Maid in America: Allison Janney

Photo: Marc Stamas/Getty Images

The film version of The Help—the novel by Kathryn Stockett about African-American maids and the white women who employ them in sixties Mississippi—got made with a lot of help from friends. Stockett is close with the director, Tate Taylor; among Taylor’s pals is Allison Janney, who got a look at the novel before it was published and thought it would be great to play the role she eventually got: Charlotte, the mother of the main character, an aspiring writer named Skeeter Phelan (played by Emma Stone). Janney spoke with Rachel Bertsche.

It’s fitting that this film about women’s tangled relationships is itself a product of people who know each other.
Exactly! I love that this whole project is about friendship and loyalty. That’s not a story you hear very often in Hollywood. Kathryn wanted Tate to direct it, and he and [producer] Brunson Green are friends, and they produced it. And Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny, is a dear friend of Tate and Kathryn’s. She was the inspiration for the character in the book, too.

How are Stockett and Taylor friends?
They grew up in the same town, and he’s steeped in that whole world.

And you and Taylor go way back?
I’ve been in every movie he’s ever done, including some that were pretty low-budget.

Did you always want to play Charlotte?
Well, I didn’t assume I would get to be in this. I certainly read the part of Charlotte and went, “Oh, boy, I’d love to play her.”

The novel was such a book-club phenomenon; are you worried about overprotective fans?
There were so many parts of the story I’m sure he wanted to keep, but I think most fans will be pleased. The biggest story lines and characters are there.

This was all filmed in Mississippi?
Yes. The food was unbelievably good. But there was the heat and bugs. One of my funniest moments was driving from the airport: It was night, and all of a sudden, I heard this tremendous downpour. And I said, “Boy, you know, I didn’t see that storm coming,” and this Teamster said, “It’s just bugs.” I was like, “Are you kidding me?”

The Help.
August 10.

Maid in America: Allison Janney