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By Suzanne

Mara Hall

Interview with Mara Hall of "Ambitions" on OWN 6/21/19

It was great to speak with Mara. She is an amazing person, and we had fun on the phone.

Here's the audio of our interview. Below is the transcript.

Suzanne: All right. How are you doing?

Mara: I'm doing good, Suzanne. I had a question for you. Will this be a live interview or are you recording it?

Suzanne: I'm recording it, yeah, so I can transcribe it.

Mara: Okay. I just wanted to let you know that my nanny is running late, so my daughter might make some sounds.

Suzanne: Okay, that's fine. Well, I've got a dog and she might make some sounds. So you're calling from Michigan, or is that just your cell phone?

Mara: That's just my cell phone, but I am originally from Detroit, Michigan.

Suzanne: Oh, okay, great. Yeah, and my cell phone is Alabama, but I live in Arkansas.

Mara: What part of Alabama?

Suzanne: Well, we lived in Tuscaloosa for nine years.

Mara: Oh, nice.

Suzanne: Yeah, we lived all over. My husband's job, we moved a lot. I can barely hear you.

Mara: Okay. I'm sorry.

Suzanne: Okay, that's fine.

Mara: I put the phone down, the baby had milk drawing down her neck.

Suzanne: How old is your baby?

Mara: She's five months.

Suzanne: Oh, congratulations.

Mara: Thank you so much.

Suzanne: Wow, that's a lot to deal with.

Mara: Yeah, it is. It's really interesting because she's changing now. Before she would sleep through the night and now she's waking up at odd times and going to sleep at odd times.

Suzanne: Wow.

Mara: I'm not a morning person, so it makes it difficult for me.

Suzanne: Yeah. That's one of the many reasons I didn't have kids. I didn't want to get up in the morning. No... I enjoyed your short film, Juicy Ladies. I watched it last night.

Mara: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Suzanne: It was funny and educational and inspirational.

Mara: Inspirational. Yes. That was the purpose of it. It's interesting because we've submitted it to a lot of film festivals and only got accepted into one. I don't think they know what to do with it because it's all of those three things in one.

Suzanne: Right. It's definitely funny. So, how did you come up with the idea?

Mara: It's a long story. Unfortunately, one of my colleagues came up with an another movie idea and we had started production on that and the writer/director got into it with the creator of the idea and they couldn't come to common ground. So we had to trash the first project and because we already had an executive producer that had us have $33,000 budget, I had to think of something else because I was like, "Okay, I can't let these funds go to waste."

Suzanne: Sure.

Mara: So, I wrote another treatment and [inaudible 00:02:45] writing was based on my life. So Juicy Ladies is based upon me. Looking for love in all the wrong places, being diabetic, choosing the wrong man, all of that. It based on me. So I had the main idea and then, I hired a writer to write it and you have Juicy Ladies.

Suzanne: Oh great. Yeah, I figured it might be based on your life, but I wasn't sure. Yeah, I can relate. I mean, I can't relate to the bad men part, but I'm type two diabetic too. So I can relate to that part.

Mara: Oh wow. Yes, yes. Do you take insulin or-

Suzanne: No, I just take pills and try to lose weight. I'm about 50 pounds overweight. Trying to lose that forever, you know?

Mara: Yes. That will change you drastically, just losing weight.

Suzanne: Yeah, yeah. I used to be a little heavier and I lost about 25 pounds and then, I've been trying to lose it again more. It's hard, as you know.

Mara: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.

Suzanne: So why make it a short film, rather than try to make it a longer one? Just because you had those funds or...

Mara: It was always supposed to be a short film. The first one was a short film and then, I was just trying to emulate the formula and just stay within the budget constraints because we couldn't make... Oh, there she goes. Couldn't make it into a feature. So it was always going to be a short film.

But, it could definitely be a feature. It could definitely be a web series or even a TV show. So I don't think we're going to do anything in that direction. But, if someone were to ask or to inquire about that, we definitely could. But, it was always supposed to be a short film. Just to showcase my talent and taking matters into your own hands and not waiting for Hollywood to pick you, pick yourself.

Suzanne: Right, right. Sure. Yeah, I could definitely see it as a movie or a series, you're right. Especially now with, I can't think of their names, but you've got some actresses now that are coming out that are heavier and they're featured a lot and of course now, also Hollywood's really, especially TV is really into people of color. It seems like this is your moment.

Mara: That's what I think too. That's what I think too.

Suzanne: Especially with the comedies now, the movie comedies with... I can't think of their names. But you know who I'm talking about, the larger ladies that are making the movies now.

Mara: Uh-huh (affirmative). Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Suzanne: You know how it is being diabetic. I have the brain fog and can't think. Also, I'm older than you and I've got other things that cause brain fog.

Mara: No problem. No problem. I have brain fog as well.

Suzanne: Well, you've got newborn mom brain, right? I've heard of that. I've heard that's a thing.

Mara: It is.

Suzanne: It is.

Mara: It is a thing. You can't remember anything and it absolutely is a thing.

Suzanne: I do think it has to do with the hormones in part because I have it from menopause and it's got to be related, you know? I think. But anyway, moving on. So what gave you the idea to use the talking fruit pillow? I assume it's fruit.

Mara: Yeah, that's Wendy the watermelon.

Suzanne: Okay, it was a watermelon.

Mara: Well, honestly, it came because we had already contracted a puppet maker to make food puppets from the first film. So we had already paid someone to start. So because we did that, we were like, "Okay, well let's think of another idea, another puppet." And that's why she still stayed in the movie.

Suzanne: Okay. Yeah, I thought it might be a watermelon because of the texture, but the shape seemed more like a strawberry, so I wasn't entirely sure, but it worked. It worked. It was cute. It was very cute. That was a lot of the humor there. It definitely lightened the mood of the rest of it.

Mara: Of the movie. Yes, yes.

Suzanne: Now, can you tell us anything about your new character coming up in Ambitions? They told me that your character comes in later and that you can tease about her and give a little information.

Mara: Yes. So my character is a relative of the Lancaster family who comes into Atlanta, Georgia, where my family lives in the midst of chaos, within the family. Yes. I don't start any chaos, but it's already chaotic. So I come in, in the middle of chaos.

Suzanne: Okay and can you give us her name or anything or?

Mara: Yeah, her name is Darcia.

Suzanne: Darcia, okay. Yeah, I was looking for you and I couldn't find thing online about it, so that's why I...

Mara: Yeah, Darcia Lancaster. She's a relative of the Lancaster family, of the two main Lancasters.

Suzanne: Okay. That's the what? The mayor?

Mara: The mayor and his sister.

Suzanne: Okay. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. I watched the first episode. I liked it. It was good.

Mara: Yeah, it's really, really, really, really juicy. Really, really good. It's definitely a guilty pleasure that I think of.

Suzanne: I think it's the best thing that's been on that network actually. I've watched some of the other soaps on there and they're not as professional.

Mara: Exactly. Yeah, I agree.

Suzanne: Yeah and Jamey who wrote it, he went to school here. My husband works at Southern Arkansas University and I'm taking... I have a bachelor's already. I'm doing a second bachelor's in mass comm, since I already do that for my work and Jamey went through the program here in mass comm.

Mara: Oh, wonderful. He's an amazing writer and amazing man.

Suzanne: Yes, he is.

Mara: Just so happy to be a part of his production and just his brain and just the theme. Because if you watched the first episode, you saw there's so many twists and turns. You don't know what's going to happen.

Suzanne: Sure.

Mara: [inaudible] the whole time and just from the mastermind of Jamey Giddens.

Suzanne: Yeah. The characters are really interesting and yeah, the story sort of twist and turns, like you said. I mean, I don't know about you, but I've watched a lot of soap operas, daytime and prime time, and you can see sort of the influence they had on his writing. It's really interesting. In a good way.

Mara: Well yeah, that's how my daughter talks. She's talking to us. She wants to be a part of the interview. Yes and Jamey was a writer for daytime confidential. He was a soap opera blogger.

Suzanne: Yes. Right.

Mara: His influence is soap opera's. That's his genre. He loves it. Even my character, he told me where the influence came from and the type of field that it, which I can't disclose. Yeah, his world is soap and he is engulfed in it and you can see how much of a mastermind he is with his writing because you see it in episode one, just how brilliant he is.

Suzanne: Right, right. Yeah, no I agree. So good. I'll be looking forward to seeing you on there.

Mara: Yeah, it's a wonderful project. Because I come in, I think on an episode... Well, I don't know if I can say that, but I come in in the middle of the season and I read all of the scripts before that and I couldn't put them down. That's how good everything was, like script by script. I was like, "Oh my goodness, they're doing this. Oh my goodness, they're having sex. Oh, and they're pulling out guns. Oh my goodness. He's going to shoot his wife. What? She's going to shoot her husband?" Like all of that.

Suzanne: Yeah. Yeah. It's very steamy too.

Mara: Yes, very steamy, very titillating, very raunchy at the same time. Classy raunchy, but raunchy at the same time.

Suzanne: Right. Well, you can do that on cable, so that's good.

Mara: Yep, yep, yep, yep.

Suzanne: So you balance acting and taking care of your daughter and everything. How do you do that? How have you been doing that?

Mara: Prayer. It's really all new because I had her in January and then, I started filming the show in March. When we started filming, I had to learn a lot of copy, a lot of lines and it was really good. My husband would help me out taking care of her while I would learn my lines, so I can concentrate. I would literally have to tune her out for a couple of hours a day because it was so much and there's so much pressure that I really needed focus and concentration.

So my husband was very integral and also my family, my mom and my dad would help me out, but it's really, really difficult. Now going on auditions and she's a 24 hour job, like needs lots of attention, lots of nurturing and sometimes, I just have to plan out time to learn lines and things of that nature because right now, if I'm learning lines she'll talk to me. You can't concentrate.

So you just really, really, really just have to plan out your day and try to do things when she sleeps. Which she's five months now, so she's not sleeping all day anymore. So she'll take little cat naps for an hour or less. So you just really have to be strategic in how you plan your day and get everything done.

Suzanne: Right. Wow. That does sound difficult.

Mara: It is. It is. But I'm trying to be a trooper and make it happen.

Suzanne: Go ahead.

Mara: I'm not the first one to do this.

Suzanne: No, no, that's for sure. You also have a doctorate in clarinet. What made you decide to get that?

Mara: Well, I don't have a doctorate in clarinet performance. I did two years towards the doctorate.

Suzanne: Oh okay, sorry.

Mara: Yep, but I was close. I quit and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. I've always been in the band since I was eight years old. I played the clarinet and then, when I was in high school my sophomore year, I started learning how to play the tuba. So when I went to undergrad, I went to undergrad for music education because I loved the band and I was in the band and I was in the orchestra and music was my life, music is my passion.

Mara: After I left Jackson State University, I went on to Cincinnati Conservatory to get my masters degree in clarinet performance, so that I could continue learning to grow because I wanted to be classical. But I wanted to be principal clarinetist in a major symphony orchestra. That was my dream.

After I got my master's, I was like, "Okay, I don't think I'm good enough yet. I still need some more training." So I went on to pursue my doctorate, so I can keep learning and keep growing in music. So that's why I went on to do that. But as I went from my first year of my doctorate, I kind of got burnt out because I went to undergrad, masters, doctorate, straight through and right, and that's where I developed a little affinity for acting.

I was like, "Well, maybe I can be an actress because people say I'm extra and I'm very animated." But I didn't really think that was a real career. So I said, "No, I'm not going to do that." So I went back home to Detroit, Michigan and started teaching band and that really became my passion, where I loved being a middle school, high school, college band director. That is what pushed me farther into acting because I would act for my students and I would dance and perform with them.

Mara: Someone told me, "Mara, you should think about getting on the radio." Because I would announce for my band or to be an actress. I was like, "That's not a real career." So that's what started everything. Yeah and 10, well no, 11 years later, here I am.

Suzanne: Wow. Okay. Well, yeah, you've had an interesting history. I know how that is because it's so hard when you've got different passions and different things you enjoy doing and try to focus on just one at a time is difficult. I actually got my start in music too. I was a music major in voice.

Mara: Oh wonderful.

Suzanne: Yeah and I wasn't very good. I didn't feel I was very... Well anyway, so I've been working on-

Mara: You probably were excellent.

Suzanne: Well no, I had problems. I had been in choir and choir singing is very different from individual singing and I needed help. So I ended up, because we moved... Because I was already married and we were in college and he was a graduate students. We ended up moving before I finished. So I got my degree, in order to finish, I got my degree in liberal arts, which is kind of a dumb major.

It's like music, English and history and then, what do you do with that? So then, I got into computers and then eventually, I got into this whole TV thing. So, you never know what life is going to throw at you, right?

Mara: Right. You don't. You don't.

Suzanne: In the meantime, I still do take voice lessons and I like to sing, and I've gotten better, but now I've got this.

Mara: I got you. I got you.

Suzanne: You understand how that is.

Mara: Uh-huh (affirmative). Absolutely. Absolutely.

Suzanne: So, do you still teach clarinet on the side or do you think you might do that again?

Mara: Yes, because I feel when I teach music I'm giving back to my community and I really, really enjoy it. I don't really like teaching private lessons, but I can. So I might do that. I'm not sure. But what I will do is be a consultant, like a band, marching band, symphonic band, wind ensemble consultant to different colleges and high schools in the area that need me or where ever.

Like I was assistant band director at Morehouse College for four years. The director of bands, he's a very good friend of mine and he already asked me if I could come work their band camp. So I'll probably be doing things like that. Yeah.

Suzanne: Oh, that's neat.

Mara: Yeah. Instead of private lessons because I get so bored teaching private lessons. I like working with a lot of people, not just like one on one.

Suzanne: Sure, sure. You want to be out in front and directing everybody and getting involved in everything. I can understand that.

Mara: Because I'm literally good at that.

Suzanne: No, I understand because briefly, I tried to be a choral conductor. It didn't work out, but it was fun. It was enjoyable.

Mara: Right, right. Well, my undergraduate degree is music education, vocal and instrumental K through 12. so I had the wonderful opportunity, when I was in LA, to teach some vocal technique classes and choir classes because I had the experience and the expertise and then, I can sing too.

Suzanne: That's great.

Mara: So that was really fun. Yeah.

Suzanne: Yeah and that's a good added bonus to being an actor. You can sing too. It's good to have those extra skills.

Mara: Right, right, right. But, it's a double edged sword because when people see me, they expect me not to sing but to sang.

Suzanne: Oh, right, right.

Mara: Like Dream Girls, Jennifer Holliday, Jennifer Hudson. I can sing. I can't sang.

Suzanne: Right, I understand. But you probably play clarinet, like you can probably do jazz clarinet and that kind of thing, right?

Mara: No, I can't.

Suzanne: No? Only classical, huh?

Mara: Only classical. Yeah. I'm trying to change that because I can teach jazz, but jazz is very, very... Either you got it or you don't. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of structure and you have to have really, really good teachers to show you how to do... how to improvise and how to have a good ear to play it.

[crosstalk] clarinet, I've had a very difficult time playing jazz because I didn't have good jazz teachers when I was young. Yeah, but I'm good at teaching it. I just can't play it. I can sing jazz, but I can't play it on the clarinet. I'm trying to change that. Yep.

Suzanne: Yeah. Well, that makes sense. I imagine even singing jazz is difficult in that same kind of way.

Mara: Yes, yes, yes. I couldn't do that. I stick to rock and pop and a little show tunes. That's about it. So, what ages were you best at teaching, you think?

High school, middle school and college. So they're all different. So middle school is probably... can be one of the best experiences that a teacher would have because if your students know that you care about them and you have high standards, they will go beyond the call of duty for you. They'll do anything for you. High school is great because you don't have to be as involved as a middle school teacher. They're almost like little adults. So, it's a little bit easier than middle school. Then college is great because they're adults and you just sculpt them and show them in the right direction and it's probably the easiest out of the three.

Suzanne: Sure. Yeah. You don't have to deal with parents and discipline and all that kind of stuff. Yeah.

Mara: Well, you still have to deal with discipline though.

Suzanne: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:20:25] Not as much. Right. Because they're paying to be there.

Mara: It's a different type of discipline.

Suzanne: Yeah, yeah. They're paying to be there, so yeah. So, you're trying to balance right now, you've got family life and playing. I imagine you still play clarinet and acting and at some point, teaching, right? That's a lot.

Mara: I know. I lived in Los Angeles for 11 years and in Los Angeles, you have to have a lot of money or you have to have a really good job or several jobs. So I learned a long time ago that if I want to live a good quality of life, I'm going to have to hustle and I'm going to have to work. So when I left California in November to move here, I had like five jobs.

So I substitute taught, I was artistic director for a nonprofit, I did Lyft, Uber, Postmates, and DoorDash. So that's six jobs. That's just what you have to do, and I got used to running, running, running, and going and going and going because I really like nice things. I like to live in a nice apartment. Not materialistic things, but I just want my home life to be comfortable.

Suzanne: Yeah, exactly.

Mara: We're living check to check, paycheck to paycheck.

Suzanne: Right. Are you living in Atlanta now or LA again?

Mara: I'm living in Atlanta and I'm going to be going back to pack up my apartment in Los Angeles next month and then, fully moving everything here.

Suzanne: Oh, okay. Oh, there's a lot of jobs in Atlanta now for actors.

Mara: Yes. A lot of jobs in Atlanta for actors. Yes, there are.

Suzanne: Well, great. Do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell us about or?

Mara: I think, I'm going to... Well, not that I think, I am. I'm going to reboot my online social media movement show, I Got Something to Say, where I empower through laughter in three minutes or less. Yeah. So you can follow us on Instagram at @igststv. My Instagram and social media is Mara_ or Mara.Hall.

So yeah, I'm going to do that and already released the video, my first video that I did five years ago for, I Got Something to Say. I released it yesterday on Instagram, but I'm going to reboot that right back on up because a lot of people really liked it and it's easier to produce things for online or for social media now with all the technology. Because when I did it before on Instagram, I couldn't... Well not on Instagram, but on YouTube, we couldn't put it on Instagram because they didn't have that capability. But now they do with IGTV and stuff. It's just easier to get your message out there and I love laughter. I love comedy and I love making people feel good.

Suzanne: Great. Yeah and it's easier when you can stay at home with your daughter more, I imagine.

Mara: Exactly.

Suzanne: So let me ask you one more thing. Because you're show was about weight and everything and you have diabetes, when you had your daughter, did that affect your weight or the diabetes? I mean, how did that work out with you?

Mara: Yes. So she's really a blessing because when I got pregnant with her, my A1C was 11.2, which is out of control, diabetes. So my doctor immediately put me on insulin to get it back down because now I'm pregnant. It's not just about me, it's about her. She could be born diabetic or she could not be born, like totally a high-risk pregnancy.

So I saw an endocrinologist and they put me on insulin and my diabetes got under control. So I was on a strict, strict diet. You couldn't even really tell I was pregnant. I didn't gain any weight from eating because I ate very, very clean, very healthy. Unfortunately, she was born with high sugar because of me because I was taking all the insulin and she had to go to the NICU when she was born, but she's fine now. She's great.

Suzanne: Oh good.

Mara: Yeah. I'm trying to live a healthy lifestyle, like walking her everyday when we can have a regular sleep schedule and controlling my diabetes, as much as I can.

Suzanne: Yeah. Well, that's great. Yeah. I hope you didn't mind it was too personal or anything. It just occurred to me.

Mara: Oh no, no, no. It's cool. I enjoy talking about diabetes and that's going to be one of my... It's always been one of my platforms. But seeing how I can help other people, like how they can maintain their sugar levels and how they can do better because it's very much so a struggle because I like to eat and I like to drink adult beverages. That's not a recipe for success with that, being diabetic. So yeah, I love to talk about it and that's why I did Juicy Ladies because that's a part of my testimony, being diabetic and making the wrong choices with food and with love.

Suzanne: Well that's good. Yeah. As women, we talk about that kind of stuff all the time, but then I just... And talking to you is so easy, I forget for a moment. It's like, "Oh wait, this is part of the interview." I asked such a personal question.

Mara: It's a welcoming conversation though, so no worries.

Suzanne: Right. Okay, good. Yeah, I get carried away sometimes.

Mara: No, you're fine. You're fine.

Suzanne: Okay, good. Well, I really enjoyed talking to you and I look forward to what else we can see you in and catching you on Ambitions.

Mara: Thank you so much and thank you for giving me the opportunity to have this interview and I really, really, really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Suzanne: Sure, sure. I'll have it up probably in a few days. The website is

Mara: Okay. I had a question for you. How long have you been working with Anderson Group?

Suzanne: That's a good question. Off and on for years. They sort of found me. My site's been since the 90s and I didn't have... This is why I'm going back to school, for the... What they used to call journalism. Now it's mass comm because I didn't really have a background in that. I just started my website in the 90s for fun about TV and other things and then, it got bigger and bigger. Then people started contacting me and I started doing interviews back in, I think it was 2003. So, I've been doing interviews since then, but I don't remember specifically when I started with the Anderson Group.

Mara: Okay. Okay. Got you. Copy that.

Suzanne: Yeah. Right now, most of my site is still at, which is kind of long. But I'm moving it slowly over to WordPress, which is at, which is shorter.

Mara: I got you. I got you.

Suzanne: Anyway, but your article will be at because I haven't moved that part over yet.

Mara: Okay. That sounds wonderful. I can't wait to see it.

Suzanne: All right, well thanks a lot.

Mara: No problem. You have a wonderful day.

Suzanne: You too.

Mara: A wonderful weekend.

Suzanne: You too. Bye. What was your daughter's name?

Mara: Marley.

Suzanne: Bye Marley.

Mara: Her lovely grandmother just came.

Suzanne: Oh, okay. Oh good, help mama out. [crosstalk] All right. Bye-bye.

Mara: Bye-bye.


Multi-faceted actor, musician, and teacher, writer and producer Mara Hall has been burning the midnight oil as a new mother balancing her work life with her new OWN series "Ambitions," premiering on Tuesday, June 18, as well as her extensive teaching career, and her most important job and role to-date, being a mother. We would love to arrange an entertaining and inspiring interview with you and Mara to discuss balancing her career as an actor while being a new mom, as well as her incredible journey working toward earning her Doctor of Musical Arts in Clarinet Performance.
"Ambitions" explores the sexy, deceitful machinations of love, power and politics in America's hottest urban mecca, Atlanta, Georgia. The series centers around the intense rivalry between formidable legal eagles Stephanie Lancaster (Robin Givens) and Amara Hughes (Essence Atkins), former best friends from college who find themselves adversaries in both their personal and professional lives. Mara portrays a mysterious relative of the Lancasters that comes into town in the middle of chaos, with unclear intentions. Please use the following link to view the trailer for the new series. Ambitions Trailer
As a first-time mother, Mara has been discovering how to maneuver through life and balance her full work load with her new 5 month old daughter Marley, along with her husband. Mara is free to discuss the below talking points when it comes to being a new mother.
When Mara is not busy in front of the camera, or at home with her daughter and husband, she can be found teaching in the classroom. Mara is a fiercely loyal advocate for keeping music/arts programs in schools and teaching the next generation. With well over 20 years of performance experience and a long running resume of teaching at all levels including elementary, highs school, college and beyond, Mara's passion for performance and teaching speaks for itself.

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