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The Help - Octavia Spencer interview

The Help, Octavia Spencer

Interview by Rob Carnevale

OCTAVIA Spencer talks about playing the key role of maid Minny in The Help, especially as the role in the book was first written with her in mind.

She also talks about the morality behind some of Minny’s actions and what it was like to be surrounded by such a formidable ensemble cast.

Q. How flattering was it to have a character such as Minny inspired by you?
Octavia Spencer: Very flattering, you know. It’s one of those things where you then have to live up to the hype [laughs]! But Minny is a great and very, very complex character and I’m happy that I had the opportunity to play her. And, of course, under these circumstances with a good friend and a person who’s now become a good friend… with her material. So, that was pretty wonderful.

Q. When she first appeared in print form did you ever imagine that you’d end up playing her? It took [director-screenwriter] Tate Taylor going to bat for you…
Octavia Spencer: One hoped! But it wasn’t one of those things that I… well yeah I did, I’d be lying if I said otherwise, I did invest in it emotionally. So, I hoped. But I’m really glad that I did.

Q. You’re up there with the gays for being in Ugly Betty, so have you noticed a big following for The Help in America? It has a big gay following there…
Octavia Spencer: I think that there’s a huge following because gays understand what it’s like to be discriminated against, especially in our country right now where they’re fighting for their civil right to get married. So, there’s a huge following I think because there’s so many people who understand what it’s like to be the underdog. But I do a rousing show tune at the end of the movie and maybe that’s part of it too! But I do think they understand what it’s like to be discriminated against.

Q. Will we get a lot of The Help drag queens?
Octavia Spencer: Now that would be a Halloween… that will be interesting. I mean, they get to be pretty and bitchy at the same time, so it’ll be interesting! But I also think it’s about the glamour of that era for those women, especially if you’re thin because those dresses look amazing on thin bodies. So, it’ll be interesting to see… now you have me curious! Will there be a Minny?

Q. Is there anyone that you’d serve one of Minny’s pies to?
Octavia Spencer: I don’t know because I would want them to know that they were eating a Minny pie, which would mean they wouldn’t eat it!

Q. Do you think Minny is right to serve that pie? What’s the morality of this decision she makes?
Octavia Spencer: Well, I think that Minny… no, she’s not right to do it. She’s definitely not right to do it. But did it feel good in that moment? I’m sure it did. It’s one of those things that you can tell she feels remorse about in the re-telling of it to Skeeter and Aibileen. She says that she swore she’d never speak of it again and asked God to forgive her. But there is remorse because of the consequences that it could have meant for her family but obviously meant for Mrs Walters, because she was put into a home. So, no, Minny wasn’t right for doing that. I don’t think unadulterated food is the way to go. Anything dealing with crossing that line, especially when that’s your profession, is not good. But off the record, I’m really glad she did [laughs]!

Q. This is a film about courageous women. So, what was it like to be one of those courageous women in a group of such talented actresses?
Octavia Spencer: I guess all I know are really strong women, so for me it’s just kind of… it’s just a part of my DNA I think. All I know really are strong people. I think maybe the challenge would be to play someone who’s not strong. Well, actually Minny is in a lot of ways… she’s this dichotomy. To the outside world, she’s very strong but actually, in her own home, she’s not. So, I think the strength lies in Aibileen. I think she is a very strong character because she’s strong throughout. That’s a tough one to answer really.

Q. Are you pushing for a role in Tate’s new project?
Octavia Spencer: I hope so but I don’t think there’s room for one!

Q. Films like this, which are female-led, don’t come along too often. So, which female-led films have inspired you in the past?
Octavia Spencer: I don’t know that they’re female-led performances. Two of my all-time favourite actresses are Jessica Tandy and Esther Rolle, and I got to work with Sissy Spacek on this. So, Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy with Morgan Freeman is one of my favourite movies.

Read our review of The Help

Read our interview with writer-director Tate Taylor