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The Help - Tate Taylor interview

The Help, Tate Taylor

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Tate Taylor talks about some of the challenges he had to overcome to get The Help made into a film as well as why he feels more comfortable writing for and working with women.

Q. Among the many triumphs of getting this film made is bringing Octavia Spencer to the role of Minny. I mean, her character was written by Kathryn Stockett in the first place, having been inspired by Octavia, and yet you had to go to bat for her, so to speak…
Tate Taylor: Well, you’ve also got to realise that I fought for her too because it benefited me in many ways. The more of these women that I knew and trusted and loved that were in my corner, that was one less thing to not have to worry about. I knew how talented she was… I mean, can you imagine anyone else being Minny now? It could have been really taxing otherwise.

Q. Why did it take so long for the studios to produce this movie? And likewise the book in the first place…
Tate Taylor: Well, the studios other than DreamWorks didn’t want to produce it because I insisted on directing it! That’s the answer, pure and simple. And I can’t say I blame them. On paper, you just don’t let someone with limited experience such as myself go down there with a pile of money and start making a complicated ensemble piece that’s already in the Hollywood economics not a sure-fire hit. So, I was the reason and it took me being stubborn and DreamWorks studios being really cool and saying: “You know what? Let’s give it a shot!” As far as the book goes, I think the reason it took a while to get published kind of mirrors any of the negative press and criticisms that the movie and her book has gotten. It’s often from people who’ve not read it or seen it and they make an assumption of what it’s going to be based on some little log-line.

I’m sure when Kathryn was trying to get it publishing representation that the taste-makers and the power players said: “What is this? Civil rights, maids… Nope!” It took the 60th person to read it and to finally open her book and say: “Oh, that’s the backdrop and these women just happen to be maids. These are really dynamic characters who you can learn from and enjoy being with.” So, I think that’s what happened. I mean, we’re all guilty of it. Whenever I hear of a movie, the first question I ask is ‘what’s it about’? And if someone doesn’t tell me in the way that I want to hear it, and I hear a negative, I’m not going to go.

Q. So, what was it like for you making a film about such courageous women?
Tate Taylor: Well, not to take anything away from what you’ve just said but as a story-teller and as a writer I don’t really think about the sex of a character and I usually tend to always write female characters. As much as I try to have a male character, at certain points in the scene or the script it’s just flat… something is missing. If you make it a female, they have so many more challenges and they wear so many different hats. Everything is in many ways tougher, so that always makes it more interesting. I’m writing another script right now and it’s all female leads. So, I have a love of female characters and I love women… I was raised by a single mum, Octavia and I lived together for five years, so I don’t think about it. So, it was just a joy but to me it was an amazing bunch of characters and actresses together in Mississippi who happened to mostly be women. My brain doesn’t work that way.

Q. Have you noticed that your profile is rising with the success of The Help? Will it be easier to get your next script made with a cast of your choosing from the start?
Tate Taylor: Well, the only thing I’m noticing is that… it’s funny, you kind of get asked to be in this club and I would have expected that there would be all of this rich material for the picking and there just isn’t! That’s what’s been really shocking. It’s true. There’s just not a lot of great material out there, so that’s why I’m glad that I like to write and I’m glad I like to create my own. I thought it would be easier, just because I’m having some more opportunities to meet some people, but the bottom line is that people need material. So, it doesn’t matter if you have a successful film – that does not make great material materialise!

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?
Tate Taylor: Well, it’s not a female cast but a performance that I’ve often thought about in a movie during the making of The Help was Places In The Heart with Danny Glover and Sally Field. That movie really had an effect on me when I saw it and I often think about the tone and the heart and the tragedy of that.

Read our review of The Help

Read our interview with Viola Davis