Montgomery plays bus driver in “The Help”

Published 12:50 am Sunday, August 7, 2011

NICOLE ZEMA | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Natchez resident and actor Ritchie Montgomery will appear as the bus driver in the movie, “The Help,” based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel. Montgomery drives a 1940s GM model bus in the film. The actor has appeared in 96 titles in his career.

NATCHEZ — He has played doctors, detectives, villains and victims, and now Natchez resident Ritchie Montgomery will drive his latest character in a new direction as a bus driver.

In 2010, Montgomery was driving a large U-Haul filled with his belongings from Los Angeles back to Mississippi when he stopped in Greenwood to audition for the part of the bus driver in “The Help.”

“They asked me, what can you drive?” Montgomery said. “I said I can drive everything from a covered wagon to a zamboni.” Luckily he had a massive U-Haul as proof.

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After a screen test that day, Montgomery was called back. He got the part.

Montgomery poses with actress Octavia Spencer, who plays the character of Minnie in “The Help.”

Montgomery said driving the old bus, a GM transit bus introduced in the 1940s, was a challenge.

“When I pressed the accelerator, it took four or five seconds to get moving,” Montgomery said. “But I didn’t wreck the bus or stall it. I got a standing ovation from everyone on the bus when I drove it around the block. You’ve got to hit your mark on the bus to get all the timing right.”

“The Help” is coming to Natchez theaters Aug. 10, and is set in 1960s Jackson. The story is a look at what happens when a Southern town’s unspoken code of racist rules and behavior is shattered by three courageous women — a white writer and a few black maids — when they strike up an unlikely friendship.

Montgomery said the movie does Kathryn Stockett’s book, “The Help,” justice.

“The script is great,” Montgomery said. “The finished product is different from when it started — but that’s always the case (in movie making).”

Thankfully, though, Montgomery is nothing like his harsh character in “The Help.”

Montgomery in costume behind the wheel on the set in Jackson.

“I say some really mean things,” Montgomery said about his character. “But once I say what I say, it seems like a good turning point in the movie.”

Montgomery said there is not a bad performance in “The Help.”

“It’s a good package of everyone — casting, producers and writing,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said to him, Octavia Spencer’s performance was the most impressive. Spencer plays the character of “Minnie,” one of the maids.

“Hopefully Oscar will come knocking at her door,” Montgomery said. “You heard it here first.”

Montgomery recently saw the movie for the first time with the cast and crew for a premiere in Madison.

“It was a big hit,” Montgomery said. “Everyone was laughing and crying. I was worn out when it was over.”

Montgomery said when the movie was over everyone said the same thing.

Montgomery drove the bus filled with cast and crew around the block in Jackson during filming.

“I laughed. I cried.”

Montgomery said if everyone who read the book goes to see the movie, it will be a blockbuster.

“Take a handkerchief,” Montgomery said. “I’m no wimpy wimp, but it’s good. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

Montgomery said the look of the film is spectacular as well, and up and coming Mississippi writer and director Tate Taylor spared no detail in creating an authentic look.

“This movie looks like you’re in the ’60s,” Montgomery said. “The cinematography is beautiful. It’s the way it was in the ’60s — a slice of life. I felt like I was in the ’60s as a bus driver — but then, that’s what acting’s all about.”

With 96 movie titles to his name, Montgomery hopes to hit 100 movies this year. He is working on this 10th movie this year, on the set of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.”

His movie career lives on, he said, despite what you may see on the big screen.

“Next week I get slashed across the face with a knife,” Montgomery said.