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Icons & Influences

‘Black-ish’ Star Marsai Martin on Regina Hall: ‘She’s a Light Every Time She Walks Into a Room’

The actress talks about her mentor's "amazing" energy and ability to "blend in and still shine in everything she’s in"
Photo Credit: Sam Jones/Trunk Archive

F OR ROLLING STONE’S THIRD annual Icons & Influences feature, we asked eight of our favorite artists and entertainers to pay tribute to the women who have inspired them, in life as well as in their careers. Marsai Martin, star of Black-ish and the youngest person to ever produce a Hollywood film (Little), reflects on working with her mentor, Regina Hall.

I grew up watching a lot of movies that you would not expect a young kid to know, and one of my favorites was Think Like a Man. Regina Hall’s character was one of my favorites, and that was my first time watching her perform. It’s one of those movies where there is a big ensemble, and you have to make sure you shine in your own way — and she did exactly that. I finally got to meet and work with her on Black-ish. She played the Johnson family babysitter for a couple of episodes. I was excited to meet her — and very nervous in the beginning. Seeing how open she was and being able to get to know her was pretty cool.

I always saw her as somebody that I could look up to and be able to talk to when I needed to. But it started growing into more of a mentorship, and I watched her work in a different light when I created Little with my parents and Kenya Barris. We discussed who would be Big Jordan, because my character was Little Jordan in the movie. Who is a person that was very creative and could come off as this witty, very bossy diva lady but still have a heart? Regina Hall came up several times. She was the first person (besides me) to be attached to the film.

On the set, Regina was always very hands on and had ideas. She would come to sit when me and Issa [Rae] were doing our scenes just to get to know [our characters] more. I watched how she worked and took every line and made it her own. It was even better than what the scripts had. It was really dope to witness.

Her longevity is inspiring to me. It’s beautiful to watch Regina go from a movie like Scary Movie to a drama like The Hate U Give and find her way into different characters. I don’t think there’s anybody like that. She’s a chameleon. She can blend in and still shine in everything she’s in. Seeing her constantly growing and expanding to something greater and even more powerful makes me super proud. She is a light every time she walks into a room. You want to just always be around her. Her energy is so amazing. She is truly one of the best people that I’ve worked with.

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