time was short, we

can't say it wasn't sweet.

New Times: We heard that you and Tate Taylor were roommates at one point.
Octavia Spencer: We met in 1995 when we were both PAs on A Time to Kill. We drove to L.A. together, and we would dream big dreams. Now that Daddy [Taylor] has this big paycheck, I want to be a kept woman -- maybe I'll move back in.

This film is set in Mississippi, and you were born in Alabama. Did you feel a personal connection to this film because it is set in the South?
The personal connection I felt really didn't come from my childhood. The connection I felt was that Kathryn Stockett [the author of the book] told the story from a perspective we have never heard or seen. That really resonated with me.

Your character, Minny, is a maid in the '60s who has a hard time keeping her mouth shut. Did you relate to this character at all?
The film is loosely based on my physicality. We are both short and kind of chubby. I can and have no problem speaking my mind. Most characters are very different than characters they play, but I am more dull than Minny. To get ready for the role, I did a lot of research on the time period and spousal abuse. I worked a little with an acting coach and did a lot of praying too.

Are you afraid of any backlash from residents of the South?
Hopefully when people see this movie, perhaps they will find their treatment is more on par with Milly than they thought. Jim Crow South and racism wasn't a part of my upbringing. I really experienced racism when I moved to L.A. I don't even know if it's racism or if people are just idiots. When you're in the South, if you're a woman and your car breaks down, someone will help you. No matter what your race in L.A., no one is going to help you.

This book almost didn't get published, and now it's a film with an all-star cast. Any expectations for the movie?
I think that after people see this movie, especially young people, I hope that it's a passing of the baton. Civil rights happened because youth got involved and helped break the patterns that their parents had gotten so accustomed to living. Youth have to take that stand for whatever it is socially that you are involved with. Find your inner "Aibileen," "Skeeter," or "Minny."

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