Bryce Dallas Howard has played a vampire, a character from a bedtime story brought to life, and the wife of 'Terminator's John Connor, so isn't it about time she plays a villain? We're not talking about a Disney-type villain clad in black robes here, but rather a well-to-do southern woman with a vicious temper and racist tendencies.

In 'The Help,' adapted from Kathryn Stockett's book of the same name, Howard plays Hilly Holbrook, the mean bigot who basically runs the upper class of Jackson, Mississippi. With her '60s garb and manicured hair, Hilly rules the roost and manipulates all of the women in town. Howard's portrayal is a success -- you love to hate her, and it's worth watching the movie just to see her get her comeuppance.

Moviefone caught up with Howard to talk about playing the bad girl, potential Oscar nods and modern-day racism.

The movie was pretty heavy at times. Was it ever tough for you to actually say the things that Hilly says?
Yeah, absolutely. There are scenes that I would never want to go back and do ever, ever again. But there were a lot more scenes that were so fun because Hilly's getting what she deserves. Like the chocolate pie scene, the commode scene or even the scene at the end on the porch when Hilly shows up at Skeeter's house and is attacking Skeeter [Emma Stone] and Skeeter's mom, when [Allison Janney] comes out and tells her off. Those were incredibly fun.

Did you like playing the villain then?
I loved playing a character that I didn't have to worry about being appealing or likable or attractive in any way, that gave me a real sense of freedom. It's a character that's so different from myself that I didn't have to worry about making her different from me, whereas sometimes you play a normal person and you don't want to be playing yourself so you come up with these things and they're not necessarily organic to the movie.

So it's almost easier to play the extreme.
For me, it's way easier to play an extreme.

So not being a vampire.
Yeah, being a vampire was way too close to home for me. [Laughs]

Straight up, your character is a bitch. Everyone hates you.
I know. We'll see how that turns out!

Obviously '60s societal racism doesn't exist anymore on that level, but do you think we have a new stratification currently in terms of racism?
Absolutely. Prejudice still exists and I think that we're going through a civil rights movement right now. The backdrop of this film is the civil rights -- obviously it's interwoven into the storyline -- and I play a character who's so self-righteous and really believes that what she's doing is right, but she's so wrong. I think that's something that's important to convey in any civil rights movement, that there's two sides and there's a side that's moving forward and embracing unity in some kind of way and there's a side that's resisting. And I think it's important to understand the psychology of that resistance, or to understand the psychology behind those beliefs because that's the only way they can be transformed, ultimately.

Do you think that's probably the main message coming out of this movie?
I don't know what the main message is. I mean, I think ultimately, at its core, it's a story of courage because these women really had to risk everything in order to just tell their story. And if this movie inspires one person to speak up who previously would've remained silent, I think that would be a very powerful thing.

So a ton of themes, like family, mother/daughter relationships...
While the movie is emotional (of course) and also hilarious, it's very powerful. It's a very powerful film and I think it's powerful on many levels, and that's what the book was like.

I smell potential Oscar nods for this movie. What do you think about Viola Davis' performance?
She's a powerhouse. There's no better word I think to describe her talent. She's one of our greats, and to get to work with her is such a powerful experience. It's so crazy getting to know her as a woman; she's a lovely, warm, highly intelligent, hard-working, hilarious woman, and then you see the movie and it's this character that's so internal and has suffered so much and goes through so much and is so different from how Viola actually is. It's craft, it's like I got to witness genius and that is something that I'll always be really grateful for.

I think the chemistry in 'The Help' was just amazing. There wasn't one weak link in the entire cast. What's next for you, your new baby? [Howard is several months pregnant]
Baby, yep. I'm doing a movie called '50/50' and it's going to come to the Toronto Film Festival this year. Then I produced a movie called 'Restless' with Gus Van Sant, that's also going to come to TIFF.

'The Help' opens in theaters on Wednesday, August 10.

>> Check out our interview with Howard's co-star, Octavia Spencer