Plenty of actors have stated that playing a villain is always tons of fun. But when you’re playing a character that’s so incredibly revolting as a human being, could it be more difficult to crawl into the mind of that person? Perhaps, but there are actors like Bryce Dallas Howard who end up pulling it off without a hitch like she does in “The Help.” She takes on the role of Hilly Holbrook, a woman who’s mindset is anything but progressive. She’s the leader of the group of gullible wives in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi where she leads the charge for racial segregation against the African American housemaids.
For many people in this day and age, Hilly’s character is disgusting when it comes to her own narrow mindset. However, Bryce Dallas Howard taps into the unattractive viewpoint of the fictional character and brings her to life. During our interview with her she talks about the difficulty of dipping into her mindset, working with the rest of the cast and the similarities between African Americans during the Civil Rights movement and other groups that are going through a parallel situation.
ShockYa: Your character is kind of the villain of the piece. How did it feel like being in that skin? Was it weirdly satisfying?
Bryce Dallas Howard: Hilly didn’t fulfill any kind of fantasy film where it’s like “Ah, I just want to be a racist.” (Laughs) So it wasn’t fun in the same way as if you were playing with a bad girl or a mischievous kind of character would be. But I think there is definitely a freedom to playing someone who’s definitely not likable and definitely unappealing and you don’t have to worry about either of those things through the entire movie. I’ve had characters in the past where you need to consider those things and it’s not as fun and is not as freeing of an experience. But I think because the movie also has so much humor in it — there are very serious scenes with Hilly but there are scenes where she is being totally absurd and those were the best. Those were really fun to play.
ShockYa: Did you have to find anything to like about her?
Bryce Dallas Howard: I didn’t find anything that I liked. (Laughs) But I eventually got to a place where I realized that her, in terms of the psychology behind her beliefs, that she truly was ignorant and thought what she was doing was right. She thought she was protecting her children, her way of life, her future and her community. That was one of the most terrifying realizations that I had doing this character because before in rehearsals I’ve sort of played her like Cruella DeVille where she’s sort of this stock villain. Then I realized wait a second, there were real women who were actually like that. Why? Then I thought ‘Oh my gosh, she really thought she was right’ and then she became a real person. While yeah, it was scary, it was a really important realization for me to have.
ShockYa: Do you think people today will correlate it with what’s going on now? I don’t know if you’re referring it to some things that are going on right now.
Bryce Dallas Howard: Yes, exactly. I think this book is pretty beloved. I’m talking to people that like the books but I don’t know, there might be people that don’t. I think that people really appreciate this novel and it lands in a very compassionate place for most people. I hope that there are certain realizations that are made when people watch the movie, that’s what you kind of hope for. At the end of the day, as an actor, my job is to have a good story well-told.
ShockYa: Obviously it sounds like the author was on set quite a bit and the director is obviously from the South. How careful were you in modulating your performance and how much did you work with them in regards of ‘Is this too hard? Is this too soft?’
Bryce Dallas Howard: I worked really closely with Tate (Taylor). He had such an intimate understanding of this character that was so accurate that in moments where I was a little off, I would go to him and say ‘You just tell me exactly what I need to do.’ He was always dead-on. Kathryn (Stockett) was just incredibly supportive. I think it would’ve been really scary had she had come in, look at us like that because that would’ve been really intimidating. We would’ve been second-guessing ourselves. She was on set a lot but she was mostly there just to be really graceful, lovely, warm, kind and supportive. If she said stuff to Tate (Taylor) behind the scenes we would’ve never had known. It wasn’t like ‘Katy wants you to do it this way.’ It was never like that.
ShockYa: That’s a better way to describe it than the way Tate (Taylor) said it earlier. He was like ‘Whenever she came on set she just went into the house and then she fell asleep.’
Bryce Dallas Howard: (Laughs) I saw her on the couch taking a nap. One time I was walking past her, and I produced a movie that’s coming out later this year that’s called “Restless.” We were kind of in an intense moment in post-production while we were shooting “The Help.” So in between takes I was the person over in the corner of the house whispering ‘So what’s the next edit?’ Katy went up to me once and said ‘Bryce, you never relax. You never have fun! I always see you working, working, working.’ I was like ‘You are so balanced!’
ShockYa: Was there any other role you considered or wanted to read for?
Bryce Dallas Howard: That’s what they wanted me to read for and that’s the one I wanted to read for.
ShockYa: You just wanted to be the villain, straight-up?
Bryce Dallas Howard: Yeah, it’s an incredible part.
ShockYa: Can you talk a bit more about working with the rest of the cast like Octavia (Spencer), Viola (Davis) and the others? How was that like?
Bryce Dallas Howard: Amazing. You guys know the whole story with Octavia? She’s one of their closest friends and the character of Minnie was kind of based on her. I think Octavia being in this movie sort of represents some of the elements around this movie which is that there’s an authenticity to the experience. The fact that Tate (Taylor) directed this movie and that Kathryn (Stockett) stood by him, making sure that was going to happen. DreamWorks gave him a lot of support and he was absolutely the right director. Could a more well-known director had directed this, they could had but not as well as Tate (Taylor) was going to. Tate (Taylor) was an absolutely perfect director, and the same goes with Octavia. There’s no other actress who could’ve played Minnie like Octavia because Minnie is based on Octavia. It’s one of those things that rarely happens in Hollywood and when it does I think it really should be celebrated. Viola is just an absolute powerhouse. She’s the absolutely best actress who could’ve played the role of Aibileen. She brought a level of artistic credibility to the film that is incredibly meaningful and made us all really want to do our best because she’s pretty unreal.
Walt Disney Studios’ “The Help” is out in theaters now. Check your local theaters for showtimes