How Octavia Spencer and director Tate Taylor made Ma a The Help reunion with surprise cameo
Warning: This post contains major plot spoilers for Ma. Read ahead at your own risk!
It’s not easy playing a murderous recluse who runs a woman over with a truck, sews a girl’s lips together, and forces a young man to strip down to his underwear at gunpoint, but friends never let friends perform their sickest psychopathic fantasies alone — that’s why longtime pals Octavia Spencer and director Tate Taylor brought some extra moral support along for their deep dive into the disturbing world of Ma.
Underneath the grotesque dressings of the film — which follows Sue Ann (Spencer), a small-town loner with a grim past who forms a violent obsession with a group of hard-partying teens — there’s a touching layer of friendship imbuing every drop of onscreen splatter with a splash of passionate, real-life kinship.
“Honey, Tate has a way of talking all of his friends into doing the craziest things,” Spencer tells EW of the film’s surprise cameo by Allison Janney, a close friend of the actress-director duo who previously worked with the pair on the 2011 Best Picture-nominated historical drama The Help. “We had a ball. She’s so fun. You see what I had to do to her… that’s what she agreed to do!”
The act in question? (Here’s your second spoiler alert!) Janney’s ill-fated role as Ma’s veterinarian boss, who mostly exists in brief bits as comic relief throughout the film, throwing harsh, side-eyed glances to her disturbed (and, from what we gather, somewhat unproductive) technician before she’s promptly (and gruesomely) mutilated by her disgruntled employee and ultimately left to rot inside a dog cage.
“Here’s the wonderful thing: You see the aftermath. I didn’t have to do it,” Spencer says with a laugh, savoring Tate’s decision to spare her from acting out her friend’s brutal, bloody death on the big screen. “Seeing her like that, though, it was crazy, weird, and fun. It takes your breath away seeing your friend positioned in that giant kennel, but it was so much fun, honey!”
Ma‘s murderous realm might seem like the strangest place for love to breed, but when you have a companion who’s willing to pause an Oscar campaign to slather herself in red goop and climb into a dog cage for horrific effect, there’s plenty to go around.
“Allison has made it a point: She’s like, ‘I don’t care what it is, I’m going to be in everything that you do,'” Taylor adds, pointing out that Janney — who mostly improvised her scenes with Spencer across a quick, four-day shoot during a break from her successful Oscar campaign for I, Tonya in 2017 — has appeared in several of the writer-director’s projects in small roles, particularly The Girl on the Train, Get On Up, and Pretty Ugly People.
“We have a close-knit group of friends who all came up [in the industry] together,” he continues, adding that he and Spencer have been friends for nearly 25 years after first meeting as production assistants on the set of the 1996 film A Time to Kill. “[We’re] the 20-year overnight successes: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, Allison, and Octavia. We’re all so close, you can consider us a troupe. We all love being together and want to support each other.”
For Janney, supporting Taylor and Spencer on the project not only meant physically contorting her body into a metal cage, but also sharing sleeping space with her buddies on the whirlwind shoot.
“I knew she was exhausted, but she was willing to play…. Four days in town, and then she flew to the BAFTAs [the next day]. That’s how good of a friend she is!” Spencer recalls, adding that, during production, she shared a room with Taylor and Janney.
“You don’t just live in the fake blood. You yell cut and you start laughing. We all stayed together through the whole shoot. It was The Help dynamic we had before we shot The Help, let’s put it that way,” Taylor adds. “That summer [filming The Help] was so magical, and we all got so close. We’ve never been able to replicate that. It was a special time, but it made it all very close and comfortable with each other. The bonds are thickened.”
Thicker, perhaps, than blood.
Ma is now
killing playing in theaters.