Out to Lunch with The Help

12/11/2011 04:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2012

When The Help came out earlier this year, it quickly became the movie to see: excellent performances, a great script based on Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel, and a glimpse into the South and the great domestic divide between privileged, white homemakers and the black women who raised them. At a luncheon last week at Desmond's, Montego Glover, Nikki James, Anna Deveare Smith, and Billie Jean King celebrated the film's happy arrival on DVD with two of the stars, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who got up to answer questions about the film. Set designers Rena DeAngelo and Mark Ricker were also on hand to explain how much of the film's antique look came from flea markets.

Racism is, as they say, par for the course. A mean character played by Bryce Dallas Howard suggests that the black maids have their own private toilets and proceeds to add one to her large house. To wit, Octavia Spencer's character bakes her a pie containing an ingredient, let's call it poetic justice, served up hot and finger-licking good, prompting the questions: how could you work with Howard? Did you ever feel like slapping her? Spencer replied, "She was sweet as can be on the set, but then they'd call action, and the devil came out."

Another guest, Andre Leon Tally, made sure to invite the fashion crowd to an exhibition he curated from an idea by Oscar de la Renta, "Joaquin Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress," at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute.

Viola Davis is a sublime actress who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Doubt and received a Tony for her work in the 2010 revival of Fences on Broadway, co-starring Denzel Washington. Expect a Best Actress nomination for her performance in The Help. She also appears in Stephen Daldry's soon-to-be-released Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. "Well, I know about nominations," she said ruefully and then grounded the talk: "In the end, it's the work."

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.