Emma Stone admits, Americans may have short memories when it comes to their nation’s troubled history of race and equality.
Stone found herself learning just how extreme circumstances could be for African Americans living in Mississippi of the early 60s – just five short decades ago – when she took on a role in the film adaptation of “The Help,” the popular novel by Kathryn Stockett that explores the unique relationships between white Southerners and their black household help at a critical juncture of social change.
“I don't know if it's my generation or if it's just me, but I didn't know the levels, the depths, the intricacies – I didn't know on a day-to-day basis what life was like [then],” Stone tells PopcornBiz. “I learned a huge amount through the story and through researching the time period more, but I really hope for my generation that they will go see this movie, because I don't know that we know as much as we should about our very recent history.”
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Playing Skeeter Phelan, a recent college grad who returns who to find the beloved maid who helped raise her mysteriously gone and her attitudes about race relations now at odds with those of her friends and family, Stone said she could relate to her character’s dilemma, caught between old loyalties and oppressive realities.
“Like many girls are as teenagers – like I was as a teenager and like I still am in many ways – Skeeter wanted to fit in with her friends,” says Stone. “You don't want to have those hard conversations. You want to keep things amicable, keep things good…She wants to please her friends, even though she doesn't really agree with what they're saying. I mean, I have friends today that if we really sat down, there's a lot of things that I don't agree with them on, but there are some redeeming qualities that I can find in people that make me want to be their friend in some capacity. So I can relate to that, to wanting to be accepted and then finally having that breaking point where they just realize that they're just too different to ever get along anymore.”
Stone found herself forming significant off-screen friendships with her female co-stars – the cast boasted a diverse array of actresses - Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard – that were each in a unique place in their lives and careers.
“It was an amazing experience across the board, life-wise,” says Stone. “Telling a story that I was so proud to be a part of, getting to meet these women and getting to work with these women – It's really inspiring, and such a supportive environment being around all these women I was learning so much.”
Despite all that she learned on set, Stone, 22, says she was never subjected to lectures from her more experienced co-stars. “I think that would be the most obnoxious thing in the world, if people were like, 'Let me tell you…Let me sit you down…'” she chuckles. “It's only when you seek it out, I think, that people are really willing to give advice. I will say that on 'Crazy, Stupid, Love' Julianne Moore, like any time she was in my vicinity I was like, 'Okay, if you could do this and you could do this, what…' and the whole time she was like, 'I don't want to give you advice! You don't care. You don't want to hear from me'."