Why Regina Hall’s ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ role filled her with excitement
For her intuitive performance in the Hulu limited series “Nine Perfect Strangers,” Regina Hall harnessed a meek body language to translate her character’s tumultuous state of mind into visible behavior.
One of the guests seeking curative relief from their trauma at the luxurious wellness retreat Tranquillum House, Carmel is a woman whose sense of identity has long resided in her roles as wife and mother. But with those facets now threatened after a separation, her already fragile persona begins to tacitly unravel.
“She is a woman with very low self-esteem who had deep emotional wounds and had been through an experience that left her with a lot of anger and even more self-doubt,” Hall says. “She definitely had a physicality. Her insecurity shows in the way she carries herself. I don’t think Carmel even stands up straight. She hunches.”
When Hall first signed on to join the A-list ensemble on the episodic project, which reunited her with “Ally McBeal” creator David E. Kelley, she had read the scripts for only the first three episodes. Carmel’s Earth-shattering secrets come to light in the latter stages of the uncanny, yet comedy-laced show. She discovered her slowly.
“Every time I’d get a new episode, I’d be like ‘Whoa!’ I kind of knew where she was going from conversations with the director, but to actually read how it played in the context of the whole story was really exciting,” said Hall.
Some of those revelations involve the larger-than-life Masha (played by Nicole Kidman), the enigmatic Russian mastermind and spiritual leader behind the isolated operation that lures in wealthy individuals desperate for solace who bond with one another while disconnecting from their lives beyond the facilities on a mountain.
Hall recalls her first scene with Kidman as the most vividly rousing memory of shooting “Nine Perfect Strangers,” which is based on the novel by Liane Moriarty (“Big Little Lies”).
“That moment when Carmel first actually laid eyes on her — which was also the first time I laid eyes on Nicole Kidman, they were both one and the same — was probably the moment where I realized what Masha was to Carmel,” the actor noted.
Long before meeting this almost mythical figure, Carmel had formulated her own ideas about who she was. “For this woman, there’s a life before Masha and a life after Masha,” added Hall. With Kidman’s outsize role standing as the antithesis to the resigned Carmel, the stage was set for a noteworthy acting partnership.
“Masha has such a beautiful response to Carmel, and to be able to feel that from Nicole Kidman was tremendous. There are times when the thought of that is intimidating, but once you are in the scene, she is such a generous actor,” said Hall. “You realize that all she wants is the truth and integrity of the character and the scene, so you have the freedom and the room for two people to be deep in character.”
With COVID-19 filming protocols in place, the set wound up resembling the fictional dynamic, in that the actors, like their characters, were limited in their interactions outside the core team. As such, Hall and her co-stars became fast friends.
“That was the setting of the reality, and the show mimicked it. I don’t know if it’s art imitating life or life imitating art, but it worked out really well,” Hall said. Although she had previously worked with co-star Bobby Cannavale, (also on “Ally McBeal” back in the late ‘90s), it was otherwise “eight perfect strangers for me,” she said of working with Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon and Luke Evans, among others.
As to the power of such actual healing retreats, Hall isn’t confident that a single undertaking can mend the many hurts to a person’s soul. “We are all works in progress,” she said. But she does believe that mindful acts of introspection can reveal where the most work is required within. That recognition is a crucial step, she noted.
“Even if you just become aware of that, you’ve made some progress. I don’t know if we can be ‘fixed,’ but we can potentially start the process to healing,” she said. “You go through experiences that can require deeper healing and deeper ways of connecting to yourself, to people and to God. Spirituality is not a static experience, it’s ever-evolving.”
After the positive critical reception to Hall’s 2018 flinty comedy “Support the Girls,” the landscape of offers has broadened for her in TV as well as the big screen.
Her upcoming slate includes the films “Master,” a thriller from Mariama Diallo; Adamma Ebo’s comedy “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul” alongside Sterling K. Brown; and a sequel to “Midnight Run” with Robert DeNiro. Finally, her dramatic range has taken root.
“’Support the Girls’ allowed people to say, ‘Oh, what about her for this,’ so it definitely expanded the types of roles that I’ve been able to do,” she said. “It shifted the way people saw me, which is what you always want, to not be seen only in one specific way.”
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