Haley Lu Richardson: “I Was Terrified by the Support the Girls Script”

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Support the Girls, 2018 (Film still) Haley Lu Richardson
Support the Girls, 2018 (Film still)

American actress Haley Lu Richardson discusses the making of Support the Girls, Andrew Bujalski’s powerful and funny new film, set in an Austin ‘breastaurant’

To hear the premise of American director Andrew Bujalski’s latest film Support the Girls – a comedy-drama centred around a group of women working in Double Whammies, a Hooters-style bar in Texas – you could be forgiven for assuming you’d be in for a hefty dose of ‘breastaurant’ puns, with a “big ass” side serving of girl power. But, as anyone familiar with the so-called godfather of mumblecore’s work will know, Bujalksi talent lies in his appreciation for, and capturing of, the quieter details of everyday life – be they mundane or meaningful, joyful or sad – which is what makes Support the Girls’ unusual backdrop so interesting in his hands. 

Bujalksi said that he chose to set the film in a ‘breastaurant’ because he found the “uniquely American” phenomenon to be both “strange and compelling” in its nuances and contradictions. “They’re a little bit raunchy but mostly about comfort,” he told The AV Club, “more TGI Fridays than a strip club”. And indeed, as the Double Whammies general manager, Lisa, asserts throughout the film, Double Whammies is all about family: “it’s a family place, which means a lot of families come here, and it also means that we’re all family,” she tells a group of trainees.

Lisa, played by a spellbinding Regina Hall (Girls Trip, Shaft), is resoundingly deemed the best, most caring boss by her all-female team, despite coming under near-constant scrutiny from the restaurant’s hot-tempered owner, Cubby (James LeGros). From the off, it’s clear that Lisa’s day is off to a bad start – we first encounter her in the Double Whammies car park crying in her car. But there’s no time for her to wallow in her own sadness: she has new girls to audition, customers to tend to, an illicit car wash fundraiser to put on (to help a fellow employee who’s got herself into a sticky legal situation), and to top it all off, there’s a mysterious intruder stuck in the restaurant’s air vent.

Over the next hour and a half we follow Lisa, and her Whammies girls – including the relentless sunny and smiling Maci, played by rising star Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus) and the down-to-earth, dry-witted Danyelle (rapper-slash-actress Junglepussy) – as they navigate their way through a day that seems destined to shatter rule number one in the Double Whammies’ rule book: no drama. What ensues is a big-hearted story about a group of women, with their own unique modes of survival, coming together to offer support and laughter when it’s needed most.

“When I read the script I was really excited by it, but also terrified,” says the 24-year-old Richardson, speaking to AnOther on the eve of Support the Girls’ UK release. “I was worried about playing Maci, not because of who she was but because I had a fear of playing someone so larger-than-life – she’s so big and bubbly and physically exposed!” It was talking with Bujalski, she explains, that gave her the confidence to take on the role. “He made me realise that our biggest goal was to encapsulate this person who exudes energy and positivity but not make her a caricature. She had to be grounded, had to have a reason for why she was that way, which was a big challenge.”

Richardson credits Bujalski’s naturalistic approach as the key to the film’s success. “I think Andrew just wants to have fun and make it feel really real,” she says, “I actually spent a lot of time in these two ‘breastaurants’ in Austin before we started filming, eating and talking to the girls who worked there. I even worked a shift, which was really helpful – seeing what the people that come to these restaurants expect from you; getting into the type of personality that’s required from you when you’re working in that environment. Then Andrew talked to us about the characters a lot for a couple of days, sitting in the booths of the restaurant as the set designers built it around us. But for the most part he just let us actors do our thing. He’s so kind and so respectful so I always felt safe with him.”

Hall has also praised Bujalski and the realism of the Support the Girls’ script, noting how he tackles big themes such as race, and racism in the workplace, with refreshing subtlety. “Race was there but it wasn’t an issue,” she said in The AV Club interview. “He didn’t completely ignore it but [he touched upon it] kind of like we do in real life.” The same goes for the film’s handling of sexism. Of course it’s an unavoidable topic for a film set in a bar devoted to “boobs, brews and big screens”, but rather than reverting to cliches or attempting to make any grand statements on the subject, Bujalski instead gives space to observing how the women deal with uncomfortable situations, as well as to the quiet commeradie they offer one another – another very real facet of womanhood – without ever veering on the cheesy or self-righteous. “What Andrew’s done is to go beneath the surface of a very specific workplace and considered the real people behind the smiles,” says Richardson. “And in doing that he’s made a film with a lot of empathy and a really universal reach.” 

Support the Girls is in cinemas nationwide now.