The author of this best-selling novel offers insight into the story behind the movie, available on Blu-ray and DVD now
Kathryn Stockett's best selling novel The Help was adapted for the screen by her childhood pal Tate Taylor, and the film was a smash upon its release earlier this summer, staying at number one on the charts for an unprecedented four weeks in a row. That fun fact couldn't have meant less to Kathryn Stockett, though, as she doesn't follow the box office. Heck, she doesn't hardly ever go to the movies, even going as far as to almost miss out on the big Hollywood premiere of The Help. Movies just aren't her thing. She'd rather stay at home and read.
The Help is on Blu-ray, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD this week. We hooked up with Kathryn Stockett to get her thoughts on the long and winding road that her manuscript took to becoming one of the biggest surprise smash hits of the year.
Here is our conversation.
From what I understand, you're not a movie fan...
Kathryn Stockett: No, I don't go to the movies. (Laughs) I don't really care to experience all of that emotion with a bunch of strangers.
So you don't even watch movies in the comfort of your own home?
Kathryn Stockett: If I'm at home, I'm probably going to be reading. I don't know. I'm so terrible. I'm out of it. Go ahead with the rest of your question. What? Did I like the movie? Is that it?
No. Actually, I wanted to know, for someone who doesn't care for movies at all, is it at all a thrill to see yourself on the big screen? I know that would excite most people. But if you could care less about movies in general...
Kathryn Stockett: Hmm...I am in the movie. It's just a flash. I don't really like to look at myself. I'm a funny looking person. What I loved was seeing my daughter in the movie. She plays young Skeeter. She doesn't have any lines in the movie. But there is a nice long pan, where you can see her. Oh, my gosh...I just want to cry. I think that's the closest I can get to that kind of feeling.
You were staying in a house just a few miles away from the set in Mississippi while shooting took place. Did you ever get the call sheet, knowing that there were certain moments from the book that you wanted to see come to life in person?
Kathryn Stockett: Oh, totally. Yeah, yeah yeah. I did that. And I was so lazy. I would just magically appear when the lunch bell went off. I would go watch them shoot in the afternoon. There was one day when I got my ass out of bed. Because I love the scene where Sissy Spacek is in the house with Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard. She is so funny. Tate really turned what was a flat, unimportant character in the book into someone amazing. Sissy Spacek plays Mrs. Walters, which is Hilly's mother. I wanted to be there to see that. That was the first time I got chills. Before that day, It just felt like everyone was in the backyard putting on a play, on a summer day. Like you used to do as a kid. It just felt like we were playing dress-up. But that day, Sissy Spacek just walked on set and became this crazy woman. That's when I thought, "They are taking this shit seriously. This is real money. This isn't Monopoly money."
With someone like Sissy Spacek, are you aware of their background as an actress? Or is this just some woman, like you said, putting on a play in your back yard?
Kathryn Stockett: (Laughs) No. I am a huge Coal Miner's Daughter fan. I am also a big fan of Beth Henley, who is a playwright from Mississippi. She wrote a series of plays, and Sissy Spacek was in some of those. That, to me, is interesting.
Did you ever listen to some of the albums Sissy released on her own after Coal Miner's Daughter, as a solo artist?
Kathryn Stockett: No. I need to do that. I think I better check that out. She is Southern, which I love.
Now, when you would head down to set after the lunch bell rang, would you check out a scene, and give your opinion about it. Maybe if it wasn't how you envisioned it when you were writing the book? According to Tate, you stayed fairly quiet through the whole process...
Kathryn Stockett: (Laughs) You have to understand. I wrote this book in 2001. I got an agent in 2007. It was published in 2009. He shot it in 2010. So, you know, I was kind of over it. I was ready to move onto a whole different set of problems. There's only so many times you can write The Help. By the time they got around to shooting the movie, my head was back in the 1930s, writing the next one. Which I'm not finished with, by the way.
Tate told us that when we chatted with him the other day. He says that you are a little bit worried that he might not like this new book. That you haven't yet agreed to give him the rights...
Kathryn Stockett: First of all, Tate has told me, God knows how many times, that his next movie is not going to be filled with women. He needs some testosterone in the next movie he makes. My book, of course, is full of women. He is going to have to make a couple of more movies before he is even remotely interested in mine. If he likes it, you know, it's his. He knows that. It would be so much fun to do this all over again.
It sounds like he might have time to make three movies before you finish this next book. It sounds like you've been writing this one for a long time.
When I talk to a lot of writers in this day and age, they always have an actor or an actress in mind when they write certain characters. You aren't familiar with most actors. So whom do you pull your character inspirations from? Do you just imagine people from your own life, or do you cast people for roles based on individuals you've passed on the street...
Kathryn Stockett: Its sort of a different situation. Because its imagining women in the 1960s. So, when you look at a contemporary actress, it's hard to imagine her in a beehive. This basically came from scratch. Except, there is one person. And that is Octavia Spencer. I went back to her in my head over and over again, as I was writing the character of Minnie. There are so many things, like the way that Octavia moves her head. How she opens her eyes really wide when she is trying to make a point. How she can whip around really fast with her finger sticking out at you. That was the character I wanted. In her case, yeah, absolutely. When Tate and I were haggling over the film rights, I had just two requests: Film it in Mississippi. And make sure Octavia Spencer plays Minnie. He said, "Done!" They didn't do it for me. They knew that was the right thing to do, anyway.
For you, what was the importance of having the film shot in Mississippi? Besides the look and the aesthetic of it? It had to go a little deeper than that for you...
Kathryn Stockett: It was a deal breaker, yeah. It's where my heart is. I grew up there. You love it, you hate it, you make fun of it, yet you long for it at the same time. It sickened me to think that some Hollywood type would make this up in Vancouver. Where they have to rent out the box of mosquitoes. I wanted the characters to literally have Mississippi on their skin. It's hot as shit down there, and its humid. It would be hard to pull that off anywhere else. You know what? I also want to put my money back into the state where I came from.
This is the movie where every actress who went onto a talk show to promote it was carrying a jug of moonshine. Did you have something to do with that?
Kathryn Stockett: Oh, yeah...We could drink some moonshine. We drank all summer. When someone would come over, they would either bring a pie or pint.
A pie or a pint? That sounds like a great name for a restaurant.
Kathryn Stockett: (Laughs) Yeah.
It has to be a relief to you that the DVD is finally coming out. Now you don't have to talk about the movie anymore.
Kathryn Stockett: I'm still talking about it, though.
But you're at the tail end of it! You said yourself, you are running out of gas. It has to be good news to see The Help finally on DVD...
Kathryn Stockett: Yeah. I don't now. This is not my world. But I think I'll get to stop talking about it after they announce The Oscars. Look, I don't really know how this works. I'm just lucky they are even including me. Most writers sign the deal, they get a check, and that's it. They never talk to you again.
I think that has to do with the history of the project, and this long standing relationship between you and Tate. I love some of the behind-the-scenes about this on the Blu-ray.
Kathryn Stockett: I haven't seen the documentary yet. Only the rough cuts. I haven't watched the little clip at the end. I am excited to see that. And they put my daughter in the movie! Isn't that the sweetest thing?
The Help is now available on Blu-ray, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD.