Even if you’re a movie fan, there’s a good chance you’re not familiar with Regina Hall — and an even better chance you think she’s Regina King.
Like the famous Bill Pullman/Bill Paxton confusion, the Reginas can baffle audiences since both are 49, toiled in crummy supporting roles for decades before breaking through in the movies, co-starred with Chris Rock and flourished in prestige TV. (King has won three Emmys, for “American Crime” and “Seven Seconds,” while Hall is a contender this year for “Black Monday.”)
They even shared the stage at the 2018 New York Film Critics Circle awards, where Hall won the best actress trophy for “Support the Girls” and King won supporting actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
But unlike the similarly laconic Pullman and Paxton, Hall and King are strikingly different performers.
King generally plays calm, commanding people; they may be marginalized by society because they are black women, but they know who they are and they are confident in their fight for what they deserve.
Hall, by contrast, has often made use of her nervous energy. From her very first film appearance in 1999’s “The Best Man,” her characters are usually worried, which — since she starred in all four entries in the “Scary Movie” franchise — they often have reason to be.
Hall is great at comedy and drama. She can be manic or centered. She can play smart or dumb. She can’t do everything — her “Lip Sync Battle” attempt at the Weeknd’s “Earned It” is not great — but she comes pretty close. And, if not every Hall movie is top-notch, you can put money on her being the best thing in it, as demonstrated by the titles below.
Oh, and to bring this all full circle: Guess who’s in “Scary Movie 4” with Hall? Bill Pullman.
Support the Girls (2018)
Hall has played her share of moms but she’s more of a figurative one in this comedy that found its niche on streaming platforms, where its modest charms are a perfect fit. Her Lisa is the mama bear of a Hooters-like club, working to ensure her employees are taking care of themselves and not getting exploited by customers or management. The slice of (night)life in Andrew Bujalski’s low-key movie is eye-opening and Hall’s smart performance anchors enough subplots for a Robert Altman movie.
The Hate U Give (2018)
The adaptation of Angie Thomas’ novel will look familiar: Chaos erupts after a white cop kills an unarmed black man. The book and movie explore shades of gray as Starr (Amandla Stenberg), who witnessed the killing of her friend, weighs whether to come forward or stay quiet and safe. The dilemmas are meant to be messy but, while other characters debate how to do the right thing, Hall’s moving performance centers the drama, particularly in a sequence when officers confront her family. As Starr’s mother, who does not want her daughter to testify, Hall makes her character’s urgent need to protect her daughter the driving focus of every single minute she’s on screen.
Girls Trip (2017)
It would be easy for an actor to get lost in a raucous comedy that stars Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith and that made Tiffany Haddish a star, especially since Hall’s role, an uptight exec who is kidding herself about her stale marriage, is the quietest one. But watch how often director Malcolm Lee cuts to Hall when the others do something outrageous; they get the initial laughs but Hall’s reactions prolong them. A good sign of Hall’s reliability and versatility is how often she reteams with directors — she and Lee have done four movies, with a fifth in the works.
People Places Things (2015)
The oddball romcom is mostly about Jemaine Clement’s character, a sad-sack graphic novelist whose wife cuckolds him. Clement is excellent but the movie comes alive in his scenes with Hall, whose quick wit and peculiar energy are a sharp contrast to Clement’s underplaying. Hall plays a Columbia professor who is set up with Clement in an observant film with one familiar problem: Needs more Hall.
Think Like a Man (2012)
Although she barely has a name in this surprisingly sturdy romcom — she’s “The Single Mom,” one of the archetypes of the self-help book that inspired the movie — Hall gets to do a lot in “Think.” Playing a woman who cautiously enters the dating world but quickly embraces it, Hall is very funny and very real. Trigger warning: Chris Brown is in it, too.
Scary Movie (2000)
Hall pitches her voice slightly south of only-dogs-can-hear in this spoofy series, where her Brenda skewers the “final girl” cliché of horror movies, speaks truth to power (“Fifty black people got beat by police today but the whole world has to stop for one little white girl down a well?”) and, more often than not, is forced to take on the serial killer bad guy. The series ran out of tropes to lampoon by the end, but Hall is consistently hilarious.
The key to this remake/reboot is Hall, as the title character’s quick-witted ex. One of three films she’s made with director Tim Story, this is part homage, part sendup. Anytime Samuel L. Jackson’s Shaft starts to get cocky, Hall’s Maya is there to remind him he is nowhere near as cool as he thinks he is.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367 • @HewittStrib