'The Help': Octavia Spencer on the harrowing alternative ending for Minny -- EXCLUSIVE CLIP
Readers of the bestselling book of The Help know that the story of outspoken maid Minny Jackson ends quite differently than it does in last summer’s blockbuster film. (SPOILER ALERT for those who don’t want to know either ending.) In the film, we hear in voice over that Minny (Octavia Spencer) took her kids and left her abusive husband Leroy after her employers Celia and Johnny Foote (Jessica Chastain and Mike Vogel) promised her a job with them as long as she wanted it. In the book, however, Minny doesn’t escape Leroy without a final, vicious beating.
In the DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film, out Dec. 6, director Tate Taylor reveals he in fact shot a different ending for Minny that incorporated the book’s dark turn of events, but ultimately felt it was too much of a gloomy conclusion for Minny’s ultimately hopeful storyline. That scene is available as an extra on both discs, but you can watch it exclusively below now, and then read EW’s interview with Spencer about the scene, and how she prepared the non-professional actors playing her kids for it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you remember about that scene?
OCTAVIA SPENCER: [Laughs] Everything about that scene! The most profound thing about that scene is those kids. None of them are actors professionally. In order for it to believable, they had to be in as much distress as I was in. In order to do that I had to make sure that they were all crammed into my trailer until it was time to go [to the set that day]. The minute they were brought to work, we all sat together and I basically went around the room and explained to them the time period, and explained to them how dangerous certain things were, and how they couldn’t trust anybody. It literally turned them against their own mom and dad by the time it was time for us to film. It was so hard to do, because you don’t want to — I don’t know, I felt like I was crossing a line. One little boy, the youngest one, I said, “Well, what do you want to be when you grow up?” and he said “I want to be a fireman!” I said, “Well you can’t be a fireman. The only thing you can do is mow lawns.” He said, “Why?” and I said, “Because that’s the way it is. That’s all you’re going to be. Do you understand that?” And his little lip quivered. He said, “But I want to be a fireman.” I’m like, “You don’t understand. You will never be a fireman.” He was just heartbroken. So I’m going around the room and doing this type of exercise with them, telling them when we get in the van don’t look at anybody, don’t talk to anybody, you can’t trust any of these people. Psychologically, [this] was the most difficult thing ever.
Did you work with director Tate Taylor on that strategy?
No, it was something that I had to come up with myself. I knew that these kids had to be just as distressed as I was. Then of course after we filmed it we had cake and ice cream. And they trusted me. Viola and I spent a lot of time with the kids that played my kids, because she was Aunt Aibileen. Even though we didn’t have a lot of scenes with the kids in the film, there needed to be that familiarity and there needed to be that ease. Just like she spent a lot of time with the Mae Mobley girls. Whenever I saw the Mae Mobley girls… I don’t even think they know either of our real names. They called her Aiby and they called me Minny, because it would have been confusing for those three year olds to realize that we were pretending, and that’s not how we were. My kids were different, the older ones. We spent a lot of time building a relationship with them. So after all that was done, I got them lots of gifts. [Laughs] It was horrible, it was so hard. I never saw the complete scene, but I remember shooting it. I remember at one point different ones of them crying out. I’m like, “Okay, [the preparation’s] working.”
You spent all of that time preparing the kids for it — what did you do to prepare yourself for it?
I did a lot of research about battered wives. That was actually the hardest part for me, was dealing with the domestic abuse. I had to relinquish all judgment, because you can’t really effectively play a character that you judge in any way. So I had to come to an understanding, and the only way that I could do that was to do research about battered wives syndrome, which was not a phrase that was coined during that time period. But I had to understand what it was. Then bring in all of the realities of her world. Viola Davis is a gem, and one of the most generous actresses out there. We just took our time, and I looked at my face in the mirror, because it looked a little real. It was all a little too realistic for me. So just basically preparing and doing all of the technique work that we’ve all learned at some point, and just took it from there. I haven’t even seen the scene. Probably won’t ever see the scene. Those kids were really great. They were really great. It was a tough scene.
So was Viola on the phone with you?
She was actually inside the building. I could barely hear her. She was standing at the window while I was on the phone so I could barely hear her, as if she was on the phone. She just talked to me as if we were those characters; as if we were close. We just did it as many times as we needed to.
(Shaunna Murphy contributed to this report)