Actor-turned-filmmaker Tate Taylor used his Southern upbringing to inform his adaptation of "The Help" (2011), a period drama set in the Jim Crow South and based on the best-selling novel by his childhood friend, Kathryn Stockett. The film, which examined the relationship between black domestics and the white families that employed them, was a major summer hit, elevating Taylor from bit player and occasional feature director to the steady hand behind a blockbuster produced by DreamWorks Pictures and Steven Spielberg. His expected windfall of writing accolades during the 2011-12 award season served as official notice that Taylor was a bona fide Hollywood filmmaker on the rise.
Born and raised in Jackson, MS, Tate Taylor befriended Kathryn Stockett when both were just preschoolers. Both were largely raised by African-American domestics while their parents worked, and the experience would largely inform their future efforts on "The Help." Taylor and Stockett remained friends throughout their teenaged years, eventually sharing an apartment in New York City, where she worked in magazine publishing while he pursued an acting career. Eventually Taylor headed to Los Angeles, where he studied with the improvisational group The Groundlings while working various jobs between auditions. He eventually landed minor parts in "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" (1997) and Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" (2001) remake, but no roles of genuine substance.
Undaunted, Taylor decided to take control of his own career and directed a comedic short, "Chicken Party" (2003), which featured his then-roommate, actress Octavia Spencer, as well as Allison Janney and Melissa McCarthy. The short was well received on the festival circuit, winning several awards at state and national events and leading to the 2008 film version "Pretty Ugly People," a comedy about a group of reunited college friends that also featured Spencer, Janney and McCarthy.
In 2009, Stockett completed her debut novel, The Help. Five years in the making, the book was rejected by over 60 agents before landing a publisher. Upon reading the book, Taylor and Stockett agreed that he should write and helm a feature version. When The Help became a literary sensation, their project caught the attention DreamWorks chief, Steven Spielberg, who agreed to back the film on one condition: he sent veteran filmmaker Chris Columbus to not only serve as producer but on-set observer to make sure that Taylor was able to keep the project on budget and within its shooting schedule.
The film version of "The Help," with Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Spencer in the leads, received both critical and audience praise for its performances and heartfelt story, debuting at No. 2 at the box office, and eventually grossing nearly $200 million in worldwide ticket sales. The picture also weathered negative reaction for its depiction of race and class relations and its lightweight handling of the South's history of racism. For his efforts, Taylor, who was in the midst of receiving critical praise for his turn as a sympathetic bail bondsman in the neo-noir "Winter's Bone" (2010), earned best director and screenplay nominations from the Satellite Awards and Broadcast Film Critics Awards. Taylor's next film as a director was another period piece, the James Brown biopic "Get On Up" (2014).
By Paul Gaita
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Film Production - Main (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Feature acting debut, "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion"
Cast in a small role in "Planet of the Apes"
Played Lieutenant Percy in comedy feature "I Spy"
Feature writing and directorial debut, "Pretty Ugly People"; also produced
Landed a supporting role in "Winter's Bone"
Directed "The Help," a feature adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel; also executive produced and wrote the screenplay
Directed the thriller "The Girl on the Train"