There’s plenty of history that’s seeped deep within the proverbial veins of America. Some of it may be great, but there’s an equal amount of awful prejudice that has been intertwined with this nation for many years. Although we got rid of segregation against minorities decades ago, we still can’t forget that part of our history. That’s where Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” comes in. The novel brings us back into the midst of the civil rights movement that brings to light how, despite the obstacles, equal rights can still be achieved.
We got the opportunity to converse with several of the stars from “The Help.” The biggest stars easily were actresses Viola Davis and Emma Stone, two of many strong women that fill out the main cast. We talked to them about the crazy amount of competition for the roles, this dark part of America’s recent history and the advice, or lack thereof, that flowed on set.
ShockYa: The book was incredibly popular when it came out. Did you read it before you did the film and did that make you want to be a part of the film?
Emma Stone: I read it after I read the script. My mom had read it and people that I knew had read it, but she’s got a better answer to that one.
Viola Davis: I actually don’t have a better answer, but I did read the book, and I absolutely wanted to be a part of it. You just want to be a part of anything that has a lot of roles for black actresses. You just don’t stumble upon it. Usually it’s maybe one, maybe two black roles in a movie, especially in a mainstream movie. I said, ‘Oh, there are roles for black actresses.’ It was a fabulous book. You’ve all read it, I’m sure, and so it was a fabulous book, but of course I was thinking as an actress and beyond when I was reading the book. I was thinking, ‘Aibileen, Minny, Yule Mae, Constantine. That’s like four all ready. They’re doing good.’ So, yeah. I said, ‘This is going to be good.’
ShockYa: Was it competitive then to actually land the part?
Viola Davis: Oh, yeah. The deprivation. The deprivation is something else, and so every black actress came out of the woodwork, who shall remain nameless.
ShockYa: That scarcity of roles that’s not perfect today, but it was so much worse in the era that the movie takes place. Were you both surprised as you dug into what that time period was like, what people went through and how bad it could be?
Emma Stone: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know if it’s my generation or if it’s just me, but I didn’t know the levels, the depths, the intricacies. I didn’t know on a day to day basis what life was like [then]. I learned a huge amount of it through this story and through even fictional. I learned a huge amount through the story and through researching the time period more, but I really hope for my generation that they will go see this movie because I don’t know that we know as much as we should about our very recent history. I mean, I remember sitting through European history. I remember sitting through –
Viola Davis: I was about to say that.
Emma Stone: …what the Romans went through.
Viola Davis: We’re not educated. It’s swept under the rug. It’s the big white elephant in the room in our culture. It’s probably a part of our hypocrisy, that we’ve had a brutal history of race, a three hundred and forty six year history. So, I mean, I’m well aware of it because I made a point of making myself well aware of it, even at a young age, in my twenties. So, I knew what the day to day life was like, and I think that if anything I hope the book, or I know the book and the movie will bring that to life. I’m going to say what I’m going to say with a grain of salt; you hope that while people are being entertained and are laughing – we as Americans just want to be entertained and part of that is to escape whatever ills are going on in our personal lives and our political lives, but I hope that people aren’t laughing and having such a good time that they miss, even within that laughter and all of that, the larger message, that it doesn’t have an impact on people. We always want to shrink from it. I find in my life that whenever I’ve shrunk from anything it’s always come back to bite me right in the behind or it always keeps that dysfunction going. There’s enough of that. I think we’ve matured enough as a culture to step away from that. So, I hope that people will take that away from the movie.
ShockYa: Do you feel like it opens up the dialogue for things that are still happening today? Maybe it’s easier because it’s set in the past, but that maybe it can open the door to discussions of our society today.
Viola Davis: I hope. I mean, I think that once Obama became president there was a sigh of relief from people, thinking that racism is over. It’s like Hilary Clinton, if she were elected president would sexism be over? I mean, come on. We all know that whatever took three hundred and forty six years of doing is not going to be undone in fifty years. It’s just not. I hope that opens dialogue with people. I think that people in general are, and I know I am – I’ll put myself in there – afraid of honest discourse. We always want to be in agreement with each other because we want to get along. Some serious things are happening in terms of classicism. The class structure in this country is so polarized. Racism. I mean, you really see it coming out with Obama being president, all of those things. You hope that it opens up a dialogue. You just hope, but what can you do. You can’t change people overnight.
ShockYa: Everyone seems like they’re in unique and different places in their careers, all the women who worked on this movie. Was there a lot of advice sharing and perspective gathering from that sort of thing?
Emma Stone: It’s so funny that’s the question.
Viola Davis: I know, because we get that question, but there was none of that. Nobody was telling anybody anything, giving anyone advice.
Emma Stone: Sissy Spacek told me to wear sunscreen.
ShockYa: Are there times where you get or want advice, or is that just our perception of what goes on?
Emma Stone: I guess sometimes, but it’s only when you seek it out, I think, that people are really willing to give advice. Like, I will say that on ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ Julianne Moore, like any time she was in my vicinity I was like, ‘Okay, if you could do this and you could do this, what –’ and the whole time she was like, ‘I don’t want to give you advice. You don’t care. You don’t want to hear from me.’ I think that would be the most obnoxious thing in the world, if people were like, ‘Let me tell you. Let me sit you down.’
Viola Davis: Yeah. ‘Back in 1980 something when I did “Sophie’s Choice”.’
Emma Stone: Does Meryl [Streep] give a lot of advice?
Viola Davis: You know what, she does not give a lot of advice. I would say that in general, but there are times that she sneaks it in. She’ll sneak it in, and you’re like, ‘Okay, you’re telling me what to do right now,’ but I would take her advice. I would take her advice if she gave it to me. But, no. I didn’t give you any advice. I didn’t give it to anybody.
“The Help” opens in theaters nationwide this Wednesday, August 10th.