Emma Stone and Viola Davis Talk About 'The Help's' Appeal Abroad

2:15 PM PST 09/03/2011 by Rebecca Leffer
From L: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Allison Janney at the Deauville American Film Festival

The Disney film's stars spoke to The Hollywood Reporter at the Deauville American Film Festival in France.

The stars of this summer’s breakout hit The Help headed from Jackson, Mississippi to the beaches of Normandy for the French premiere of the film at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday night. The film’s stars Viola Davis and Emma Stone took refuge from the rainy weekend to sit down with The Hollywood Reporter’s France Correspondent Rebecca Leffler and talk about the film’s reception across the Atlantic. The Help, still at the top of the U.S. box office and already far across the $100 million mark stateside, will be released in France on Oct. 26th.

The Hollywood Reporter: The film just premiered in Deauville to a thunderous round of applause and the buzz around the festival has been positive. It’s a very American subject, so what is it about the film that makes it appeal to an international crowd?

Emma Stone: It’s human. Everyone wants to talk about the race issues, feminism and the themes the movie touches on. But even more than that, it’s the story of three women who come together in an unlikely way to create positive change. Everyone has the ability to be extraordinary. It’s about ordinary people brave enough to want to be extraordinary. Every human being can relate to that. My character Skeeter also deals with being different and not having the same mentality as the people around her.

THR: How did the story touch you personally?

Viola Davis: When I was growing up, we were the only black family in our town in Rhode Island. All of the images I saw in school were black people in the cotton fields. I remember telling my teacher when I was 15: “Black people never did anything,” He took me to the black historical society where we saw writing from black intellectuals and influential people. I remember that day so clearly. We sat for about an hour and just cried.

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THR: Do you think the fact that this film is so popular shows that there’s been a shift in thinking in America?

Davis: I have a fantasy that people are intrigued by the topic and that they’re attracted to the wide range of characters. My fear is that the movie is popular because the book was popular. It is my fantasy and my hope that more movies with black people in them will become more mainstream and not just movies dealing with race.

THR: The Help has obviously affected many people, but how did this film influence you personally?

Stone: This story is the first one where what we’re discussing during the promotion is enriching my life. When I was younger, all I really wanted was to make my parents laugh. At the end of the day, I was just dancing in my living room. I still am. But now, I understand the power of storytelling now beyond just being a childhood ham.

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THR:  How was the response here in Deauville different from the reaction in Hollywood?

Davis: It was different from the premiere in Los Angeles. People clapped, but not with as much uninhibited joy. It was just enormous here last night.

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