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Monday, August 01, 2011

The Cast From 'The Help' Talks About Hollywood, Roles & Other Important Things

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A period drama set amid the explosive racial politics of the 1960s South. An all-female ensemble cast. An inexperienced director.

It sounds like a recipe for a movie that would send studio executives running. Yet “The Help” — a complex tale of white women and their relationships with the black maids who clean their houses and care for their children — didn’t just get made. Arriving in theaters Aug. 10, the DreamWorks film is vying for the attention of audiences more interested in substantive fare as Hollywood begins to shake off the popcorn movies of summer.

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel, the film project had one thing going for it: the book’s popularity. Reviewers loved it, and readers couldn’t finish it fast enough; it stayed atop bestseller lists for close to two years.

Still, there were prominent detractors. Some critics carped about a white author writing in a black dialect for a pair of maids who serve as two of the book’s three narrators. Others felt the white narrator — an idealistic college grad named Skeeter Phelan, who persuades the black maids of Jackson, Miss., to tell their stories to her and causes a sensation when she publishes their tales anonymously — was too much of a savior.

Before the novel hit big, Stockett’s childhood friend Tate Taylor — a white, Southern actor who wrote and directed the 2008 indie “Pretty Ugly People” — optioned the work, determined to direct the film himself. When Hollywood came calling, trying to take the property away, he held on tight, set to work on a script and enlisted the support of producer Chris Columbus to make the movie. DreamWorks and Participant Media came aboard, and improbably, Taylor, 42, had a greenlight.

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