The Man Behind "The Help"
Director Tate Taylor comes home to Mississippi
The buzz on the second-story porch is unmistakable: bees. They have colonized the plaster walls of Tate Taylor’s new property, a nineteenth-century plantation north of Natchez, Mississippi, flying past the crape myrtles and swarming in corners. The director and screenwriter of The Help (out in August) knows the bees must go. But in a way, they’re why he left Los Angeles and came home to Mississippi. “You know, life, hard life, all around you,” Taylor says. “As a creative person you need to be reminded of that—roadkill, vicious bugs, weather that is so, so severe, heat, green. It’s just an assault down here.”
Taylor spent this morning sheltered from spring’s assault, working on his next script for DreamWorks Studios at a dark-grained farm table salvaged from the set of The Help, the movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel. The solitude of Wyolah Plantation’s seventy acres is good, since he looks like a madman when he writes—talking, laughing, and crying as if onstage, with only his rat-sized rescue dog, Earl, and a mounted deer head as audience.
Stockett and Taylor have been friends since they were kindergartners at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson. As teenagers, they “borrowed” Taylor’s grandmother’s car and took a joyride to New Orleans. As young adults, they shared a rent-controlled apartment in New York’s East Village. When The Help became a best seller, Stockett decided her friend should write and direct the movie. “I really wanted a Mississippian to tell the story, to translate it to the screen,” she says. Still, the two never dreamed they would land a deal at a major studio, let alone Steven Spielberg’s. “We didn’t think there was any way a studio would do an all-female biracial drama set in the sixties.” Taylor says. “They just don’t make these movies anymore. They don’t.” And who would have thought this guy—the forty-two-year-old shuffling around Wyolah in camouflage shorts and flip-flops, the Mississippi boy who insists we go out back to shoot his shotgun—would change the status quo?