Film

‘Support the Girls’ director Andrew Bujalski on capturing America and working with Regina Hall

We meet the mind behind our 2019 film favourite...

It’s not every day that a film can sweep you right into its world, but then again it’s not everyday that Andrew Bujalski, Regina Hall and a killer cast team up. Best known for his mumble-core, normalcy immersing movies, Bujalski’s work in fact captures such intimacy it sometimes barely feels like a fiction at all. Featuring characters who could be your neighbour, spotlighting women who could be your best friend, and championing voices that need to be listened to, the writer-director’s latest endeavour is his most enlightening yet.

Set in a Hooters-esque establishment named Double Whammies, Support the Girls eloquently envisions a day or so in the life of the ordinary women who run the place, centred around the intensely compassionate and hardworking manager Lisa, played by the equally talented Regina Hall. Andrew Bujalski’s creation captured a side of America rarely focused on, the wholesome, heart-filled community of working class women who deserve to be listened to just as readily as the rest. We meet the director and writer to find out how Support the Girls came into being and what it meant for Bujalski, his work and his world…

How did it feel to make this film in the current climate of America?

The climate is changing so much, so rapidly. I started thinking about this 6 or 7 years ago and really sat down to write this version of Support the Girls at the end of 2015. By the time we were shooting, in 2017, the world had changed quite a bit. The night of the presidential elections I didn’t sleep. Of all the thoughts running through my head that night, the only slightly positive thing that flitted through there was “well at least my script is relevant now”. I didn’t know if anyone was going to be interested in a story about this place at that time. So there was more social relevance because the ground had been shifted from under our feet. Between shooting and finishing movie was all the eruption of Weinstein and so on, and we didn’t know what that would mean for the movie’s reception. But I hope it’s clear throughout that my perception at the beginning was a focus on the characters, the place, the story, all the milieu. As long as it’s a story about human beings and not about bumper sticker slogans then it will hopefully always be relevant. I shouldn’t read reviews, but I do, and so much of what I read is about social context, and they may have been different reviews if it had been released two years prior.

Does it make you feel more aware of being a man in the industry?

Sure. Yeah, y’know the first film I did also had a female lead. At that time, it would not have occurred to me that I might get in trouble for that, or I might have been thought ill of. Honestly, it didn’t on this movie until I was finishing it. I kinda thought, is this allowed?

I think the film has an undeniable feminine energy, so you did something right.

For me, the job of the cast is to make it alive – I just put the words on paper. When I was writing it, I knew I had to write it from an outsider’s perspective, I couldn’t tell this story the way it somebody who had that job would tell it. Or for that matter, the way a customer at that place would tell it. I wasn’t of either group, I was very much an outsider. That was part of the genesis of Regina Hall’s character because I think of her as an outsider to that world too, so that was kind of my way in.

Regina’s character is certainly the heart of the film, how did you find someone who you can trust delivering that?

It’s frightening, it’s always frightening. We kicked around a bunch of names, it’s an unromantic process, certainly when you’re dealing with a certain amount of money, where everyone involved wants someone with something of a name. You go down the list, and hers was a name that always stuck out – I knew a lot of her work, not all of it though because she’s done so much! We were lucky enough to get her attention, I went to New Orleans to meet her after she wrapped Girls Trip and had a great coffee with her. She invited me to the Girls Trip wrap party, which I stayed at for about 10 minutes because I’m too shy! Plus it was somebody else’s movie! (laughs) But I was super charmed by her, she’s a wildly charming person and everyone who comes into her orbit becomes smitten with her very quickly. Although they are not the same person, no casting director or director can help but do the calculations in the back of their mind about the character and the person in front of you and the overlaps. Very quickly I understood just what she could bring to Lisa and that was very exciting. We then got her down to set: of course until day 1 of shooting, you still don’t know quite what’s gonna happen so it’s scary! But she so far exceeded all our expectations, she was such a joy to work with every day.

How did you come up with the concept of Double Whammies and why did you choose to set it in that very specific sort of environment?

10 or so years ago I wandered in to one of those, I live in Texas so it’s not uncommon. If you drift down the highway there’s a lot of them. I don’t know what I was expecting from it, but something about it surprised me and stuck with me. I think the fact it’s such a weird and uniquely American product.

Yeah, you don’t see them anywhere else really.

Very much so, can I find one in London?

No probably not, I know there’s a Hooters in Prague though.

One of my friends was talking to me about that! It’s absolutely a tourist destination though.

Oh absolutely.

Yeah, but it’s such an interesting concept: taking something that at its core is so raunchy and wrapping it in so much comfort. When I walked in to one of these places, I was immediately surprised by how unsexy it was, which is partly me and my taste. But, mostly that it’s not about turning you on, but making you feel comfy and at home. You like cold beer, watching sports and ogling women and that’s a-okay here. That’s all American, we’re not going to judge you. That’s obviously very different to a strip club which is about telling you that you are cool and badass. No one tries to make you feel like a badass in a Double Whammies type place. I thought that was such an interesting proposition, so fascinating. I think the States is the only culture and place in history that could produce wide scale demand for that.

Looking at your previous work and your collaborations with Joe Swanberg, the term mumble-core is thrown around a lot, this feels like maybe a move away from that?

I have to admit I never knew what mumble-core was. Maybe retroactively I understand it a bit now. But on the inside, no one sat down and said let’s make a mumble-core movie. We were just all following our instincts and I loved making those movies and loved making them that way. I don’t know if I would know how to work that way again, I would love to try though. There are plenty of financial pressures to not work that way! The first four movies I did were mostly non-professional actors and the last two they were primarily professional, so you write for those different types of performers. With low budget people often prefer guerrilla filmmaking, the military metaphor always felt apt to me because you do feel like you’re running around the jungle improvising. You get to a certain level where you then feel like an organised military general, telling people what grenades to jump on! It’s a different kind of job, you need to learn different communication skills. You hope in any case, no matter what the mechanism of production, that you are still getting something emotional and spiritual from your heart across. I’ll always be afraid that it doesn’t though!

What’s next for you?

Absolutely no idea.

Support the Girls is out in cinemas now.

10 July 2019