Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
August 21, 2018

In a shining display of putting an entire movie on one's shoulders, actress Regina Hall carries the comedy drama Support the Girls, appearing in virtually every scene from beginning to end. As Lisa, the manager of a Hooters-esque restaurant called Double Whammies, she navigates a gauntlet of challenges on one particularly trying day that finds her training new staff, raising money for a troubled friend, firing a member of her kitchen crew, placating a tempermental owner, counseling a former employee, moving on from a clingy ex-husband, and questioning the state of her professional life.

Meanwhile, Haley Lu Richardson spunkily injects most of the comedic elements into the film's narrative. As Lisa's de facto lieutenant and right-hand woman Maci, she delivers laughs through her outgoing personality, cheery demeanor, and downright random bursts of aggressive positivity: in one scene, she sneaks up on Lisa to fire off a confetti cannon and shout "you're the best and we love ya," while in a later sequence, she screams encouraging messages to strangers from a rooftop.

In this exclusive interview, Haley talks about her experience on the set of Support the Girls, including the fun of playing a character like Maci, the opportunity to show flashes of her hula hooping skills, and the virtues of chocolate milk as a vice. She also takes a moment to preview two of her other film projects, Operation Finale and The Chaperone, both of which see her stretching her acting repertoire in new ways. When we spoke to you previously for The Bronze and The Edge of Seventeen, you joked about having embarrassing auditions that obviously worked out well in the end. Did you have any such experience on Support the Girls?

HALEY: That's funny that you remember that, because I am really bad at auditioning. [laughs] I just really am. It's like test-taking, kind of, because you can be a good actor or feel comfortable on set, and then have to do an audition in a white, bland room with people you don't know, and it is the worst feeling ever and screws with your brain. But on this one, I actually did put a scene on tape with my mom in Arizona. And it was the whole scene where I'm on top the bar getting everyone riled up and trying to distract them, when we all go rebellious at the end of the movie. And I was doing this accent that I had never practiced or done any research about. It was basically a shot in the dark, and it was really bad. So that is funny, because I did do that, and it was terrible. Somehow I ended up getting it again! But I think maybe that was just luck. [laughs]

I'm starting to think that you're just really modest, and you're probably your own harshest critic.

Nooo! Trust me. No. I'm pretty real with how I view myself and situations for the most part. Like I can say, "Oh yeah, I respected what I did there" or whatever. But I'm just bad at auditions. I've probably had five good auditions my whole, entire life. And then those ones I haven't booked!

I love that your character Maci is very confrontational with her positivity. How did you feel about playing someone who is so bubbly and upbeat, and who is sweet to just about everyone?

Yeah! I think she's very big--like, her personality's very big--which I love and I can relate to, because I feel like I'm pretty big, and all my friends would say that I'm a pretty loud gal. [laughs] But it was also a challenge because I wanted to commit to that, and commit to this larger-than-life, full-of-life person. But I wanted to have it come from a genuine place, and I wanted there to be a reason behind why she was the way she was. So just the balance of that was challenging. But it was exciting because I had never really gotten the chance to play a character like that before.

What were some of the similarities between you and Maci that were almost second nature for you to play?

It's weird, because...I don't know if you've heard this, but people always say that it's harder to play a character that's closer to you. And Maci and I aren't the same person by any means, but I feel like in another life, if I was working at a "breastaurant," I would maybe be similar to how she is, just because of my natural outlook on life. So I feel like it was challenging because of that, because I'm a loud, outgoing person--it was hard to let go of, like, wanting to expose myself, [playing it] closer to me on camera. You know, I've played a lot of different types of characters, but a lot of them have been maybe a little bit quieter, or had some things that make them sad, or there's really deep things going on. And with Maci, she just exuded life and energy and sisterhood and positivity. So allowing myself to just feel that openly in front of people, in front of cameras, was a challenge, but fun. This was honestly the first time I've ever, like, "had fun" acting. For real. I love acting, but acting for me, in the past, has felt fulfilling, it's felt therapeutic, it's felt like a lot of things, but rarely--while I'm actually in the middle of a scene on camera--does it feel fun. And this was the first time I genuinely got to have fun as a character, which was just so freeing and exciting, honestly.

At one point, Maci declares that "chocolate milk rules," and we unexpectedly see her drinking it throughout the movie. What do you think that little detail says about her?

[laughs] Well, I think it's a way of coping. Like when I was talking about finding a groundedness for her energy, [writer/director Andrew Bujalski] and I talked a lot, before we actually started filming, about maybe her way of coping with things that she's dealt with in the past, or adversity, is this cheerleader-type energy--that's her way of getting through it, and getting people that she loves around her through it. So I feel like the energy itself was kind of rooted in that. And maybe chocolate milk is her vice, you know? Like some people smoke cigarettes, some people are alcoholics, and she just was addicted to chocolate milk. [laughs]

In another of her random moments, we see her trying to rock a hula hoop at the entrance to the restaurant...

Oh my gosh! I am so happy they put that in the movie! There's a Twin Peaks, which is the same type of establishment, literally right across the street from where we were filming. And when we went in there, the first thing you see is this stack of hula hoops. And I was like, "Oh my God, what are these [for]?" And they said they just do it to entertain the customers--randomly, they'll turn on funky music and start hula hooping, and everyone will laugh and give them a bunch of tips. And I was like, "We have to put this in the movie, because I'm actually a very avid hula hooper!" [laughs] And so I forced Andrew to let me do it, and they filmed me for like 15 whole minutes hula hooping. And then they actually put some of it in the movie!

So as an avid hula hooper, did you have to dial down your skills to play it "as Maci"?

Well, no, because I feel like if Maci is an overachiever at anything, it's, like, hula hooping. [laughs] So no, I didn't bring it down it all. In fact, I put my best chops forward. I forget what they show in the movie a bit, but I can do this thing where I'm hula hooping around my neck, and then I pass it down while it's still going to my waist, and then I pass it down to my legs and I do the hopscotch thing over my legs. I should ask Andrew if he can just give me the solid clip of me hula hooping for 15 minutes, and they should release that. [laughs]

That would be an awesome outtake! [Editor's note: Haley's unedited hula hoop exhibition is whittled down to a brief moment in the film's final cut.] By the same token, I think we need a sitcom spinoff that focuses on Maci...

...About Maci hula hooping her way through life!

Obviously you have to be energetic and boisterous throughout the movie, but you have to kick it up another notch at the end when the girls are on the rooftop screaming. Did you just blow out your voice by the end of that day of filming?

Oh yeah, I really did. We all needed tea after that. I wasn't expecting to, but we were all screaming full, primal screams. And you can't really hold back, because it's the final scene of the movie and it's so cathartic for these characters, and it just brings everything together, like a release. And we wanted the audience to really feel that, because it's the last thing you see and hear. So we all went for it, and it was a lot. [laughs]

You've recently worked on the historical drama Operation Finale, in which you play a young woman involved with the Mossad mission to apprehend former Nazi Adolf Eichmann. How was your experience of portraying a character in a dire situation based on true events from the 1960s?

I filmed Operation Finale the end of last year, and I also filmed another movie called The Chaperone. And both of those movies were like period pieces, and [the roles] were both based on real characters and a true story. I had never gotten to explore that up until those two movies. So with Operation Finale, the preparation for that movie and that role was so different than other preparation I had done, because it wasn't just coming up with a character--it was doing actual research, and becoming versed with not only a different time period, and a woman's role in society in the '60s and in Argentina, but also learning the facts about Adolf Eichmann, and about the Mossad mission to find him and capture him, and all the details and everything that these men went through to bring justice to that. So it was an emotional preparation for that movie, but also like going back to history class and learning actual facts.

Any added pressure in knowing that you were portraying an historical moment?

Yeah, there's definitely more pressure in the sense of [feeling] the weight of "this movie is bigger than me as an actress making the film." It was bigger than all of that. It's a true story, and it's such an important story, and I felt almost a responsibility to do justice for a whole group of people, you know? I felt just that weight of what it all meant to these people at that time, and now.

You mentioned your upcoming film The Chaperone. I know it's about an aspiring dancer who is pursuing her dreams, but did you actually get to do much dancing in the film?

I got to dance a bit, which is, like, my dream. So there's a couple dance scenes, and I'm waiting for that movie where I get to dance the whole movie. [laughs] But yeah, I did get to do some dancing with a beautiful, contemporary, modern company in New York. They were the best of the dancers and the company in the movie, so that was really fun.

Your career started in dance and then branched into acting, and now it's kind of coming full circle. Performers often like to keep their disciplines separate, but how did you feel about bringing it all together? Were you comfortable and happy with merging dance and acting?

Oh, yeah. I mean, all I want to do is dance and act in a movie--that's like my biggest dream. It's weird, because even though I don't dance as much as I used to, there's some sort of confidence that just naturally comes with that, because you're so in control of your body. Acting's a different type of storytelling--it's so internal and emotional--and dance is this physical exertion, and it's artistic in that way. So joining them together, I just feel like I would feel so in my element and genuinely happy. [laughs]

Haley, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us again this afternoon, I really appreciate it!

Awww, thanks! It's already been three times, I'm sure there'll be a fourth and a fifth!

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