REGINA HALL ON BEING HOLLYWOOD’S GIRL NEXT DOOR EXTRAORDINAIRE
Despite my best efforts, I’m not able to uncover the darkest vices of actress and “girl next door” extraordinaire Regina Hall. The most remotely scandalous thing I discovered is her adorable love of sweets. “I’m a sugar addict. I’m a foodie. I like food- I’ll be really good and then I’ll be really bad…” she tells me before trailing off into an infectious laugh.
I recognize her voice immediately–a honey-coated octave that I’ve heard innumerable times. It’s a voice that was a part of gatherings around the TV with family during holiday Redbox nights, Netflix movies on my laptop in bed, and of course, all the classics and blockbusters where she was projected larger than life onscreen. I tell her, ‘I feel like I know you because I have heard your voice so much throughout my life. Is that weird?’ She assures me it’s not, that it’s, in fact, a compliment. She thanks me even, and finally, I feel like I can settle in. Regina is like a nice mid-century modern velvet-lined armchair on a boardwalk and a glass of Merlot, a sea breeze on a warm day. Is that cozy? That’s what it’s like being in the presence of Regina Hall.
Her warmth is what has made her so bankable over the years. She’s made a career out of stoic yet loveable characters. She’s been a familiar anchor to ensembles, maintaining an ability to charismatically marry comedy and drama with her charming disposition–both onscreen and off. She first rose to fame with performances in popular films of the 2000s like Love And Basketball, The Honeymooners, and The Best Man. It was a time where cinema featuring people of color was at its prime, a “black Hollywood” movement of sorts, highlighting stories centered around a variety of lives and classes intersecting on every level. Hall was a staple of these groundbreaking productions. It was a sexy yet wholesome era that took to the next level the black autonomy that shows like In Living Color and Living Single had prefaced. She worked on multiple productions with the Wayans brothers and became a romantic interest for heartthrobs like Morris Chestnut. She makes the audience part of her story with realistic inflections and complexities that come with being a black woman.
“Being able to play and experiment with all the facets of being human and then being a woman and then being black and then being a black woman- that is American, but who we are is filled with so much, our DNA is so rich. I always feel like we never have to play that part, that part is just who we are, but the humanity is what we always have to find. And that’s kind of what links us all. So for me, I just love kind of the play of that, and even sometimes, I don’t know, discovering what it is- I learn from characters, too.”
Regina’s trajectory in Hollywood was an organic one. She simultaneously pursued acting and journalism looking to Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg, Loretta Devine Regina as inspirations. “Those are some of the great women that I loved.” She muses. When Hall started acting it was at a time when headshots were mailed in. She had a friend that would put glitter in envelopes so when casting agents and directors opened it they would be greeted by that extra surprise you can’t get in an email. Hall recalls sending out resumes and driving to auditions grateful for those opportunities.
“People may not have known my name and I still had to go through a lot of rounds of auditioning, and I probably wasn’t always the first choice and I was down there in the choices. But back then, you really weren’t thinking so much about being famous, you were just like: oh, I’m working again. It was a different thing, so just working was great. It just meant you were working.”
Regina booked Scary Movie at the height of the franchises’ fanfare cementing herself as an actress that people could recognize. She starred in the comedy-horror-spoof and three subsequent sequels portraying a character named Brenda Meeks whose notoriety became a part of cinema nerd history.
“I loved doing Scary Movie but of course I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t stuck in terms of being put in a box, to do just one thing, not getting stuck. I love being able to do different characters, and obviously you know, I’m black so that’s nothing that has to be stated, but it’s great to do things and show things from the lens of a black woman, without playing up what people think that is.”
Before the success of smash hit Girls Trip, her draw was the versatility she can bring to both comedy and drama and the ability to play off other actors. Girls Trip seemed to further solidify her status as a power player in the “leading lady club” which has recently asserted some power over Hollywood scripts, helping to craft stories and characters for a woman by woman, without placing romantic plots front and center.
“With Girls Trip, you always experience different things with men, I know sometimes men are like, “Would a woman really say that? Only if you knew. A smart woman is when she’s with her girlfriends can encapsulate so many things. And I think so many people think, well a woman wouldn’t and that kind of woman would, so I think breaking the stereotypes- especially for black women- that you’re either this or that. But what I do love in those experiences is how men have been really great about listening and saying okay, if that’s true, then let’s go with it, and kind of trusting it. I think that for me, just about myself is I probably learned it’s okay to be like I don’t know what I’m doing. I hope it turns out right. ”
These days she’s doing a lot of projects that showcase her range. She’s sitting on many to be released projects “I just did [the new] Shaft, which was kind of action-y. That was fun. I was more nervous because, well, it’s Samuel Jackson and I don’t want to go seem bad in that!” She also just wrapped Black Monday, a Showtime series with Don Cheadle centering on Wall Street in the 80s. “Then there’s Little with Issa Rae and Marsai Martin.” she adds, “They’re all different and that’s what I love about acting.”
In her latest starring roles, she finds herself again at the helm of two major blockbusters. In Support the Girls, another women-led vehicle that brings a wholesome dose of a real woman with hilarious undertones, she leads a cast of buzzy upcomers and seasoned celebs through a modern twist of a classic coming-of-age storyline. In The Hate U Give, things take a darker turn. Based on the novel that spent months at the top of The New York Times’ bestseller list, Regina forays into a role that plays directly into today’s political climate of racism. It’s a hard piece of literature to take in–it sounds like fiction, but the thousands of black men dying at the hands of police in our country is a sad reality. Regina’s celebrity didn’t shield her from the emotionally taxing film and subject of a young black male whose life is taken in a traffic stop gone wrong.
“When you have a brother, sister, family and friends, when you look and see someone who looks like you or looks like your brother or looks like a guy you dated and you go off, or you just left a store where at that same-store ten years ago you had that same experience, you know, I think no matter what celebrity is, that’s not real, whatever that is, you’re still black in America and life is still life and hopefully your heart is still your heart and able to experience compassion and empathy. I mean if I were- I pray I’d rather not have this- but to look at a mother crying over her son and I didn’t feel affected by that? That would be a terrible sign for me because if I can’t equate to the human experience of pain and suffering and hurt and shock, then I couldn’t offer anything to an audience for them to feel. And then I think that’s how we move forward is we have to recognize people as people like us. As long as they’re the other than it feels like oh, that’s them, but until we kinda look and say it’s us, it’s really us…”
The film is just one step in hopefully starting the deprogramming process of the scary black male narrative and breaking the misuse of information through the news and social media, The Hate U Give is the first of its kind and will hopefully give people an opportunity to really see on the big screen a reality being represented that will resonate with the communities all over.
“You know, surprisingly, and I think that’s so amazing historically about who we are- yes, it’s very heavy and we certainly had to lean into it. But I always find there’s a way that we have that no matter how dark something is, there is some sense of joy that you’ll find us having. You know what I mean, there is a sense of that. We kind of had that on set. There’d be a heavy scene and then we’d come out of that- Amandla Stenberg had so much of that that she had to do because she’s the backbone of the story- it’s her story- but I think for all of us talking and discussing and rehearsing, you have to go into that thing because you’re playing the circumstances and they’re very emotional and they’re emotional for a million reasons. And sometimes, we’ve gotten so desensitized and we see stuff so often, that we’re able to go ooh, and you can walk away from it. But when you really look at it.”
Regina’s hope for the film is that it will start a dialogue where we have to actually address these things. “One of the things I liked about The Hate U Give is they don’t vilify anyone. It’s not to vilify the cops, not to vilify any race, it is just seeing one another as human beings so we can see that these are- everyone’s a person, these are human beings, and they’ve lived. And when you take a life out of fear, a collective fear that’s been created through history- and it may not be you and it exists and we all have that, I might have my own racisms, I might see a white man, a white guy in glasses and I might make a judgment not even being conscious. I mean, we all do it, so how can we all collectively change it to say let me stop, let me take a beat into what I’ve been conditioned to think or, hopefully, it gets people thinking. We can really save lives. There have been a lot of innocent lives that are just lost. And that’s what I love about the film and the book is that you see how that affects not just one person, but it’s a whole community that’s been affected. “
In this day and age, where people’s social media followings translate to a hierarchy system that we all subscribe to, Regina’s fame could absolve her of a reality where these things hurt. Hearing her words resonate her with a down to earthiness she never lost.
“I think that’s the other thing, too, we’re in a time that’s super focused on celebrity and that’s not, I think we’re all just here doing different jobs having different experiences and we have to know there’s not a better than or a less than, we have to celebrate all human life. All human existence is whatever we give as a contribution to the same planet, the same earth, the same race which is the human race- that’s the beauty of life.”
dress + bra, Nathaniel Paul. Shoes, Stuart Weitzman
jumpsuit, Greta Constantine.Shoes, Stuart Weitzman
dress, Thai Nguyen
Styling / Wayman + Michah @ Starworks Artists
Hair / Justi Embree
Story / Koko Ntuen
Shot @ the Forge in los angeles