Greening 'The Help'
Reducing paper and water usage, vegan fried chicken and the stars' off-the-set efforts.
Wed, Aug 10 2011 at 4:45 PM
Photo courtesy DreamWorks
Reducing waste was a priority on the set of "The Help," which was shot last summer in Mississippi. "We eliminated water bottles and distributed aluminum bottles. We had water jugs everywhere. And we tried not to distribute paper as much as possible," says producer Michael Barnathan. "There's a general consciousness about being green now on most productions, and studios have adopted those policies."
The movie, an excellent adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's best seller about African-American maids and their employers at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, boasts stellar performances from Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Sissy Spacek. For a scene where Chastain ("The Tree of Life"), a vegan, had to eat fried chicken, the caterers faked it with a tofu dog wrapped in tofurkey, battered and deep fried. "They did an amazing job," raves Chastain, a Prius driver and vegetarian who adopted a vegan diet five years ago. "After two weeks I realized how great my body felt," says the actress, who almost made a convert of carnivore co-star Spencer with a vegan soul food dinner of kale, black-eyed peas and vegan riblets. "I had a bite before I went, and then I was sorry I had anything before. It was delicious," raves Spencer, who recycles, uses Seventh Generation products, and wants to trade her Jeep for a hybrid.
"I'm a huge fan of the book and there are some things that aren't in the movie that fans might be disappointed about, but I think it's a very good representation of the book," says Spencer, whose portrayal of Minny is "an amalgamation of a lot of people. She's part my mother, part me, part a couple of my sisters as far as the attitude. The sassy, speak-her-mind part, you'll find her any morning before I have my coffee. That part was easy. But I had to do a lot of research to know how to play a person who had such strength at such an oppressive time."
Although she and Chastain were the least well known when they were cast, the two were director Tate Taylor's first choices and he fought to get them approved by the studio. "There were other women who really wanted these parts," notes Chastain, whose busy year includes "The Debt" in which she plays an Israeli Mossad agent opposite Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington (Aug. 30) and the drama "Take Shelter" with Michael Shannon (Sept. 30) followed by the murder mystery "Texas Killing Fields" in October and "Coriolanus" with Ralph Fiennes in December. Spencer will be seen next year in the caper comedy "Flypaper" with Patrick Dempsey and Ashley Judd and in "The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife," and she has a children's book in the works. "I'm trying to be a jack-of-all-trades," she says.
Davis, who uses energy-saving appliances and plans to add solar panels to her home, similarly lobbied hard for the plum role of Aibilene, although she momentarily questioned whether she wanted to play "a character that could be viewed as so subservient. But I see her as more than that. Ultimately, she's a liberated woman. She was able to break out, pursue a goal and a dream, and speak out," notes Davis, whose next film is another screen version of a best-seller. In January, she stars with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel.