EXCLUSIVE: Tate Taylor has set Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to star with Chadwick Boseman in Get On Up, the James Brown biopic that Imagine’s Brian Grazer is producing with Jagged Films’ Mick Jagger. Davis will play Susie Brown, who was only 16 when she gave birth to the future R&B legend, and abandoned him to live with relatives. Spencer will play the child’s Aunt Honey, a formative figure in his upbringing. This is a re-team with Taylor from The Help, for which Davis was nominated for Best Actress Oscar and Spencer winning for Best Supporting Actress. Universal will start production November in Mississippi. The script is by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth and Steven Baigelman, and Victoria Pearman and Erica Huggins are also producing. Davis is repped by CAA and Principal Entertainment, Spencer by WME.
EXCLUSIVE: Tate Taylor, who launched his writing and directing career by getting the option on The Help before author Kathryn Stockett was done writing it, has gotten himself on the ground floor of another sure-fire bestseller. Taylor has been granted an option by Stephen King to adapt and direct Joyland, the King novel that will be published in June. Taylor will adapt to direct, and John Norris will produce through his Wyolah Films banner. Taylor will also produce.
Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of a college student who moonlights as a carnival worker. There, he confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will forever change his life. It’s got all the makings of a King potboiler, with crime, mystery, ghosts and a creepy carnival setting. The book is being published through Hard Case Crime, the line of pulp-styled crime paperbacks published by Titan Books.
Take this forecast with a grain a salt, built as it is on buzz, precursors, Oscar history, nominee pedigrees, educated guesses, instinctive hunches and conversations with voters. Enter your office pool with confidence but don’t blame me if you lose to some grandmother who hasn’t been to a movie since Gone With The Wind. As the race has entered its final phase I have tweaked this forecast from an earlier article in Issue 7 of AwardsLine (see all of our AwardsLine editions here). This is where I have landed for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Predicting Oscars is not an exact science, and this year some of the categories are kinda tricky, but if you count on The Artist to make the most noise on Oscar night you’re likely to turn up in the winners’ circle. That is unless the common wisdom of collective punditry is completely wrong this year. Now wouldn’t THAT make for an interesting show?
Once a year it seems a performance comes across as more than the sum of good writing, strong direction and lucky timing. The performance appears to be rooted in the reality of the actor’s history; in essence they have lived much of what they are being asked to portray. Such is Octavia Spencer‘s portrait of Minny Jackson in The Help. She plays a maid who suffers through emotional and physical beatings like a native but not a naive veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement — Spencer grew up in Montgomery, Ala., and graduated with a BS in Liberal Arts from Auburn. Perhaps it’s the combination of her education, Southern comfort and humor that have helped Spencer emerge as a Supporting Actress frontrunner for the Oscars even with such equally impressive co-stars as Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney and Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek. She spoke with AwardsLine contributor Craig Modderno about her experience with The Help, which is up for four Oscars including Best Picture.
AWARDSLINE: Many actors say they’re perfect for the role especially when they’re auditioning. Was your part in The Help a natural fit for you?
SPENCER: I don’t know. Basically it was physically, because I suspect Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, who I knew while she was writing the book, might have modeled the character after me. But there are a lot of other short and round black women in the South who also seem to not hesitate in speaking their minds. Even though I was friends with the author and other influential members of the production team, I still had to audition for the role. When I did, in the back of my mind, I thought I was hearing someone ask if Jennifer Hudson was available yet!
Has anyone submitted Jessica Chastain to the Guinness Book of World Records? She must have set a record this year for an actor making her feature film debut (The Tree Of Life) and following it up with the most films ever — seven! — to come out in the following six months (Chastain actually shot 11 movies in the last four years). One of two nominees for Best Supporting Actress in The Help (the other is Octavia Spencer), Chastain spoke on the phone from Morocco with AwardsLine contributor Ari Karpel about the whirlwind she’s been on, working with Terrence Malick, and her politely expressed disdain for the lack of roles that aren’t “the wife.”
AWARDSLINE: Considering how prolific you are, I imagine you’re not in Marrakech on vacation.
CHASTAIN: You know what? It is my vacation! I was in Toronto, shooting a movie called Mama, produced by Guillermo del Toro. It was a very long shoot and we were working through weekends, and I finished on Thursday and went straight to the airport to come to Marrakech. This is the first time this year I’m not going somewhere to film something or promote something. I’m with my best friend, Jess, and I’m sitting on the jury of the Marrakech [International] Film Festival, which is so exciting. I don’t really do beach vacations so this is kind of a typical vacation for me — I get to go see movies and talk about them.
The Help accumulated more accolades tonight with the NAACP Image Awards naming it Best Motion Picture, and Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were chosen Best Actress and Supporting Actress. Ceremonies at the Shrine Auditorium were hosted by Sanaa Latham and Anthony Mackie. In addition, the Founding Members of the Black Stuntmen’s Association received the NAACP President’s Award. A list of winners in motion picture and TV categories follows:
Outstanding Motion Picture
“The Help” (DreamWorks Pictures/
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Laz Alonso – “Jumping the Broom”
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
Viola Davis – “The Help” (DreamWorks Pictures/
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Mike Epps – “Jumping the Broom” (TriStar Pictures)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Octavia Spencer – “The Help” (DreamWorks Pictures/
Outstanding Independent Motion Picture
“Pariah” (Focus Features)
Outstanding Foreign Motion Picture
“In the Land of Blood and Honey” (FilmDistrict)
Viola Davis, a two-time Tony winner, landed her first major leading film role in The Help and has already won the Critics’ Choice Movie Award and the SAG Award for best actress as well as Oscar and BAFTA nominations in a fiercely competitive year. It’s a season in which he finds herself again vying in the same category with her Doubt co-star Meryl Streep among others (the pair were also Oscar-nominated for that film at the 2009 Academy Awards). But no matter what happens, Davis is proud of her film, which is based on the best–selling book that she originally tried to option herself before learning that director Tate Taylor was already one step ahead of her. Fortunately, things worked out in the end for Davis, Taylor and especially moviegoers. She spoke with Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond about playing maids, awards season and the keepers of history.
Revolutionizing the craft in the wake of her role models
Cicely Tyson [her Help co-star] was an inspiration because before that time the only images of African Americans on screen were in sitcoms. I can name 15 sitcoms and no dramas that were on TV: What’s Happening?, Good Times, That’s My Momma, Baby I’m Back and Sanford and Son. … Then Miss Jane Pittman’s autobiography came along and I saw something different. I saw a craft and I saw magic, and transformation. For me, that’s what I wanted to do. I saw the difference between the gimmick, and the actor who was creating a human being; and I still always seek that in the work. And especially with people who look like me. You know, I found with a lot of the images that were playing out there were the Jimmy J.J. Walker, the Re-run, the George Jefferson, the George Sanford, they were always caricatures, larger-than-life entertainers. And when I set about becoming an actress I didn’t know the lonely path of the black artist. That the black artist is usually reduced, as Isabelle Sanford was, as was the role John Amos played. If you didn’t kind of reduce what you do and take a role opposite a Jimmy J.J. Walker or a Re-run, then you probably wouldn’t work. I often wondered what those actors felt like — being trapped in those sitcoms trying to make that material work for them. But I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to be an actor, not an entertainer, and Cicely Tyson was it for me.
Steven Spielberg has been a prominent player in the feature film scene for close to 40 years, and scored the first of his 12 Oscar nominations (with two wins) 33 years ago. Yet in many ways the filmmaker maintains a perpetual boyish image in the public imagination. Maybe it’s his affinity for stories featuring children — like his Oscar contender War Horse – or his unquenchable excitement about movie-making. Whatever the reason, the director-writer-producer-mogul always seems to be in the center of the current conversations about film — he and producer/filmmaker Peter Jackson unleashed the 3D motion capture animated family film The Adventures Of Tintin just days before War Horse was released, made while both iconic directors were busy making huge live-action films of their own. While Spielberg surprisingly did not get nominated for Best Director on War Horse, he’s up for Best Picture as that film’s producer. That is one of two Best Picture nominations for DreamWorks, the other being The Help. Those two films are up for 10 Oscars between them. And Spielberg shows no signs of slowing down. He’s prepping a big science fiction film in Robopocalypse, and he is close to committing to Gods And Kings, a Warner Bros film (DreamWorks would become partner on the film) that would be the most epic Old Testament film about Moses since The Ten Commandments. On a break from shooting his upcoming biopic on Abraham Lincoln, Spielberg took time to reflect on his lessons learned, the advice he’s ignored and the medium he loves.
AWARDSLINE: After Jaws went 100 days over schedule, George Lucas was quoted as saying, ‘Stay away from working on the water and working with kids, old people and live animals.’ Was shooting War Horse with real horses deja vu all over again for you?
SPIELBERG: No, because the horses work. I mean seriously, they work. The nice thing about a living creature is that they do have a mind of their own. And that could be either a worst enemy or it could be your greatest ally as in this case, when all of us started trusting each other, meaning the actors and the horse. The horse actually made material contributions to the experience and added things that we never trained the horse to contribute and that was what was so amazing for me. I don’t want to compare that to Jaws because Jaws was just an aquatic nightmare for me; I mean, all of those stories were true. In this case the horses were in a sense one of the greatest surprises I ever had in making movies.
AWARDSLINE: What kinds of material contributions did the horses make?
SPIELBERG: They brought to many of the scenes a horse sense. If the scene was tense and electrifying, they were on edge and they were reactive and you could see their eyes flaring, you could see their nostrils opening and taking in more air, they were very responsive to the situations that we placed them in. … In many many cases the horse just loved [acting with] Geordie (Toby Kebbell), loved Albert (Jeremy Irvine), and he was much more reactive and responsive and in affectionate way to Albert than anyone else who came near him and you can’t ask for that, you can’t train for that.
AWARDSLINE: What was the appeal of building a movie around World War I for you? Obviously you’ve shot your share of war films.
SPIELBERG: World War I was a part in parcel of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book he wrote in 1982 and it was certainly a very important part of the stage play, [but] what attracted me to the project was really this very soulful narrative about a family of farmers whose very existence depends on the land. And the father buys the wrong horse, yet the horse is able to overcome its own breeding to be able to help the farm through, and the heart the horse displays in that gets transferred over to France in no man’s land. This is really about connections, the connections of courage and hope but mainly about the connections between people and animals and how much this horse brings into everybody’s life. It’s only about 12 minutes of combat in the actual movie.
AWARDSLINE: Saving Private Ryan was a violent, jarring, concussive war film. Here, because you’re making a family film, what did you do differently to make it accessible to families?
SPIELBERG: What I certainly was not going for was human dismemberment and the actual effects of shelling and combat, I’ve done that, and didn’t need to do it again. What I really wanted to do was find a way to allow the audience to fill in the blanks that I wasn’t literally putting in their faces. So, for instance, when the cavalry charges you don’t see a single British cavalryman being shot off the horse nor do you see a single horse being shot back into the ground. You simply see horses with riders and then you see the same horses without riders, and I thought that was sufficient to convey the impression that the technology then suddenly rendered horses useless in war time.
The Best Actress race is hot this year.
New York, NY (December 20, 2011) – The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC) has voted “THE HELP” Best Film of 2011, Dee Rees Best Director for “PARIAH”, Viola Davis Best Actress for “THE HELP” and Olivier Litondo Best Actor for “THE FIRST GRADER”. The announcement was made by today by Mike Sargent, co-president, BFCC. Votes were cast and tabulated in NY at the organization’s annual meeting on December 19, 2011.
Recognizing achievements in theatrical motion pictures, the BFCC awarded prizes in 13 categories including best picture, best director, original and adapted screenplay, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best animated feature, best independent film, best documentary feature, best foreign film and best ensemble. Special Signature awards are also given to industry pioneers and rising stars.
“This year was a very engaging one in cinema,” says Sargent. “Both commercial and independent fare illustrated the continued ability of Hollywood to entertain, spotlight new talent, show fresh perspectives and move audiences. Congratulations to all of the winners.”
The complete list of award winners include:
Best Picture – THE HELP
Best Director – Dee Rees for PARIAH
Best Actor – Olivier Litondo for THE FIRST GRADER
Best Actress – Viola Davis for THE HELP
Best Supporting Actor – Albert Brooks for DRIVE
Best Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer for THE HELP
Best Independent Film – PARIAH
Best Original Screenplay – Dee Rees for PARIAH
Best Adapted Screenplay – Tate Taylor for THE HELP
Best Documentary – BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Best Foreign Film – LIFE, ABOVE ALL
Best Animated Film – RANGO
Best Ensemble – THE HELP