Actress Octavia Spencer from this summer’s box office hit The Help from director Tate Taylor gave Huffington Post the back story on her role as Minny Jackson, the maid and friend of Emma Stone’s character Skeeter, a fresh new journalist who pens a novel on the African-American maids and their hardships during the 1960’s.
Discussing her character, Spencer spoke about how Minny Jackson was somewhat modeled after herself. A funny story now, the development came after an uncomfortable meeting with The Help’s author Kathryn Stockett. “The physicality, yeah. I didn’t know Kathryn, I met her when she was actually writing the outline for the book, and the day that I met her, and under the circumstances that we met, they weren’t really good — actually I would say they were fortuitous, but at the time, I didn’t want any part of it. We were in New Orleans in August, like 108 degrees, humidity, and I don’t like being hot, and I was 100 pounds heavier and I was on a diet and I don’t like being hot, I don’t like being hungry, I was just miserable. And so I was complaining and just very, very combative with Tate, because we were doing a walking tour of New Orleans, and basically Minny was born. I guess the combative nature of Minny was based on me.”
While some of the actress’ characteristics gave life to the character, Octavia says she did have to do plenty of research to play the part. “With any role, to basically refer to the text a lot, thank God we had a book, but there was a lot about the character that wasn’t in the book. I had to understand why she stayed in the abusive relationship. First of all, I did a lot of research about battered spouse syndrome, a phrase that wasn’t even a term during that time period. But in order to understand it, I really had to do the research on it. And then I just researched the era, and I worked with an acting coach after that, once I was able to relinquish my judgment on the whole spousal abuse thing and why she stayed. And we built perhaps Minny’s teen years, because a lot of who we are is determined in our formative years. And I had to try to figure out why she stayed. I know that her dad was an alcoholic, but did that mean that he was also abusive? That was never alluded to in the text. So we created that, my acting coach and I. And then I also had the luxury of having a close relationship with Tate, and any ideas that I needed to bounce off him, I did.”
“It was definitely the most difficult part I had to play, because of the time period,” Spencer says of playing such an emotional role. “I knew that my fellow actors were having the same issues, with the characters they were playing. So, it wasn’t anything we took lightly, I’ll say that.”