When Regina Hall first got her hands on the script for Support the Girls, she couldn't believe what she was reading — literally. "I kept waiting for Lisa to be corrupt," she says, laughing. She’s referencing the character she portrays in indie director Andrew Bujalski's fourth feature film. "I was like, 'Wow, I've really been drawn into studio [film plots]. She's just a good person!’" Indeed, Bujalski's latest radiates with warm humor and humanity. And Hall's empathetic performance, as "breastaurant" manager Lisa Conroy (Hall) during a particularly stressful and patience-testing day in and out of her rootin-tootin' Texas chain restaurant, is the film's beating heart. It’s an impressive turn amidst a solid supporting cast that includes the on-the-rise actor Haley Lu Richardson and rapper Junglepussy.
As Lisa, Hall acts with such a perfect mix of soft compassion and hardened understanding that she practically disappears into the role. You'll likely often forget you're watching an actor who's maintained a steady box-office ubiquity, from her big-screen debut as Candy nearly 20 years ago in the first installment of the blockbuster The Best Man franchise, to last year's meteoric success Girls Trip. And as much as Hall's built a reputation on scene-stealing appearances in big-deal studio films, her turn in Support the Girls is ample proof that she can masterfully handle subtler performances with hair-trigger precision.
During our chat, in the library of Manhattan's Crosby Hotel, Hall explains that she was drawn to Support the Girls after reading the script, which felt like "a real slice of life." The easy bonhomie between the film's cast goes a long way to establish that in-the-moment looseness: "They felt young to me, which worked because I instinctively felt protective over them," she states. "I loved their joie de vivre, their innocence and hopefulness." According to Hall, regular cast dinners at a nearby outpost of real-life "breastaurant" chain Twin Peaks — fittingly, situated across the street from the empty Texas restaurant that served as the film's shooting location — helped solidify the deeply-felt chemistry between the Support the Girls cast.
Read on for our conversation on Hall's history in the biz, why she chose not to pursue journalism in college, and how she almost became a nun — twice (seriously).
The film's feel is very loose. Was there much improvisation?
A lot of it was scripted, but if there was something that felt unnatural, Andrew let us vibe out and do whatever felt natural. The script was such a natural, easy read — outside of my corrupted studio mind, where I think everyone has a dark side. [Laughs] There's a sadness, too, like there is in life. But it's life, so it's not inherently sad. Well, maybe it is inherently sad, but it's not particularly sad.
While watching this film, I was thinking a lot about Orange Is the New Black, which also features women addressing and solving issues as men are peripheral impediments to reaching those solutions.
In the script, we had Cubby, the boss, but the girls didn't relate to him at all. Then we had a mix of male [characters], but they weren't central to the storytelling or the arcs of these characters. It was nice, and interesting to be on a set where the women were the story. Andrew has such a sensitivity to the humanity of all these people, though — there's no villains, just a mash of people. The way life is.
Near the end of the film, I found myself tensing up and getting ready for something bad to happen to these characters.
Isn't it crazy how your brain prepares like that?
I feel like media in general has conditioned me to expect that, when I see men in the same scene in women in TV and film, there will inevitably be violence against women taking place.
That's so true. Even when I read it, I kept waiting for the bad thing. The horrific thing. But that wasn't what it was about — it just wasn't it. It's interesting to watch yourself to brace for that.
The final scene, where you're all screaming on the rooftop, is very breathtaking. Did you have to do multiple takes of that? How was it on your voice?
[Laughs] Multiple takes and angles. The next day was the wrap party and after I threw alcohol on those already-stressed vocal cords, I was like, "Whoops, I lost my voice. Guess I shouldn't have drank."
Were there any challenges in making this film that you hadn't encountered in your career to this point?
One of the decisions we made is that we didn't want Lisa to look… great. No foundation, just hand makeup — and it showed. I was conscious of her subtlety. How do you have the subtlety to perform so you capture who she is as a manager, and a woman, so an audience still connects with her? That was my focus. How do I show this woman so you feel for her, but you don't feel sorry for her?
There's a conspicuous lack of melodrama in this film. Given the ever-increasing options for artists to express themselves, do you think it's possible popular entertainment will trend away from melodrama?
I hope so. I like things that aren't always melodramatic — we need that. It affects us more sometimes. We're all walking around masking realities in our lives, whether it be a sick parent or the collective everyday sadness of the world. I think people resonate and connect with that, and that's what Andrew's take on the film was, too. In the scene where Lisa is interviewing for a job and she's just smiling, I was tearing up. Andrew came in and was like, "Cover it, but don't lose it, because that's even more tragic-looking." When I saw my [eyeshadow] in a screening, I was like, "That was bad." [Laughs] But I wanted it to be that way. She was going on an interview, and I wanted to show that she tried. There's something incredibly human about the effort.
“I was always trying to choose something a little different from the last thing.”
Before you found success as an actor, did you have any jobs like Lisa's?
I was a waitress, like many actresses. [Laughs] When I was a professor, there were the students and the teachers that I worked with, and there were so many different personalities. You begin to figure yourself last in the scenario. You're just managing everybody else.
You have a masters degree in journalism. Given the state of the profession now, how do you feel about pursuing acting instead?
One of the reasons why I pursued journalism is because I read Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which weighed heavy on me a lot. It talked about the importance of journalism to democracy, and the responsibility a journalist had in what they wrote — the truth they uncovered. I thought it was such an honorable profession, and I still do. I didn't pursue it because my dad had a stroke and life took me in a different direction.
Now, with everything going on politically, I value journalism even more and realize how difficult the job is — the risks they take in their life, what it takes to sit down and write a story. I'm very conscious about my news sources, too. I know a lot of people who only get their news from Facebook. I can't imagine that. I probably love journalism even more, now. There's days where I'd be like, "Ah, I'd want to tell that story," because it's so imperative. I don't think people realize how connected journalism is to freedom of speech — they just think about what they want to say personally. Democracy is so connected to our press.
What's your level of interaction with social media these days?
I'm antiquated. I'm not averse to it, it just takes a lot of time. 30 minutes doing a post — I could've done two other things! I try and keep up on Instagram. I don't even know my Twitter password.
You almost became a nun in 2010. It was the second time in your life you'd considered that — the first was at 14 years old.
I was in Catholic school my whole life, and it felt natural. Maybe I was a nun in a past life. It felt familiar. I loved the sisters and I loved the priests. I didn't have any shady priests, thankfully. But when I was 14, I really loved the nuns. They ran our school and were so smart. They didn't have to worry about what to wear. I loved their little quiet time in prayer. It felt serene. I remember they were having a number of young girls join the convent, and I was like, I would like that.
When I was older, I wanted to do it because I find that my happiest places are when I'm in a really spiritual place. It's almost like the rest of the world becomes background. I thought, What a great life. How could I ever be sad if I'm always in prayer? But I was too old. [Laughs] Every sect has different rules and this particular one I was interested in, their idea was that this wasn't a Plan B. It's not, life's not going good so I wanna be a nun. Some of them limit you by the number of partners you've had — but I couldn't join those either.
Were you disappointed that you couldn't join?
Because of the number of partners or the age?
I was more surprised. Like, That's not the road? I just thought I'd be so happy if I was a nun. I was doing a lot of prayer and meditation and I was like, If this is all I have to do, this would be great. There was another girl with me who was too old, and we were both like, "Oh, wow." [Laughs] I would've been the nun from Scary Movie. They would've been like, "You're the nun from Scary Movie — can I shit on these walls?" [Laughs]
“After Scary Movie, my team was like, ‘We gotta show that you can do drama.’”
Luckily, you've done a lot of good work in the last decade. You were in the David Mamet adaptation About Last Night, which was very similar to this film as ensemble work.
At first, we were all like, "People loved the original one, and we're doing a remake. Are people going to hate it?" We tried to make it our own thing. I loved working with Kevin [Hart], and me and Michael [Ealy] had worked together too, and I loved Joy [Bryant]. It was very similar to Support the Girls, though — it was about allowing the other person to be whatever that character is and not to impede that in any way.
Girls Trip was very successful, and it also received a lot of critical attention in a way that most comedies predominantly featuring black actors do not. Why do you think that is?
I don't know! We made it to be like, "This is what we really say." We wanted guys to know that this is how women really act. Tiffany [Haddish] was like a thunderbolt, this great discovery. But I don't know. We were surprised. Some people say, "Oh, it was just really good." Maybe expectations were different. Maybe it's because we're in a time of female empowerment and support, and that storyline of women sticking together resonated.
Your publicist mentioned to me before this interview that it's great you got a role like the one in Support the Girls. How has your approach to picking roles changed over the years?
In the beginning, it was just "Yes." [Laughs] To anything they'd hire me for. I did The Best Man, and I was like, "I know I'm about to get a bunch of roles where they're gonna ask me to be a sexy stripper." But not one came! Never again. I was kind of ashamed of that. [Laughs] I don't know how I feel about that. After Scary Movie, my team was like, "We gotta show that you can do drama." People thought I was a comedian. There'd be a great comedy, but they'd say, "Doesn't she always do broad comedy?" I was always trying to choose something a little different from the last thing. Support the Girls is very different from Girls Trip in tone. I loved Girls Trip because my character in About Last Night was so outrageous, so I wanted to stay varied. Some characters may be wild, some may be sweet — my character in Think Like a Man was more innocent.
Next year marks 20 years since the first installment of The Best Man franchise. What are your memories of making that film?
That was my first studio film. I didn't even have the whole script or know who else was in it! I didn't have the access. I was like, "I got $2,500 a week!" I had a honeywagon trailer, and I thought it was the best trailer in the world. I went to somebody else's trailer, and I was like, "Oh! Theirs is nice." [Laughs] But I loved my honeywagon. I had my friends from New York over. They were like, "It is good in here." There was no ego, it was just great.
The third film's been put on hold indefinitely — is there any news on that?
There's a script — it's just about scheduling. Taye [Diggs] is on a show now, Terrence [Howard] has been on Empire, Nia [Long]'s doing a show, Sanaa [Lathan]'s working.
How have you seen your business change over the last 20 years?
It's definitely different. I remember when you'd mail headshots to agencies — there was no DMing, the access was different. There was no streaming, there were a lot less mediums. HBO wasn't even huge — they might've had two or three shows. You had to really work to get a job. Agencies would spend time to cultivate you. You could get your reel together on TV, but now you have so many amazing actors on television — the whole thing's changed, it's even more competitive now. I can't even imagine starting now, because back then I had very patient agents who really took the time to build my reel. I remember them taking Polaroids in auditions. They certainly didn't look at how many followers you had — popularity never factored into it. Someone asked me for advice recently and I answered, and they were like, "They don't do that anymore!" I feel so antiquated now.