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'The Help' adds literary class to Hollywood summer

'The Help' adds literary class to Hollywood summer

April 1st, 2011 by DAVID GERMAIN, AP Movie Writer in News

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Not all of Hollywood's summer heroes are decked out in superhero costumes. Some wear maid uniforms.

Stars of the big-screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's literary sensation "The Help" helped show off footage from the film Tuesday at CinemaCon, a Las Vegas convention for theater owners.

Co-stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer said "The Help" gives audiences a loving look at ordinary women rising to heroic status amid a summer lineup filled with comic-book action tales.

Due in theaters Aug. 12, "The Help" follows an aspiring writer (Stone) who returns to her hometown in Mississippi in 1963 and encourages black maids to go public about the realities of their lives working in servitude to white families.

"For me, it works because it's a story about women. The women are the heroes, the women are what drive the script, and they're just ordinary. I always love the idea of the ordinary person rising to heroic status just in their daily life," said Davis, an Academy Award nominee for 2008's "Doubt."

"People who are considered 'the help,' the under-class, the poor, to actually put a microphone to their mouths and say, 'Who are you?' Instead of, 'What are you going to do for me?' Instead of demoralizing them, asking them who they are and stepping into their homes and lives."

Davis and Spencer, who play two of the maids, had read the novel long before they were up for parts in the film, while Stone and Howard read it as they prepared for their roles.

As she first met with the filmmakers on "The Help," Stone got an idea of how big a mark the novel already had made.

"I called my mom and told her I had a meeting that night for 'The Help.' And she screamed so loud my eardrums burst," said Stone, the star of last year's comedy "Easy A." "She said, 'You've got to read this book! You have to go and read this book right now!' My mother almost fainted, she was so beside herself."

Howard, whose credits include "The Village" and "Hereafter," said her mother's book club had devoured "The Help" when it came out.

"What is so remarkable about this book and that is completely transliterated into the screenplay is that these are really complex relationships. These are really complex circumstances, and it rose above clichis," said Howard, who plays a well-off white woman trying to maintain her town's rigid traditions. "Those are the kinds of female films that I crave and that I want to see and that I'm really proud to be a part of."

Spencer, who grew up in the South after the civil-rights movement, said the story is a valuable lesson about struggles that resulted in liberties younger people take for granted today.

"We are examining our nation's history at a very, very ugly time," said Spencer, whose credits include "Seven Pounds." "I love the fact that it's didactic without being preachy. The message resonates because of the fact that it's a spoonful sugar that helps the medicine go down."