Regina Hall radiates gentle warmth and empathy in Support the Girls, Andrew Bujalski’s 2018 indie film about the stretched-thin but fiercely bonded employees of a Hooters-esque breastaurant called Double Whammies. As Lisa, Double Whammies’s long-suffering and incredibly loyal middle manager, Hall is both heartbreaking and low-key funny, maneuvering the insane machinations of her boss, Cubby (James Le Gros), the oft-perverse behavior of her customers, and her crumbling marriage, all while acting as something of a mother figure to the young, scantily clad women who work beneath her (Haley Lu Richardson, Junglepussy, and Dylan Gelula). The role is an exercise in subtlety — Hall’s wide-open face contorts just slightly enough to let the audience know that Lisa is in pain, but not enough to clue in her adoring coworkers. It’s a revelatory, naturalistic performance that, coming on the heels of years of laugh-out-loud comedies (Girls Trip, Think Like a Man, Scary Movie) and darker dramas (The Hate U Give, Law-Abiding Citizen), shows off Hall’s range.
The film itself is just as quietly powerful, studying the bleak dynamics of late American capitalism and the way it intersects with structural sexism and racism without being didactic or losing its sense of humor. Its politics are baked into the story, like the scene in which Lisa’s white male boss takes her on a furious joyride around the city in pursuit of someone who cut him off, ranting at her about her job performance while she tries to manage his emotions so that she won’t find herself in a fiery car wreck, or when Lisa has to fire an employee who’s just attempted to break into the company safe, but lets him know she understands his desperation and forgives him. None of it would work without Hall, who, much like Lisa does at Double Whammies, gives Support the Girls a center of gravity, a deep sense of goodness, and a surplus of raw charm.
Though Hall received some critical recognition for the role — a New York Film Critics Circle award and nominations from the Gotham and Indie Spirit Awards — it still felt, as IndieWire put it, like the “underdog performance of the year,” flying slightly more under the radar than it deserved. So I caught up with Hall as she filmed Black Monday in Los Angeles to talk about her memories of filming Support the Girls, her psychic premonitions, the arc of her career, and, of course, that incredible 50th birthday video.
Where were you in your career when this script came your way?
I was in New Orleans, and I was shooting Girls Trip. My agent sent me the script and said, “I want you to read this.” I met the director the night of our wrap party—I’d literally just finished. It was such a sweet story, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I kept thinking about it, and I kept thinking, “Oh, Lisa stole the money, Lisa did this” — I kept thinking there would be some twist, and there wasn’t. Lisa was nice, and the girls were nice. There was nothing sordid. They were all doing the best they could and working hard. I read it and loved it and I met with Andrew Bujalski, and I was hoping that I was the one he wanted. I didn’t know how many people he was meeting with.
Did you audition or just sit down and talk? Why do you think he ended up seeing you as Lisa?
We just sat down and talked. We didn’t talk much about the movie, actually. I do remember that. I certainly told him how I felt about the script and his work, and that I really liked it. I was like, “Come to the wrap party [for Girls Trip]!” And he stopped by, which is really nice, and if you know Andrew, really surprising, because he’s actually quite shy. We just had a general life conversation. I asked where he got the idea, and after that, I started going to Hooters, just to see the world and what the customers enjoyed about it. And I had just been to one to watch a boxing match — actually not too long before, and it was the first time I’d gone to a Hooters. It was while I was shooting a film in South Carolina. I was like, “It’s so crazy, I was just there.”
I think I had a psychic moment, too. I said, “Ooh, I’m feeling psychic!” I called my agent after and I said, “Andrew might think I’m crazy.” [Laughs.] “I don’t know that he’s gonna hire me.” He’s like, “Regina…why?” And I said, “I don’t know, I felt a psychic premonition and I couldn’t keep it down!”
What was the premonition?
I don’t know! Something about him. I don’t remember. I was like, “Ooh, I’m feeling something.” It was a feeling. I was like, “I have to express this!” Which I’ve done before. My agent’s always like “Regina…” And I’m like, “I can’t help it!”
Do you think you’re a little bit psychic?
I think everyone is, you know what I mean? I think everyone has intuition. If you asked me something specific, I couldn’t answer, but every now and then I get, like, “Ooh, ooh! Wait a minute, wait a minute! I’m feeling something.” And it has to come out. It’s always unsolicited, thus far. And a lot of times, it’s on point. I can’t lie.
Really?! You’ve accurately predicted things before?
Well, I’ve felt things. It would be very matter-of-fact. You’d ask me a question and I say, “Oh, it’s such and such.” It’s only when I’m not thinking about it. And then it’ll just hit me. And it’s horrible. Because it comes at moments when it shouldn’t — like a meeting with a director. [Laughs.]
That’s really cool. What did he say?
He was so great. He laughed. He was like, “Oh, yeah?”
What was memorable about that Hooters visit to you? What did you take from that and incorporate into Lisa?
That day, nothing in particular, but once I got the role, I went to a lot of places, talked to the customers who went. We were actually shooting next to a Twin Peaks as well. At Hooters, I just remembered liking the food, and it was a good, fun place to watch a fight. Our server was great and friendly.
I did discover they’re very popular. I remember being like, “Oh, it’s packed in here!” I think there are two in L.A., or there were at the time, but what I did find is that there were a lot of families there. It was quite a familial environment. I was really surprised. But at Twin Peaks — I looooved their food. And I got it, you know? You meet some of the girls and the managers that worked there, and I was like, “Oh, okay.” And from my research and talking to these people, the girls were really happy — they were somewhat scantily clad, per se, but after a few times, I didn’t notice it at all. It wasn’t the focal point. They were all really friendly. And the food was GOOD. Of course, that’s my takeaway from anything. [Laughs.] I just love the food at Twin Peaks
I’ll have to try it. You said that you had to do a lot of backstory for your character and I’m curious what that consisted of. Because Lisa is sort of an iceberg — you know she’s stressed and in pain but she’s so good at hiding it, and we never quite get to the root of it.
For me, it was like one of the women who worked at the restaurant—it was a family for her. It was creating that familial, protective environment. She identified that place as her sense of work and purpose; her identity was wrapped up in it. And the backstory was about her own life, her own failures, or, should I say, dreams that didn’t necessarily materialize—her own disappointments. Your life doesn’t necessarily go the way you plan it. And her fears. The moments in her life that got her to that space, and defined her relationship with the girls, with Cubby, her husband — her need to make everything right for everyone around her. The things that would lead her to have a personality that created these dynamics in her relationships.
You have a tendency in a lot of your roles to project this real warmth and generosity and it feels pretty rare to do that so well. Do you think that’s how you are in real life, and that carries over? Do you identify that way?
I do feel like there is a commonality that we have, just as human beings. Even though I know we think we’re so incredibly different, there are certain things that make us all human. For every character, I do try to find humanity. So when you’re watching something, even if you can’t relate to the character — I’m thinking of Brenda in Scary Movie. [Laughs.] I know it seems like she doesn’t have humanity because she wants Cindy to die at that skeleton’s hand. But the truth is, she does love Cindy. She’s just incredibly selfish and rotten. It’s a parody, but you know people where both exist. So it’s just trying to find the humanity that makes us all who we are, neither completely good nor completely bad.
In the first scene of Support the Girls, you’re crying in your car, and you cry again later in the film. What’s your crying process? Do you think about your own life? What the character’s going through?
Both. Sometimes I think about a parallel of those feelings that I’ve experienced. Or a parallel that would be that bad —maybe it’s not something I’ve actually gone through, but a circumstance that I’ve imagined, and the pain or sadness…or joy! Because tears can come from joy. And what would be the equivalent of that circumstance. Sometimes it’s so close [to real life], though. But other times I create a scenario, like, What if during this interview, I exploded! That would be bad for you. [Laughs.] And I’d be traumatized. I’d never want to do a phoner ever again. So I’d think of, what would that scenario be like? And then I’d just daydream about that.
Is crying easy for you?
No, I have to do the homework. Some people are natural criers, and I’m jealous. I have to literally get in this space. “Why won’t you water, eyes?!” I’m always seeing people who are like, “I can just cry!” and I’m like, “Dang!” I have to do all the work to get there. Sometimes it sucks.
I want to hear about your offscreen relationships with your younger co-stars. Did you mirror that mothering dynamic off screen?
Probably, yeah. The thing is, they’re so cute. And they’re babies, to me, clearly. But they also made me laugh. Like, they made me laugh a lot. They were so funny. Haley Lu, all of them. I felt so happy to meet them. They were infectious. We were in that restaurant pretty much all day. And they had such joy and fun and enthusiasm. I was definitely mothering, I’m sure. If you ask them, they’d probably say yes. But they were so great, and I didn’t know any of them before. Just so warm and embracing. It made my job almost not a job. They were so easy to like and care about.
Did you all go to Twin Peaks? Were you partying at all or was it more lowkey?
We did go to Twin Peaks a couple of times. [Laughs.] We watched a boxing match, always watching a boxing match at Twin Peaks. I can’t say I’m much of a partier, and I don’t know if they partied that much — we had early call times. They got there a few days before I did and did some shifts waitressing, put on the uniforms, and really jumped into it. They probably hung out more than I did. I had my dog with me, and he was having surgery.
Is your dog okay now?
No, he passed away. His surgery was successful in that regard, but he did pass.
Oh no! I’m sorry.
But all the girls were so great with Zeus. And so was the crew. You love those little things.
I can’t even watch the last scene of this movie, even by itself, without crying. It’s so cathartic, all of you screaming on the roof. Did it feel cathartic for you personally?
Yes, for all of us. On the movie set, you become like a little family. That was actually our last day of filming. And that night was our wrap party. That had a lot of different levels of emotion to it, as well. Screaming, on the top of that building, I remember so specifically. We did it from so many angles. And I just thought of the girls going and getting another job [at Mancave]. Lisa felt a little dated and stuck. How’s she gonna work in a new environment? It felt like her place was at Double Whammies, but it wasn’t her place anymore. Her marriage is gone, her job is gone.
I was sitting opposite Brooklyn Decker [in the previous scene], who was so amazing and fun, and unfortunately kind and sweet and beautiful. I hoped she would be rotten and bad. [Laughs.] But she’s talented and great. I was like, damn you! And I didn’t know if Lisa was going to get that job. So the scream had a lot of emotion in it. I think for all three of us.
You’ve been working for a long time, and many of the takes on this film were that this level of critical respect for you as a performer was long overdue. Did you feel that way?
I think probably it’s just the timing of everything, and the kind of movie. Hollywood is not an easy place. I always felt blessed to work. But I didn’t walk around feeling like, “Oh, I deserve this.” But it’s always wonderful to get applause or gratitude for your work. It’s always nice when critics enjoy things that you do. It doesn’t always matter, and I understand that, but when it does happen, it’s a good feeling. I didn’t know what would happen with Support the Girls, but it was a nice bonus treat.
I don’t know that I consciously think about it, though. I was always working. If you’re working, it’s another way of people saying they like what you do. But the added layer was pretty great. I was very happy with my Critic’s Choice. And I can tell you, there’s a big difference between going in a room when they don’t like your movie, and they talk about what’s coming next, and when they actually do, and they ask you questions about your character. Instead of thinking, “I’m never gonna get those two hours back.”
I read in an interview with you earlier in quarantine that you were working on a script with your neighbor. Where are you at on that?
Yes! Well, we’re at the next level of working on it. We’re very excited.
Can you tell me anything about it?
Not yet! [Laughs.] But soon. It’s kind of based on real things. I can’t wait to talk about it, actually, probably in the next couple of months.
My last question for you is about your 50th birthday video. It’s so amazing. I need to know the story behind it.
[Laughs.] Ironically, the story behind it is that I was like, “I don’t want my age to be the narrative of my birthday.” I was only thinking of my support system and fans. I was like, “I don’t feel like doing one of those sexy, ‘50 is the new 30’ or whatever videos.” I used to always talk about my birthday coming and I’d be like, “A bitch is old! A bitch is getting old!” And I was taking a shower, and that song came in my head. I got my phone and did a voice note. I think I was maybe 48 or 49. And then I was in Australia [filming Nine Perfect Strangers], and I was like, I’m gonna do my song! We were sitting on set, and I was like, “What do you guys think? Will you shoot it?” to all my co-stars, who are so lovely.
I didn’t think it was gonna translate the way it did. And then I was like, “More people know my age now, because of this video!” People were like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were 50!” I was like, “Jesus!” But it was fun. It was to celebrate the natural progression of life. And being okay with where I am, and being happy, even though sometimes it’s terrifying how fast it goes. But it’s also incredible. So we were celebrating both.
And you wrote all the lyrics or was it a collaboration with your co-stars?
They all came in the shower! The melody, too. I don’t know why! [Sings] “A bitch is old!” My brain doesn’t have enough to do, so it wrote a song. I don’t even know why it came.
Another psychic moment.
One of my girlfriends, her birthday is in May, so she started singing, “A bitch is old, in May!” [Laughs]
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.