This past weekend — when The Help hit theaters — I began thinking of the vast, intricate web of friendships that brought the movie to the big screen. And I realized that some of the most important relationships surrounding the movie were formed in Mississippi.
First off, Tate Taylor, the film’s director, and Kathryn Stockett, the novel’s author, became friends at age 5 while living in the Magnolia State. Fast forward 20 years to when a Jackson, Miss., woman named Mary Preston Hays decided to introduce her two childhood friends, Tate and myself, to each other, because she wanted to help her dear friend Tate get into the movie business. And that introduction only led to more fortuitous encounters: The first day Tate and I met — at a blues festival in the 100-degree heat — I advised Tate to march into the production office of A Time To Kill, which had just opened its doors in Canton, Miss., and demand a production assistant job on the film. Once on that movie, he met Octavia Spencer (“Minny”), a casting P.A., and after the film wrapped, the two of them decided to move to Los Angeles.
In 1996 in Los Angeles, Tate returned the favor and introduced me to Octavia at a reunion party for A Time To Kill. I vividly remember when I first met her. Right after Tate introduced us, he played a practical joke on the gullible Octavia. Since she’s a sucker for “true-crime” stories, he came up with a gruesome tale about how I became an orphan at age 14. Six months later, while returning from a profitable Vegas trip with Octavia, I started talking about my very-alive parents. Octavia stayed calm despite the fact she thought she was in the car with a delusional, lunatic. Once safely home, she frantically called Tate to say that I needed psychological help. Tate had forgotten to tell her that my “family tragedy” was his complete fabrication. For six months, Octavia had always greeted me with a comforting, sympathetic, motherly hug — and now I knew why. We had a great laugh at that one, and everything we’ve been through after that has made me love Octavia more and more.
The following photos are just a few of the phenomenal experiences that Octavia and I have shared over the past 18 years of friendship, and I’m sure, with Tate’s many practical jokes and Kathryn’s animated storytelling, that there will be many more to come.