Octavia Spencer: You Can't 'Help' But Feel This Film If you are uncomfortable watching The Help, that's appropriate, says actress Octavia Spencer: "People lived this discomfort." Spencer, who plays an African-American maid in 1960s Mississippi, talks about civil rights on-screen and responds to the movie's many critics.

Octavia Spencer: You Can't 'Help' But Feel This Film

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


"The Help" is set against the Civil Rights era and the drama begins when the Junior League queen bee, Hilly Holbrooke, takes a stand against the maids using their employers' bathrooms. One of her friends defies Hilly and tries to get two of the maids, played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, to tell the world what their lives are really like.


OCTAVIA SPENCER: I got to come up with the questions, too?

NORRIS: That's Octavia Spencer playing the feisty maid named Minny and she practically steals the show with crisp dialogue and an arsenal of explosive facial expressions, and she joins me now to talk about the filming of "The Help." Octavia Spencer, welcome to the program.

SPENCER: Well, hello. And thank you for having me.

NORRIS: If you read this book, you know Minny well, but for those who haven't, could you describe this character?

SPENCER: Her inward life and her home life - she is an abused wife and mother of five.

NORRIS: But you also carry yourself in a very erect way that reflects both pride, but also a good deal of pain when you're dealing with some of the more difficult characters.

SPENCER: Absolutely. She is always standing tall when she's dealing with Hilly because she emotionally wants Hilly to know that, you know what, you're not superior to me. But when she's with Celia, I think it's just that she's relaxed and when she's with her children, when she sends her daughter off to work for that first time, that, if anything, crushes her and you definitely see the shift in her posture because now what she has dreaded more than anything - her daughter following in her footsteps - is happening.

NORRIS: And she's telling her daughter the do's and don'ts and her daughter, too, is wearing the uniform.


NORRIS: For Minny, the life that she's consigned to is like a girdle that's a few sizes too small. She can't wait to break out of it, but until then, it's just sort of cutting her up. What did you have to do to get in that frame of mind? And was it a bit disorienting to go in and out of that as you're filming during the day and then you're back in 2011, 2010 at the end of the day?

SPENCER: I did a lot of research about the time period and spent some wonderful hours talking to Miss Myrlie Evers-Williams and I watched the documentary "Eyes on the Prize." I really, basically, never really came out of the '60s. It's hard to go in and out.

NORRIS: Were you aware of that when you were filming this? And I'm wondering if you wanted, in some way, to make the film unsettling, to make sure that the audience - yes, laughed at times, but also shifted in their seats because they weren't exactly comfortable with everything they saw.

SPENCER: And the other thing is I think it's a feel-something movie. You feel as much of the discomfort and the pain that you see Aibileen and Minny endure, but also you feel proud of them and triumphant and laughter and joy and maybe a little guilt. So there is the gamut of emotions that you feel, not just the discomfort.

NORRIS: I want to give you an opportunity to address them. What would you say to them?

SPENCER: So, there are going to be people who are going to want to see this movie. There are going to be people who are sitting on the fence about seeing this movie. I would say, make your own judgment. If you haven't read the book and all you are going on is what someone else says, then are you really going to let someone else make up your mind? To not see the film at all because you think it represents something derogatory, I say then it's your loss because it's a wonderful film.

NORRIS: Octavia Spencer stars in the film "The Help." Octavia, it's been great talking to you. Thank you so much.

SPENCER: Thank you so much.


NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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