Written By February/March 2012 : Page 33

if she’s tired,” because all this happened on the day, and she goes, “I like that.” I said, “Just ask her if she’s tired. Just say, ‘Ain’t ya tired, ain’t ya tired?’” And we did it. That’s how I like to work, and luckily with these amazing actresses, we did it a lot of the time. As a Southerner, it’s just incredible to see something regional portrayed so authentically and be brought to life so vibrantly. Did the studio ever pressure you to change things? DreamWorks was amazing and pretty happy with the script when they came onboard. The term they used was, “Let’s get greedy. Let’s really try to make it really great.” So we tried things—and I write fast, much to my own dismay, because they’d give me notes and I’d turn around a day later and go, “Here they are.” I’m not precious with what I do, and I love to get feedback. A lot of the work I did on re-writes was just to explore and see what else we could line out. There was initially a little bit of—I wouldn’t even say pressure, but encouragement to bring in more of the racial history lesson, to feel the danger. And I just stated my case of how I really wanted this to be about relationships and that [racist danger] to be the background. In Kathryn’s book, this is a story about women. Kathryn wrote in her novel, “Women ain’t like men. They don’t beat you on the head with a stick. They have a shiny set of tools that they use.” So that wasn’t really applicable to my story, to be seeing the KKK or people being chased by dogs. What is most horrific in our story is Aibileen being forced to use the bathroom in a pine box in a garage while a white woman is tapping her foot saying, “Hurry up.” That’s a real accomplishment the screenplay gave us, a sense of jeopardy without going through the car chases. You felt the tension and you felt the height of the stakes of the character’s dilemma. This all happened in an earlier era. When writing, what infused your process in figuring out an era that was be-fore you were born? Did it come from stories from your house-keeper, from your maids? A lot of it for me came from South Carolina. I spent every summer there as a child, surrounded by housekeepers of my grandparents and my aunts and my uncles who were from that generation. And I just remembered. When Sissy Spacek asked Minny if there’s an ambrosia in the refrigerator, that line came to me on set. That was South Carolina, where everyone made ambrosia. But mainly for me, the way I wanted to tackle Kath-ryn’s book was about the relationships. It was about the love. It was about the dynamics between these people. And the history and the racism, while it is prevalent, was the backdrop. You recently bought a place back home. Is your mother still with us? Oh, gosh, yes. Very much so. I spent Christmas there. Just so you know, the first time Carol’s in the movie is when Emma goes to Aibileen’s house after Yule May’s been arrested “But mainly for me, the way I wanted to tackle Kathryn’s book was about the re-lationships,” says Taylor. “It was about the love. It was about the dynamics be-tween these people. And the history and the racism, while it is prevalent, was the backdrop.” and the maids are all waiting for her. The very first woman who says, “I’m going to help you with your stories,” that’s Carol, who raised me. In Jackson, Mississippi, the theater had five screens and was the number-two performing theater in the country. But what really warmed my heart is that my mom, who saw it five times, said in the theater the audience was completely mixed race, all ages, and then afterward ev-erybody congregated in the parking lot of the theater and just stayed there and talked and shared stories. I live in Louisiana, so it’s not too far from Jackson. And I was in Natchez, Mississippi, over the holidays, and of course everyone was talking about The Help. And the greatest com-pliment, I think, is that the Mississippians all feel ownership of it in a way. When you’ve created something, taken it away, turned it into art, and then people can look at it and reach into it and say, “Yes, I know that person”—when they can do that, that’s sort of the ultimate compliment to your work. I convinced [studio executives] that Mississippi is a char-acter and you just cannot fake the South and you cannot fake Mississippi. So I really worked hard to get it brought there. Ninety-five percent of the locations were practical locations. I knew these homes. Skeeter’s house—I threw up in that house in college. That’s my college friend’s parents’ house—the Franklins. That stairwell: Oh, yes. I grew up in the house that Celia lived in, I grew up hunting and fishing on that land. I was told to never go on that land because the Lady Cat would shoot me—Cat Williams who owns the house. So, all this is personal. You had to go to Mississippi to get that feel. A question you get asked a lot is about being a man writing women characters. I was raised by a single mom and an African-American woman, and I have three sisters. I lived with Octavia Spen-cer. I grew up with a dad who was a traveling salesman and sold only to women. He sold women’s clothing. Women have been around me my whole life. When I write characters in scripts and they’re not working and they’re a male character, I’ve always found if you change the character to a female, it works better. But I don’t think of the sex of a character or an actor. I really, really don’t. The Help, to me, is just a bunch of amazing, brave characters who happen to have high-heel shoes on. FEBRU AR Y/MARCH 20 12 WG AW Written B y • 33

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