Reggie Hayes is probably best known for playing the much-loved role of William Dent, the charismatic Republican attorney, in the hit US comedy show Girlfriends (2000 – 2008), for which he was awarded three NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
The show was written by Mara Brock Akile – the executive producer of the hit super hero TV series Black Lightning (2017 – ), directed by Sheldon Epps known for his work on Friends (1994 – 2004) and Everybody Loves Raymond (1996 – 2005). It was also executive produced and commissioned by Kelsey Grammer from the much-loved classics Frasier (1993 – 2004) and Cheers (1982 – 1993).
Since the show’s abrupt end due to a writers’ strike, Hayes has gone on to star in a number of films and TV shows including Criminal Minds (2005 – 2020), a recurring role on Hart of Dixie (2011 – 2015) and, most recently, Black Lightning (2017 – ).
In this interview, Hayes talks about his journey as an actor, from Chicago’s improv comedy scene alongside Michael Shannon and meeting Diana Ross on the set of Girlfriends (2000 – 2008) and now turning his hand to writing and producing.
FF: Could you introduce yourself for us?
RH: I’m Reggie Hayes, from the Girlfriends (2000-2008) television show, I played William.
FF: Fantastic. So, can you tell us a little bit about your career, how did you get into acting in the first place? Did you go to drama school or did you come up through almost accidental roles?
RH: Yes, I studied theatre at Illinois State University. I always wanted to be an actor and I studied acting in high school. I started when I was 17 and continued from there. I’ve always wanted to be on television.
Starting out in theatre and improv comedy
FF: So, did you do a lot of theatre or did you go straight into TV and film?
RH: I did a lot of theatre, a lot of improv around Chicago. There’s opportunity to do a lot of acting, non-union. It’s a lot of storefront theatre, we’d get a little space and put on a show. There’s tons of that if you want to do it.
And then after those shows, I would normally go and do a late-night show kind of like an improv show, with some cohorts of mine, it was called Bang Bang. The group included Michael Shannon, he acts a lot, he’s been nominated for a couple of awards; and Tracy Letts, he’s a writer, he’s done a few things. That was back in the early 90s, so that was a while ago. And then we moved out here to Los Angeles to do a show called Healthcare, which ended up becoming a movie. And I ended up staying out here instead of going back to Chicago.
FF: And then it kind of just went from strength to strength. How did you get your first agent?
RH: Well, my first agent in Los Angeles came to see the play I was in, Hellcab. And they said, ‘We like the guy, we like Reggie’. And they sent me a letter and they gave me a ring. And it worked out pretty well. It doesn’t work out that well usually, it’s really difficult in Los Angeles to procure an agent. So I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t know how it went so easily. I really have to thank God.
FF: Yeah, well, you obviously stood out in your show, that’s obviously what got their attention. You hear a lot of people who got their agent that way, where someone’s come to see them in theatre or something like that. For example, myself, I haven’t done so much theatre, I’ve mostly done indie films. So for me, the biggest thing was just emailing out submissions, and just persevering until somebody finally was interested in me. And there are lots of different routes to the same end, but it’s always nice to hear what other people’s catalysts were in their career.
I wrote an episode of a show called Femme Fatales (2011 – 2012). That was on Cinemax.
Advice for aspiring actors: take acting classes
If you were to give a young actor advice on what they should do to really hone their craft, what would it be?
RH: I would take a class, take some acting classes, that’s the best. Take a class that allows you to get up and perform a little. Some classes are really big and maybe overcrowded, you might not get an opportunity to do it. But any class that really lets you get your feet wet, lets you participate. I think that’s the best. That’s the best thing that I did really – well, I got a degree in it over four years – there’s nothing like it. If you’re just great looking and decide to do it, it can be such a shock. Everything that they prepare you for, all the advice and all the help and everything, you can’t replace that.
FF: Yeah, absolutely. Having guidance early on in your career is really important. And that’s one of the things that we kind of want to do with this show. Our target audience is young actors, aspiring actors and aspiring filmmakers as well. So, we interview actors, writers, directors, things like that to just let them know the secrets of how you guys got success. You know, like, ‘What was your break and how did you get there? Was it potluck?’ No, I’m pretty sure it was hard graft and probably some strategic decisions.
RH: Definitely hard work, and a lot of luck. A lot of luck.
FF: Do you have any favourite acting methods? For example, do you subscribe to any particular styles of acting?
RH: I use a method, listening carefully, internalising the situations and letting it affect me. And forgetting myself and allowing myself to respond emotionally, honestly, to the situation, I do that. But see, that all comes from practise, you got to practise that. You can’t just move to Los Angeles – I guess some people can – but it’s stuff you would never really think of.
I remember in Seinfeld (1989 – 1998), the one point I remember was when George Costanza said, ‘It’s not a lie, if you believe it’. So, it’s like you’re not really acting, you really believe what’s going on. That’s how I do it. If a scene ends, I’m still in it. I guess I’m guilty of that a lot. If I’m angry at the people I’m acting with, then I’m angry when they say clap. Or I’m still very upset, or I’m very much in love with the person. And then I have to psych myself out, maybe that’s a mental problem that I have, but I really get into it.
FF: Yeah, I mean, it’s quite common, though. You’ve got method actors that really do take home the whole thing, and they want to stay in it for the duration of the shoot. But then you’ve got other actors that just want to drop it at the set and that’s it. Leave it there. So, you know, everyone’s different.
RH: Sir Laurence Olivier said, it’s just pretending, it’s not that much method at all. So, it depends on what works for you, you know?
Being the class clown and excelling as a comedy actor
FF: Yeah. You were talking a lot about your improvisation classes and things like that and the groups that you were part of, would you say that that contributed a lot to your ability to take on comedy to the extent that you did? Because you’re a fantastic comedy actor, you’re a fantastic actor anyway, but particularly comedy, the timing is definitely something. And I’m just wondering, was it something that you always had or something that you strengthened?
RH: It strengthened it, definitely. But I’ve always been a funny kid. You know, I was a class clown type. And I got in a lot of trouble when I was younger. I’d always listen to the teacher and try and think of some way to make fun of what they said or make a joke. I tried to do it in a sweet way, so I wouldn’t get into that much trouble. But yeah, I was always a funny one, or one of the funny ones. And it helped to get along with the other kids. I moved around a little bit and it helped me get along and it’s something I really enjoyed.
My father was very funny. And I’d hang out with him, and just notice how people were excited when he would come in the room or that people started having a better time when he was around. So, I was like, ‘Ah this is a way to get along in life’. I remember thinking that.
FF: That’s lovely. So, was your dad quite a big influence for you then, growing up?
RH: Yeah, he was. He was in publishing though, he wasn’t really a performer. But definitely, I spent a lot of time with him when I was young. He died when I was 14. But until then, I spent a lot of time with him and I moulded myself a lot after his person.
FF: Losing him so young, it’s good that you’re able to hold on to those memories.
Reggie Hayes actor in Girlfriends (2000 – 2008). Courtesy of Glen Stone Illustration.
William Dent, the fifth girlfriend
And as I told you via Twitter, I am a massive fan of Girlfriends (2000 – 2008), and I have been since it was out originally, I watched it back in like 2000/2001. I remember watching it with my family, and it was just fantastic. And then when I saw it pop up on my Netflix recently, I was like, ‘I have to re-watch this’. And so, I re-watched it, binge-watched it really badly.
RH: Did it hold up for you?
Film Forums: Yeah absolutely, it reminded me all over again why I love it.
And I think, culturally speaking, the US and the UK are quite different. But a lot of the issues that you touch on in the show, it’s a comedy, but there are some really serious things that are discussed and that are really unpacked in the show. Which I think is one of the reasons it resonated with myself and so many other people.
And your character was my absolute favourite, I love William. Honestly, when you replied to me on Twitter, I just about jumped out of my seat. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ I had to have my crazy fangirl moment, you know, allow me.
But for you, being like the fifth girlfriend in a lot of ways, I know you’re “the guy” in the show, but you weren’t really in a lot of ways. How did you find that? Have you had friendships like that, where you’re so close that you really get the inside scoop on women?
RH: Absolutely, I went through periods in my life where most of my friends were men, and then kind of got tired of that and then I just started to gravitate toward hanging out with women as I got older, so most of my friends now are women. There’s just more support, and less jealousy and competition. I think men just do that normally, they rank each other and they put each other down good naturedly, but I’m a sensitive guy and it’s kind of rough.
I always liked being the only man in a group full of women. Because there’s a whole lot of, ‘Oh Reggie, no!’ and I just eat all that up. I have two older sisters, and my mother died when I was four so I was raised a lot by women and I came up around a lot of women, so I just really felt really comfortable with it, personally.
FF: And also, it has benefits. See, I was the opposite way around. I grew up a tomboy and I didn’t have many female friends, so I was always with guys climbing trees and whatnot. And it wasn’t until I became a pretty old adult, to be honest, we’re only talking maybe a few years ago, where I got into a really good strong group of girls, that is a lot like Girlfriends. They’re loyal, they always have your back and things like that. And I just wasn’t used to that from girls, I was used to the catty gossipy girls, which is why I’d always gravitate towards men and being friends with them.
The benefit is that a lot of the time you get to see the opposite gender’s side of the story as well and understand things from their perspective. So now I always joke that I speak ‘man’. And I’m sure that you also speak ‘woman’ as a result of your experiences. I think there’s definitely a lot of benefit to that. I think that society would be a lot better if men and women understood each other more.
RH: I think so, yeah. We play these roles and a lot of parts in those roles don’t suit us at all. The meanness or the cattiness, there’s a lot of it that really is not a very good idea.
I say I love the man a lot, but I really, really did. I loved him on Cheers (1982 – 1993), when I was a kid. And in the early 90s, I would have parties at my house, we’d come over and drink beer and watch Frasier.
Then I moved to Los Angeles and ended up working with him and people were like, ‘How did you manage to do that?’
Discussing important issues around race
FF: In terms of Girlfriends (2000 – 2008), did you have any favourite plot lines? Like what issues were really important to you that were discussed on the show, for example?
RH: Yeah, I always liked the little episodes that focused on me…it was so long ago.
FF: I’m picking your brains, it’s not fair. I just watched it a couple months ago so it’s fresh. They dealt with a lot of things like interracial relationships and what women of colour go through on a day to day basis in terms of judgment, employment, the fact that Joan couldn’t get the step up that she deserved. And your character also almost didn’t get that until you (William) sort of threw a hissy fit.
All of those kinds of things, I thought, were really important to show because no one else was doing that at the time. No one else was talking about those issues. So, I think for me anyway, I’m mixed race myself, I’m not mixed race black, but I’m North African. We’re incredibly mixed anyway. Kind of like in the Caribbean, there’s a lot of ethnicities mixed there.
So for us growing up, we grew up in a small, very white time, a very racist time as well, might I say. It’s not like that now, honestly, people here are so open minded now. It’s crazy how far things have come in a short period of time. But yes, when we’re going back 20 years ago, it was horrible to be here at the time, awful. A lot of shows like Girlfriends (2000 – 2008) really resonated with us, because we were different as well.
There’s a lot of crossover, I think, for all women of colour, no matter what background you are. So, for us, we might as well have been black according to our town, but we really weren’t, quite clearly.
RH: There’s a saying here where one drop of black blood makes you one. No matter what colour you are.
FF: I mean, I think it was just closed mindedness back then. People just really didn’t know any better, they were quite ignorant. Now it’s very different. Now, Scotland is a lot more open minded in many ways than England, even though England is maybe more culturally diverse. Politically, we’re just more open in general to immigration and things like that. So yeah, it’s much, much better. Now, people don’t even know that I am mixed race anymore, until I say my name. And then they’re like, ‘Oh, what are you?’
RH: Oh, right, right. I loved Scotland so much when I was there. I was in Edinburgh during a theatre festival. So that was probably more left wing than out in the countryside. But there was just so much warmth there for me, I felt so welcome. I want to go back someday.
FF: Oh, you should definitely, you should come. I mean, there’s so much to see in Scotland. It’s really a beautiful country. And I’m not just saying that because I’m from here, it’s stunning.
Girlfriends (2000 – 2008): what happens next?
So, back to your career, after Girlfriends (2000 – 2008) what was your next step? What did you want to do after that? Because it ended quite abruptly, I was a little bit unhappy, I’m not gonna lie.
RH: Yeah, that was not the best ending, there was a writer strike that occurred, I guess that was 2007. And the whole production stopped for about a year or so, maybe even close to two years, and we just didn’t come back to it. We had maybe nine episodes to finish and we never did. I was hoping that we would. I still am hoping that maybe Netflix is gonna do a short series over there, maybe they’ll pick up the last. But I’m not sure if they’re having that conversation or not. Please listen, Netflix. I love you so much.
FF: Absolutely, please, Netflix give us Girlfriends back! I know some of the others have done interviews recently as well and they’ve said the same thing. It would be so good to have a final season or even a film, just to tie up the loose ends and show us where everyone is now.
RH: It would be very nice, yeah. I mean, I don’t know what the deal is. I’m hoping.
FF: Do you think your character would still be with Monica this many years later – do you think that would have worked?
RH: Ah, I don’t know. In the beginning, I don’t know if you remember the beginning, but she was quite wicked in the beginning. She had quite a little change there, I don’t know how deep that wickedness goes in her. I don’t know, if maybe that surfaced, if they have a baby and then maybe things don’t work out, or maybe William ends up with Joan again.
FF: Well, they didn’t really work though.
RH: We’re so similar, which is kind of crazy. You would think, if you’re going to spend the rest of your life with somebody, it would be someone who would not think that I was so goofy or so wrong in the things that I like doing or my instincts and what I say.
FF: Yeah, you seemed so compatible in many ways, obviously, because a best friend is like that as well. My best friend is a guy as well, we’ve been best friends for eight years or something and then when I was watching the show, I actually messaged them, and I was like, ‘You’re my William’. Because we just tell each other everything, we have the most ridiculous gossip sessions ever.
I was really sad when it didn’t work out with you and Joan, because when that actually started to come together, I was like, ‘Oh, okay, actually yeah, that would be really sweet’. But then the chemistry isn’t there. And that’s, I think, what happens a lot with friendships.
RH: Yeah, it was weird romantically. But I don’t know, you take a look at someone ten, twenty years down the line, and then we start looking at the difference. Maybe I just want to date Tracee [Ellis Ross], I think maybe that’s it. A long romance could finally be realised. But a lot of times that happens, you take a second look at a friend of yours and it works out later in life.
Working with Tracee Ellis Ross and Kelsey Grammer
FF: Were you intimidated at all to work with Tracee, obviously, with who her mom is and everything like that? Was that a little bit daunting at first or were you just happy to be there?
RH: I thought it was great. Obviously, I love her mom [Diana Ross], I’ve been in love with her mom’s music for years and I was so excited to meet her. She’s so warm and open and she treated me like I was one of her kids, she’s a very sweet lady.
But I just liked working with Tracee. She’s very good at her craft, such a great sense of humour and a good person. I really lucked out to be on that show. No matter how you prepare for it, you can’t prepare yourself into a show like that, it’s just luck.
FF: Yeah, absolutely. I understand that. And I was even surprised because the first time I watched I didn’t really think about this, but watching the credits this time around, Kelsey Grammer being the executive producer, how did that come around?
RH: Yeah, that was really heady for me. You know, I say I love the man a lot, but I really, really did. I loved him on Cheers (1982 – 1993)222, when I was a kid. And in the early 90s, I would have parties at my house, we’d come over and drink beer and watch Frasier.
Then I moved to Los Angeles and ended up working with him and people were like, ‘How did you manage to do that?’ Because I really was a big, big, big fan of his. He was in the auditions and I’m glad I didn’t realise that he was there, he had glasses on. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have done a good job, if I’d have seen him sitting there, I’m a very nervous guy. I knew there was a white guy there, but I didn’t realise what was going on. I didn’t realise that was him until later, like the second or third audition. There were like three or four auditions, TV is so hard!
FF: So there were a lot of processes. Did you know who you were up against, who else was competing for your role?
RH: They told me everybody in town had read, every black guy in town pretty much. But I think Mara [Brock Akil] and her husband Salim, had seen me in another show I was on with Vivica Fox and Elliott Gould, maybe like a year or so before. It was short lived, maybe like 17 episodes, it was called Getting Personal (1998). I played a really geeky guy, super geeky guy. You might not have seen it because it wasn’t enough to be syndicated. But, they were like, ‘We’re looking for someone who’s not that socially awkward, but a guy that’s not like a soul brother type of guy’. So, they kind of had the radar up for me when I came in. But it was just really, the planets were so aligned for that.
FF: So, what are you working on now? I saw on IMDB, there’s something in pre-production or post production?
RH: That’s been in pre-production for like, 10 years! I’ve done a few things. Some things I’m not really allowed to talk about right now but it’ll be out in a month or so, I don’t know what I’m allowed to say.
People say I haven’t done anything, but I’ve done a lot of things, a lot of smaller parts or reoccurring parts. I was on a show, Hart of Dixie (2011 – 2015) for nine episodes. I don’t know if you get that over there. NCIS, Criminal Minds and things like that, I shopped around town. If I’d only done those things, there’s a lot of actors who spend their whole careers and don’t have the career that I had after Girlfriends (2000 – 2008).
Working behind the camera, moving into writing and producing
FF: Yeah, absolutely. Have you ever thought about doing much behind the camera or have you already done quite a bit behind the camera? Would you think about producing or writing your own thing, for example.
RH: Um, I wrote a little bit. I wrote an episode of a show called Femme Fatales (2011 – 2012). That was on Cinemax, I’ll send you a copy. It’s hard! I’m a lazy man and directing is so hard [laughs]. I just like doing my part and getting the hell out of there, having a drink in the pub. You do your part and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m exhausted’, and they’re still there with someone else doing more scenes. And then they got to go and do the editing, I could never hold that up.
I would like to produce. I’m trying to produce something over there in the UK, because I love the UK so much. I’m talking to some people, I’m trying to get something together. Because I would love to come over there. I love the UK so much.
FF: Keep us in the loop as well. We talk to a lot of people, I mean, we’re growing. You never know, we could always connect you with people potentially. Funding and stuff like that, getting things together to make something happen can be difficult. If you let us know what you’re working on, what you’re looking for, we can see if we could put feelers out for you.
RH: I have a script in mind right now that I’m trying to get, that I would love to do over there. It’s in the sketchy phase. It’s that hard work thing that you’ve got to put in with the writing. That would be so wonderful.
FF: I actually just wrote my first short film script, just in lockdown, because I was bored out of my mind here because we weren’t allowed out, we weren’t allowed to do anything. I just kind of word vomited and wrote something. It’s doing festivals now as an unproduced script and it’s gotten into quite a few, much to my surprise. So I might try to get that made as well, in a year or so once it’s finished the circuit because you can’t produce it while it’s going through as an unproduced script.
I think creatives we’re into lots of different things. We like to put our fingers in a lot of pies, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s why I wanted to know if you were doing anything else behind the camera as well.
RH: I like to do broad sketches and kind of say, ‘Hey, can I do this or do you want to do this with me. But I guess I’m not at the level where people would jump at those.
The whole production stopped for about a year or so, maybe even close to two years, and we just didn’t come back to it. We had maybe nine episodes to finish and we never did. I was hoping that we would. I still am hoping that maybe Netflix is gonna do a short series over there, maybe they’ll pick up the last.
FF: I think it depends on who you’re talking to as well. Because there’s certain communities where they would know you 100% and fall over themselves. The communities that are really connected to the work that you’ve done, definitely. In the UK, Girlfriends (2000 – 2008) wasn’t super big, it wasn’t as big as it was in the US anyway.
RH: It wasn’t that huge here either, it’s the way TV works here. We’re only on, I think, maybe 65% of the markets here in America. Just the big urban centres, I think we were, non-Trump areas I guess you could call them.
FF: Well, your character was a Republican, which was a humour point, obviously, in the show.
RH: Yeah, I don’t know. Not a lot of those around, not a lot of black Republicans. There are some though.
FF: I mean, I’ve seen quite a bit of content from black Republicans, which I was surprised about. Not about republicans in general, but Trump specifically. I mean I can understand why people would identify to either side, I’m personally more left but each to their own, but Trump is just…
RH: That’s a different story, yeah. There’s republicans that think he’s a really bad idea.
FF: Yeah, I mean, he’s a different brand of Republican in my opinion. He owns golf courses here in Scotland. And every time that he arrives, there’s huge protests, like people just go and throw things at him.
RH: He’s not popular. He’s not popular.
FF: Especially here because, politically, we’re quite socialist. We’re like Bernie Sanders, the SNP is very similar to Bernie Sanders’ manifesto or ethos. So that’s kind of more how our politics are run here in Scotland. But then England is more predominantly Conservative, which would be the equivalent of Republican. So he’s not popular here at all in Scotland, everyone goes crazy every time he comes here. But it contributes to our economy so I suppose we can’t be too fussy.
Transcription & Editor: Keren Davies
Second Editor: Richard Williams
Introductory words: Keren Davies, Aiysha Jebali & Richard Williams
Artwork (Film Forums): Richard Williams
Illustrations of Reggie Hayes:Glen Stone Illustration
Image of Kelsey Grammer: Source: Tenebrae, Wikipedia under Creative Commons License
Image of Reggie Hayes: Source: Lordhayestigerlilly [user link unavailable; Wikipedia image link], Creative Commons License
Scottish Tunisian actress. Yes, that’s a thing. BAME. POC.