Even if you already caught the first trailer for The Help that went online yesterday, you may have missed a producer's credit that probably would have taken you by surprise. Yes, it's that Chris Columbus, the director of Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter films, who is shepherding the adaptation of the bestselling novel about women living in racially stratified Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. You have to wonder how he went to work on this just months after releasing Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and didn't get whiplash.
But Columbus, who with his production company 1492 is constantly on the lookout for new books worth adapting, says The Help was a natural effort for him, and that includes taking a risk on director Tate Taylor, whose only previous feature credit is a tiny indie. I talked to Columbus on the phone today about the new trailer, what we saw in it and what we didn't, and the kind of reactions they've been getting to The Help as they screen it for audiences all over the world-- yes, even in France, they're digging this movie about the Jim Crow South. The Help opens August 12; check out my interview with Columbus and learn both what to expect, and how, indirectly, the Spider-Man character Gwen Stacy made this movie possible.
On what we did and didn't see in the trailer.
Some people may have a misconceived notion that the movie is more of a history lesson and less about character and emotion. To try to fit that all in a 60 or 90-second trailer is difficult, but I think the trailer we finally agreed on, for the first glimpse of The Help, lets the audience see that the movie is not only a complex emotional human drama, but at the same time it's very funny and a lot of fun. You want to give the audience a sense of tone, a sense of flavor in the film. The more historical complexities, the more emotional nuances of the film, you can only get a sense of when you see the picture. To us it's to tread lightly on some of the social and political issues in the trailer.
On the breakout performances to look out for.
The audience loves [Jessica Chastain]. She going to emerge as a big star from this film [she's also in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, which opens in May]. Her performance in The Help is really an astounding transformation. If you meet Jessica in person she's nothing like Celia, but the character onscreen is one of those really great performances. Jessica's scenes are with Minny, who's played by Octavia Spencer. Octavia has been known for some supporting roles in television and film, and some broadly comedic films. Her performance in this movie is going to knock peoples' socks off.
What else is great is the sense of discovery with some of these actresses. Emma Stone is terrific, and goes places I've never seen her go in previous films. And Bryce Dallas Howard played Hilly with the right touch of-- I don't want to say it's Nurse Ratched [from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest], but it comes very close to getting under your skin like that.
On the test screenings they've had so far.
We've seen it play with a lot of crowds all over the country, at this point all over the world-- we've had screenings in the UK and France. And audiences really seem to embrace the universal themes of the movie, and it's really encouraging to see. One of the interesting things about seeing the movie with audiences is seeing people running out to go to the bathroom and running back to their seats because they don't want to miss anything in this movie. I've been in movies that run 85 minutes and feel like they go on forever.
On director Tate Taylor, who grew up with The Help author Kathryn Stockett and is making his first major studio film.
No one else could have directed this movie. Not only has he lived with these people most of his life, some of the homes we were shooting in, these are friends of Tate's. We realized that he had such a keen sense of the Southern world, something that none of us had really experienced. The film is filled with these little details, little insights, that only could have been done by someone who lived in that world. Tate added so much to the visual complexity of the movie as well.
On how Gwen Stacy, the Spider-Man character played in two different films by The Help stars Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard, changed his life.
My reason for getting into the film business was a Spider-Man comic called "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" when I was a kid, it changed my life. It was the great Spider-Man comic. Spider-Man initially made me want to come to New York and work for Marvel, I wanted to be a comic book artist. Then I realized I'd be spending twelve hours a day alone in a room, and I was not into that. So then at some point in my life I realized that comic books were closely associated with films, because they were like storyboards for films. When "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" came out, it was like the Godfather Part 2, they killed off a beloved main character, which had never been done before. I think that same year I saw a couple of movies, like The Godfather, then I realized, "Oh there's a bigger form of comic book storytelling out there, it's called motion pictures." It was my foray into it. Now I have two Gwen Stacys starring in a movie I produced.