Viola Davis Plays Key Character in 'The Help'

Viola Davis plays Aibileen Clark, a pivotal role in this summer’s most anticipated movie, “The Help.” The Tony Award-winning actress assumes the role of a black housemaid in Mississippi during the 1960s, when segregation laws were at their worst.

Opening Wednesday, “The Help,” is based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett.

Emma Stone stars in the film as Skeeter Phelan, an aspiring writer who creates controversy in the Mississippi town when she interviews black women, including Aibileen, who work in the homes of white Southern families.

Davis’ role in the film has very little dialogue, and much of her acting is through her facial expressions. The 45-year-old is best known as a stage actress and received two Tony Awards for her roles in plays “King Hedley II” and “Fences.”

Davis told The Inquirer, “I think actors have a problem doing nothing… We don’t have a problem doing nothing in life, but once the camera rolls or we are onstage, we feel we have to telegraph everything because we don’t think that people will get it. It’s one of the issues I had with Aibileen.”

Davis admitted that she was “terrified at first” because her character, Aibileen, is so quiet.

The director, Tate Taylor, knew the crucial role of Aibileen in “The Help” had to be filled by a unique talent.

“She’s the rock,” Taylor told the Inquirer of Davis. “If you took her out, if you replaced her with somebody else, anybody else, I think you’re in grave danger of having the whole thing turn into some horrible mess.”

The film displays how hired housemaids during the era became responsible for raising the children of their employers, while suffering unfair treatment. Stone’s character goes about interviewing the maids about the injustices they have endured due to their race, with the plan to turn their accounts into a book.

Davis’ character Aibileen risks her job and possibly even her life when she agrees to disclose her experiences as a maid.

On playing Aibileen, Davis told GlobalGrind, “I just had a lot of stake in this story and this time period and educating people about what our history was in this country. And humanizing what people would just label as maids.”

Davis discussed the significance of the maid roles played by other actresses in the film: “I think it’s important for people to understand that we (meaning the maid characters in the film) indeed are human and we played a part in shaping history in a way in terms of raising these children when these women couldn’t. And in Mississippi of all places. Birthplace of the White Citizens Council, and the KKK and Emmitt Till… These incredible women were born out of that.”

“The Help” is expected to reach the top in box office sales this week.