Minny and Aibileen

Minny and Aibileen – DreamWorks Pictures’ “The Help”

If you’ve had a chance to see “The Help” then you’ve met Octavia Spencer. She plays spunky Minny Jackson, the maid that has the last say in a war with her employer with one of her world-famous chocolate pies. What I didn’t know about Octavia is that she has an extensive movie and TV history and in 2009 Entertainment Weekly listed her as one of the 25 Funniest Actresses in Hollywood.  I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Octavia’s work before “The Help,” but I’ll certainly be looking forward to her future projects, because I think she’s pretty fabulous.

I was so fortunate that today I was one of ten bloggers that got the chance to interview Octavia via telephone.  We conferenced together from all over the US to spend about 20 minutes with her and we talked about everything from the controversies surrounding the film to her love of chocolate.  But first, Octavia told us about how she became Minny.

It was May of last year, some months before they started shooting, that Octavia was offered the role in the film.  Prior to that she was part of the book tour in 2009.  She hoped that she’d be considered for the part, but she also knew that an unknown actor rarely gets a lead role in a film like this, so she separated herself from the idea that it might be possible.  Still, when she was offered the role she was elated and she didn’t hesitate about taking it, even knowing they’re might be controversy.  Her only tribulation about the part was that she do the character that Kathryn Stockett created justice and that the people it represented were portrayed in a accurate manner.  Controversy doesn’t bother her.

The movie is set in  Mississippi during the 1960s

The movie is set in Mississippi during the 1960s

Octavia prepared for the role by doing research into the time period (she was born in 1972 so she had no first-hand knowledge of the era), about domestic abuse, and she worked with an acting coach.  Perhaps the most difficult part of filming a period piece is that it’s very restrictive.  Octavia said,  “I felt very confined physically, mentally, emotionally…it was just very, very restrictive…and that alone…was enough to deal with…coupled with the fact that I’m playing an abused wife or spouse.”

When asked what attributes she and Minny share, she said, ‘I am definitely feisty …Kathryn Stockett very loosely based the character of Minny on me and it’s basically my physicalities (being short and round).  She met me on a day I would say I was not really feisty, but I was completely irritable, times a thousand, so I would say my feistiness has never gotten me into trouble…I have always been the type of person who spoke up for herself, but I(‘m) not probably as cunning as Minny.”

While the movie’s storyline doesn’t follow the book exactly, Octavia believes that director/screen writer, Tate Taylor, did the best thing possible in making it a cohesive story in the time allotted.  In fact, she believes that not everything in the book translated well to the screen and some things didn’t make the final cut.  She notes, “I think it was important to keep the integrity of the overall story of the bookwhich was basically what these women set out to do together.  Because all of the story lines, things had to be sacrificed to keep the integrity of the focal point of the film. I really am pretty pleased with what he (Tate) was able to do.”

When it comes to the cast, Octavia says they were a cohesive group and a safe environment to be in the moment.  They provided a supportive place to create with no judgment and never any tension between any of the actors.  She also appreciated working with the children on set.  None of the children in the film are trained actors, all were Extras.  The little girl that played Mae Mobly as well as all the children have a special place in her heart.  In fact, “That whole cast and crew…it was just an amazing experience,” she noted.

Octavia Spencer as Minni

Octavia Spencer plays spunky Minny Jackson in the movie based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel.

Octvia graciously gave us a few insights into her personal life including the confession that she doesn’t cook.  In fact, one of her favorite parts of filming the movie was the amazing catering provided by a restaurant in Nashville called the Loveless Cafe.  The food was so good that the actors routinely showed up for lunch on the days they weren’t filming, causing the catering budget to be exceeded.  She also appreciated the hotel meals while doing press for the movie.  She’s a meatloaf and mashed sweet potato fan but she believes that chocolate is nature’s salve and that you have to have chocolate.

While she traveled to promote the film she also had the chance to meet Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers as well as First Lady Michelle Obama.  But, what inspires Octavia?  Strong families, civil and human rights, children’s right, and more.

The Help” is based on the best-selling novel of the same name so we asked Octavia what books she’s loved that she’d like to see hit the screen.   She quickly and confidently replied, “’Edgar Sawtelle. I loved…I loved it.

So what does Octavia hope people take away from “The Help?”  She replies, “...the sense of humanity and the strength of the bond that these women from culturally from different backgrounds were able to come together and basically change their community..I find it remarkable…the triumphs of the young spirit…”   

I can’t help but think she’ll get her wish.

The Help” is in theaters now – I heartily recommend seeing it.