The Cinderella Story

Kwaku Alston

Brunson Green, Viola Davis, Tate Taylor, Octavia Spencer & Kathryn Stockett

The creative and commercial success of The Help was 2011's little engine that could. It seems improbable that an aspiring filmmaker -- in this case, Taylor -- would happen to be childhood friends with Stockett, 42, author of the best-selling book on which the movie is based, and that he would have the prescience to attach himself as an untested feature director when optioning rights to the novel before it was published, along with another of his childhood friends, producer Green, 43.

It gets better: Along the way, Taylor, 42, and Spencer, 39, became roommates, and Spencer provided Stockett with some of the inspiration for the larger-than-life character Minny, whom Spencer would go on to play in the film. "It's amazing that friendship, loyalty and instinct can pay off in today's world. Kathryn, Brunson and I are all from the same town [Jackson, Miss.], and then Octavia and I were roommates," says Taylor. "This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen."

When Help, from DreamWorks and Participant Media, posted a solid five-day opening of $35.6 million in early August, seasoned box-office veterans thought it would max out at $100 million, if that. But the movie, distributed by Disney, became a sensation, grossing $169.2 million domestically. Overseas, Help has earned $30.1 million, a solid number considering it is a period piece about the American South of the early 1960s. All told, the movie has grossed $199.3 million worldwide -- nearly eight times its modest $25 million budget.

Now, Help is transforming into an awards darling. On Dec. 15, it received an impressive five Golden Globe nominations, including best picture in the drama category. Davis, 46, earned a nom for best drama actress, while Spencer and Jessica Chastain landed supporting actress mentions. Having also swept the SAG and Critics' Choice Awards nominations, Help is on a roll as its circle of friends grows ever wider.

Photographed by Kwaku Alston on Dec. 7 at The Beverly Hills Hotel