Kathryn Stockett gives Tate Taylor some ‘Help’


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Loyalty can be hard to come by in Hollywood, which is what makes Tate Taylor’s career trajectory so unusual.

The director of this summer’s ‘The Help’ grew up in Jackson, Miss., where he was best friends with a woman named Kathryn Stockett. Stockett penned the New York Times bestselling novel about the complicated relationship between black maids and the white families they work for in the 1960s-era South. And she promised Taylor that if a version of the book were ever to make it to the big screen, he’d be the one to direct it.


Problem was, Taylor didn’t exactly have much experience. He started out as an actor, landing small roles in films like ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’ and ‘Planet of the Apes.’ (When we say small, we mean it: in ‘Apes,’ he’s credited as ‘Friend at Leo’s party.’) He did direct one feature, 2008’s “Pretty Ugly Film,” but the movie was released in only three theaters and grossed less than $7,000, according to Box Office Mojo.

Taylor found more success with a short film, ‘Chicken Party,’ which made the rounds at some film festivals and eventually landed on the desk of veteran filmmaker Chris Columbus. Before Taylor knew it, Columbus was attached to produce ‘The Help’ and began trying to sell the project to studios with Taylor as the director.

‘The weird thing is that nobody ever questioned him, which I find so odd,’ Columbus said backstage at CinemaCon, where footage from the August release was unveiled during a DreamWorks presentation on Tuesday. ‘He said to me when he gave me the script, ‘Kathryn said that I’m director of the movie.’ And before I knew it, we were at the studio supporting him. And at some point I said, ‘Did we ever even check with Kathryn Stockett? Are there any legal things that say he’s the director?’’

The film was rejected numerous times, and Taylor admits the situation put a strain on his friendship with Stockett. Even after the project landed at DreamWorks, Taylor still faced doubts from those who were not acquainted with him. Viola Davis, who stars as Aibileen in the film, said she grilled the director during their first encounter.

‘I showed up at my first meeting and was basically like, ‘You got a pen? And a notebook? Cause you gotta take some notes. I don’t care if it’s your first time, tenth time, there’s some changes have to be made,’ ‘ she recalled, laughing. ‘Because it’s a basic mistrust for me when I don’t know the person’s work yet.’

Davis, who was sitting alongside cast members Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard, said she was so serious because she knew how many expectations were riding on the film.

‘You get pressure from so many groups of people. You get pressure from African Americans, you get pressure from women, you get pressure from other actors. So all those voices are in your head,’ she said. (There is also a legal cloud hanging over the property; last month, a woman who worked for the Stockett family sued the author, saying she had illegally appropriated her name and image for a character in the novel.)

Stone, who plays lead character Skeeter in the movie, said she was less worried about Taylor’s inexperience than her mother’s hopes for the film.

‘My mom was calling me, like, ‘Skeeter’s gotta be this way!’’ she said, explaining that her mother is a big fan of the book. ‘I’m like, ‘Mom, I’m on set in the middle of a scene!’ ‘

— Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas



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Top photo: Producer Brunson Green, left, director Tate Taylor and producer Chris Columbus at CinemaCon. Credit: Eric Jamison/Associated Press.