Dr. John Fields isn”t heading to Hollywood just yet, but he had such a ball as an extra in “The Help,” he might have to give it some thought.
The Columbus dentist is seen for a few seconds in the DreamWorks Studios movie based on the best-selling book by Mississippi”s Kathryn Stockett, about domestic help and the families they worked for in the early 1960s. The story is set in Jackson, but was shot primarily in Greenwood, where Fields has an auxiliary office and visits weekly.
“I”m a cameraman for WLBT in the scene where ”Hilly” (Bryce Dallas Howard) is being interviewed for TV before the Junior League auction. That”s my silhouette on the steps,” he chuckled.
On the set
When the unexpected call came last summer, Fields wasted no time saying ”yes,” and was quickly thrust into the world of movie hair, wardrobe and makeup.
His scene was shot at night on the Greenwood courthouse steps. “They brought us in on buses; they greeted us like we were movie stars. Really, they treated us like royalty,” he said.
The dentist admits he at first had trouble envisioning how a movie could spend the many millions the budget was purported to be. He has a new perspective now.
“We started at dark and filmed from like 8 p.m. until about 2 a.m. — for 15 seconds of film! … I can see now how it can cost so much.”
After the shoot, the affable Fields found himself enjoying breakfast in the actors” tent with Leslie Jordan, the diminutive, scene-stealing Tennesseean who portrays the newspaper editor who gives Emma Stone”s character, Skeeter, her first journalism job.
“As it turned out, he”d finished filming that night, and they had a little cake and everybody clapped and gathered around,” Fields recalled, smiling.
He also found himself “kidding around” on set with Sissy Spacek, laughing with her about the first time he saw her 1976 chiller, “Carrie.”
All his encounters were positive, he reported.
“Let me tell you, I had no idea what this film was going to turn out to be. They couldn”t have picked a better crew. Everybody played their part so well.”
After filming in Greenwood wrapped, many of the movie”s props and furnishings went to auction. Fields, an inveterate collector and former antiques store owner, was ready.
Among the memorabilia he acquired was the stove from the set for Aibileen Clark”s modest kitchen, where numerous scenes were shot with Tony Award-winning actress Viola Davis portraying the central character.
He also purchased the chairs used by the bridge-playing ladies of “Jackson” at Hilly”s house and, in a coup, the toilet that has a special place among all the rest in the memorable scene involving a prank pulled in Hilly”s front yard.
“It”s the toilet the little girl sat on out in the yard,” Fields shared.
The doctor isn”t the only local link to the film, discovered to date.
“We made a grave marker for it, but it never was in the movie,” said Key Blair of Columbus Marble Works. Ironically, Blair is a former fraternity brother of the film”s director and script-writer, Tate Taylor — as are Will Sanders, Dr. Joe Berry Kelly and several other area alumni of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Mississippi. Blair also has a close family connection to author Kathryn Stockett.
Costumers for “The Help” purchased a substantial quantity of ”60s-era wardrobe from The Attic, KK Norris” vintage clothing store in Columbus.
And there”s more. Multiple interior and exterior shots of Hilly”s house (including the prank scene) were filmed at the home of Columbian Hollis Peel”s aunt, Sandra Johnson, now deceased, and her husband, Jack.
Shot in the arm
The movie”s economic impact has been felt in Greenwood, the surrounding area and the state.
“A lot of people didn”t know who or what it was, but they knew there was filming. Everybody seemed so excited,” said Fields. “They (the studio) spent so much money on antiques, loading up and buying stuff, and in town. … They were very good to Greenwood.”
Fields maintains a dealer”s space at Annabelle”s Antiques in West Point, where he offers some of his finds. He has other plans, however, for his souvenirs from “The Help.” They”re destined for a camphouse he”s working on — where each piece will serve as a reminder of a summer adventure into the world of movie-making.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.