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Perfect Casting

Been holding off on announcing this until it was more firm, but it's some of the best news I've heard all year. One of Back Stage's "Take Five" columnists and one of our favorite actors, Octavia Spencer, is in talks to appear in the big screen adaptation of the bestseller "The Help." She'd be playing Minny, a role that was actually modeled on her by her friend, "The Help" author Kathryn Stockett.

If you don't know Spencer's name, odds are you'll recognize the face or the voice. I first noticed Spencer when she was appearing in Del Shores' acclaimed play "The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife." After that, she started popping up everywhere--"Win a Date with Tad Hamilton," "Coach Carter," and "Big Momma's House" to name a few. She would always turn up and steal the scene, even if she only had one line. Case in point: her memorable (and unprintable) response to Billy Bob Thornton in "Bad Santa," where she played a prostitute. I then profiled her in an article called "The Quip Queen" and was stunned to find out she never intended on being an actor, and landed her first role while working behind the scenes on "A Time to Kill."

But back to "The Help." Like most of America, I devoured this tale of African-American maids working for white families in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. I particularly loved the character of Minny, whose big mouth belies a bigger heart. The entire time I was reading the book, I kept thinking, "I have to tell Octavia to read this. She would be perfect for this role!" Then I noticed there was a character in the story named Octavia. I thought that was strange, but didn't think much more about it. When I finally finished the book, I was literally on my way to write her an email to tell her to go after this role, when I saw her thanked in the acknowledgments! After doing a little research (i.e., typing "The Help" into Wikipedia) I learned that not only was Spencer indeed the inspiration for the character, she had recorded Minny's sections for the audiobook!

Anyway, I was glad I read this before I sent some know-it-all email about how I had discovered the perfect role for her. I asked if she was up for the role, and she said the outlook was good. In fact, the whole cast of "The Help" is shaping up to be a virtual who's who of my favorite actors--in addition to Spencer, the cast includes the great Viola Davis, my girl crush Emma Stone, and the awesome Bryce Dallas Howard. Filming is set to start in July under the direction of Tate Taylor--another friend of Stockett's who wisely optioned the rights to the book before its release. Expect to be hearing a lot about this one from us (and everyone else) in the coming months.

--Jenelle Riley

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Octavia is pure magic!!! She was brilliant in my play "Trailer Trash Housewife" and I'm so happy for her.

Also, a little trivia for your readers. Tate Taylor was the original "T.J." in my play "Southern Baptist Sissies" and brought Octavia to the play, where I was reacquainted with her. Beth Grant introduced us years before, but when reconnected at "Sissies", I feel in love and wrote the role of "LaSonia" for her in "Trailer Trash." Tate also starred in my series "Sordid Lives: The Series" as Olivia Newton-John's bad-ass boyfriend "Richie".

Congrats to Octavia and Tate!

Del Shores

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