One of my favorite things about movies is the ability to transport us to another place in another time and for some of us, the south in the sixties is very familiar territory.
The #1 New York Times best-seller turned film The Help hits theaters on Wednesday, August 10th. The film is the story of three different yet very remarkable women who form an unlikely friendship amidst the societal turmoil of the sixties in Jackson, Mississippi. Actress Emma Stone portrays "Skeeter" Phelan, an Ole Miss grad groomed for society and a husband but who has a writing career on her mind. She decides to interview black women that take care of prominent families and literally turns the town on its proverbial ear. Representing the "help" are actresses Viola Davis (Academy Award®–nominee for “Doubt”) as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny. Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Opie/director Ron Howard) plays Junior Leaguer Hilly Holbrook while veteran actresses Sissy Spacek portrays Hilly's mom Missus Walters and Cicely Tyson stars as Constantine Jefferson.
Emma Stone as Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan
|Classic white column antebellum|
Designed by production designer Mark Ricker (Nanny Diaries and Julie and Julia) and set decorator Rena Angelo, the houses of the five characters are as diverse as the characters themselves. Filmed on location in Jackson, Clarksdale, and Greenwood, Mississippi, Ricker combed through old copies of Better Homes and Gardens as a reference point and was inspired by the book Under Live Oaks by Caroline Seebohm and Peter Woloszynski. He also referenced another southern classic Gone With the Wind, watching the DVD before he boarded a plane and headed south. Ricker found the book in particular to be "wonderfully rich in details and worked quite nicely to inform Skeeter and Celia Foote's houses - both of which would have more history and layers than the newer houses in the film (Hilly and Elizabeth's)."
|Phelan dining room|
|Many of the rooms were steeped in the tradition and history of a grander time|
|Designers used a Brunschwig and Fils swag border wallpaper for this New Orleans hotel suite|
|Leefolt living room|
|Hilly's Pepto Bismol colored tile bathroom|
|Foote Trophy Room|
|The designers scoured antique shops from Memphis to Mississippi for period perfect furnishings|
|Leefolt den with wood panels and round braided rug|
|Holbrook living room|
|Robert E. Lee Hotel lobby|
|Relics of the sixties: Skeeter's mom rolls her hair |
on orange juice can sized plastic curlers in a laminate and chrome filled kitchen
|Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan|
It's easy to see the parallels -- Stockett grew up in Jackson and remembers the days sitting at her grandmother's table with their beloved maid Demetrie. And like Skeeter, Stockett became a writer, working on the book while living in Manhattan as "the distance added perspective." Demetrie passed away when she was sixteen, and no doubt the author felt her presence as she wrote The Help.
Admitting she is "not done with Mississippi yet," Stockett is working on her next book, which takes place in the twenties south, a time of the emancipation of women in Oxford, Mississippi. She is understandably nervous, as it's hard to follow up on such a phenomenon. "I went from writing a book no one wants to read to writing a book everyone wants to read," she notes. Here's hoping her next book is as wonderful as the first and at least she won't have to look for an agent.
|Author Kathryn Stockett|
At the time of our interview, Stockett had not seen the final cut of the film but had been on the set. "I couldn't believe it when I saw the set," she explains, "it was a tangible representation of every little detail. I remember Skeeter's room -- there were notes from friends, a yearbook sitting around, old ribbons...you know, that mixture of going from little girl to college."
You can read more of my interview on the designs of The Help in the upcoming September issue of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles and you can see a sneak peek of the trailers on The Help website.
|Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook, Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters and Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson|
Photo Credits: Dreamworks/Dale Robinette, Putnam, Courtesy of Mark Ricker