The Woman Who Inspired 'The Help's' Feisty, Pie-Baking Maid, Minny

If the role seems written for actress Octavia Spencer, that's because it was  

By Susan Toepfer
octavia spencer image
Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe

More: There’s a new play by Lynn Nottage that just had a short Off-Broadway run, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, about African-American actresses in the ‘30s and ‘40s, when they were relegated to playing maids and slaves. So there’s a certain irony here, that The Helpis about maids, but they are the central, complicated roles.
O.S.: I heard about Vera Stark, and I wanted to see it, but I only had two days in New York. But I’m glad you make that point. I think that at first blush, people think, oh, it’s about maids, they’re subordinate, subservient, what is new about this story? This project is from the maids’ perspective and they get to speak out in a way we’ve never seen. So it’s a fresh take on an old subject.

More: What is your dream role?
O.S. I just played it. I don’t know that I’ll ever pass this way again. Getting to work with my dear friends, and these actresses, and then to play a character who has so many levels, with that supporting cast. It was a very family-oriented set. But everyone had her own journey, so we bonded with the actresses we had scenes with.

More: Did you bond with Sissy Spacek, too?
O.S.: She is a dream. I talk to her once every couple weeks. She’s so amazing. She was wearing these sandals from J. Crew, and I said, Oh my God, I love those. She said, I’ll see if I can find them for you. I gave her my size, and the next week she sent them to me in every color!

More: In The Help, Minny’s the best cook in town. Do you cook?
O.S.: Kathryn certainly didn’t base the cooking part on me! I can’t cook to save my life. I have a friend who’s teaching me. But Kathryn and Tate both trained as chefs. Tate didn’t understand why I was so panicked, why I needed to know just what I was cooking. And he and I lived together for three years, we were roommates, so he had to know I don’t cook.

More: Do you think anyone will ever eat a mud pie again after watching the movie?
O.S.: I hope so. I enjoy eating them. It’s just one of the strangest revenge schemes ever. I’m just worried people will go to me, “Are you bringing mud pie?”
 

More: What’s next for you?
O.S.: Right now, I’m working with Viola developing some stuff, and I did a play that was brought to the screen, The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife. It will be released next March.

More: And personally? Are you married? Any kids?
O.S.: I’m not married. I don’t have any kids. I’m maybe looking to get married, but kids, maybe not. I love being an aunt. I’m a great aunt.

Read "Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help' Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller"

Read about screenwriter Sarah Kernochan's new mystery, which swirls around an ominous afterlife, here.

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First Published July 7, 2011

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Kaye Dickerson07.13.2011

"The Help" looking forward to this movie. Thanks for giving us a up close story on Octavia Spencer.

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