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Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain Discuss 'The Help'


Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in 'The Help'

Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in 'The Help'

© DreamWorks Pictures

Octavia Spencer plays Minny Jackson, a maid who works for Jessica Chastain's character, Celia Foote, in DreamWorks Pictures' The Help, based on the bestselling book by Kathryn Stockett. And while in the film they have a boss/employee relationship, when they sat down to talk to journalists at the LA press day about the dramatic movie set in the turbulent South in the 1960s, it was a pure lovefest. The mutual respect they share for one another was evident, with both women proclaiming their love for their The Help cast mate. Spencer even went as far as to joke, "If I was into women, it would be with her."

On their instant bond:

Jessica Chastain: "I read the script and I was like, 'Wow, I love Celia so much.' It was before people were attached, but Celia absolutely jumped out at me. And then I went in to read and as soon as I read through the scene - it was the lunch scene when Celia forces herself on Minny, like, 'We're going to have lunch together.' We read that scene together and we finished, and we were looking at each other. We finished our lines and we just looked at each other and smiled and then you said..."

Octavia Spencer: "I love you."

Jessica Chastain: "And I said, 'I love you,' and it was so great because I'm not the obvious choice for Celia Foote. Walking through the door I was told this. A lot of the producers are like, 'She's not the girl. She's not Marilyn-esque.' And then we read our scenes and it was just kind of there."

Octavia Spencer: "There is no one else who could have done the role the way this woman does it, because I was in the room with a majority of the women who read. When she came in, she made an impression, and when she left the part was hers."

On bringing to life the character of Minny:

Octavia Spencer: "Minny is an amalgamation of a lot of people. She's part my mother, she's part me, she's part a couple of my sisters as far as her attitude. But the abuse and all of the other stuff, I had to do a lot of research. I had to do a lot of research to know how to play a person who had such strength in such a repressive time. You know, there are parts of me that I don't know if I quite reached that. But, I don't know. But the sassy, speak her mind part, you will find her any morning before I have my coffee. That part was easy, but it was the other stuff that was really [tough]."

On munching on vegan chicken:

Jessica Chastain: "I was actually shocked by that. The scene where I was eating fried chicken, they made me vegan fried chicken. It probably [didn't taste as good] as fried chicken.They did an amazing job. They took a turkey dog and tofurkey and battered it, and deep fried it."

Octavia Spencer: "The producers thought that she was actually eating meat."

Jessica Chastain: "I haven't had meat in so long. I've been vegan for five years and vegetarian for 15 years, so if I had had meat I wouldn't have been able to do the scene. They all thought I was just chowing down."

Octavia Spencer: "She actually made a vegan meal for me."

Jessica Chastain: "I cooked for her, she has not cooked for me."

Octavia Spencer: [Laughing] "You don't want me to cook for you!"

Jessica Chastain: "I made my version of vegan soul food in Mississippi in my apartment."

On the buzz surrounding the film's release and how it will live up to the book:

Octavia Spencer: "I think the film stands alone from the book because it had to be truncated. There are some storylines that...You know, I'm a huge fan of the book and if you are, there are some things that aren't in there that you might be disappointed about. But I think the movie is a very, very good representation of the book. I think the movie is really, really good. I love it. I'm hoping, again, I'm praying that people go out to see it. I want the viewing audience to embrace it as the reading audience has embraced the book, but again I'm [acting like she has blinders on] in the race with the horses and I'm not looking at my side because otherwise I'll fall down and break a leg."

On the tough sell of revisiting a very turbulent time in American history:

Octavia Spencer: "I would say this is a story that you think you've heard, but it has not been told this way as it's from the maids' perspective. Usually it's that the help or domestics are just set pieces. They are obligatory characters who come in to facilitate something or pour tea, or to clear a plate. But there is a lot of depth with these women, and I think every character is completely fleshed out - not just the help but the society women - and Celia's character who married well. So I think it's a film that transcends race, even though it takes place during the Civil Rights movement. I think it's about the relationships that occur with these...well, they're unlikely relationships actually because who would have expected these white society women to bond in such a way with their help."

Jessica Chastain: "It's interesting too because, although there's discrimination all throughout the film, I mean it's not just discrimination against the help because Celia's discriminated against. And even Minny has her idea of what Celia is because Celia's white. She doesn't want to hug her, doesn't want to eat lunch with her. I like that that there's all layers of discrimination because then too we learn so much about ourselves through history and you can look at other groups in our society that are discriminated against."

On the possibility of acting honors for their roles in The Help:

Jessica Chastain: "Honestly, what I'm so excited about this film is I feel like this is Octavia's coming out party. And I feel like she's been over the years, even in Dinner for Schmucks, you see Octavia on screen and she's been that moment of joy and life, but never really given the opportunity to play something with real depth. And I'm just so excited. I knew this when we were filming that this was going to be an important film. But also it's wonderful because we were the only two actresses on this film that were the unknowns. We fought tooth and nail for these parts because there were other women who wanted these parts, and Tate [Taylor] went to bat for us. [...]We were both the underdogs and the unknowns on this set, and now it's great people are seeing the film and are enjoying it."

On the process working on a variety of films with 2011 release dates:

Jessica Chastain: "It's wonderful to finally be able to talk about the films that I shot, especially The Tree of Life which was shrouded in secrecy forever. It's great to finally be able to talk about it. My friends support me, like Octavia came to the Tree of Life premiere. So it is this unveiling which is wonderful. I'm a little nervous that it's all happening at once and it wasn't spaced out."

"If you think of The Tree of Life, very different from Celia. And this opens the 10th of August and then the 30th of August I'm in The Debt where I play a Mossad agent and I speak a lot of German in it. I do Krav Maga and it's my action film with Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington. Then on October 7th I'm in Take Shelter, and then I'm in Texas Killing Fields and Coriolanus."

Octavia Spencer: "She's here to stay, ladies and gentlemen."

On her career and the experience of being a part of The Help:

Octavia Spencer: "I hope people are going to go see this film because it's a great film. Anything that happens career-wise will be frosting on the cake. But I've already won in my mind because I got to work with the most amazing cast and crew, and I've walked away with some amazing friendships. Viola [Davis] and I are very close, I'm very close with Jessica. I'm excited but I also have no expectations because if you have expectations and it doesn't quite meet that, then you're disappointed. Right now, it's just whatever happens will be a blessing and I'm looking forward to whatever that is."

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The Help hits theaters on August 10, 2011.

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