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August 24, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT

Twin Peaks, Bone Daddy’s, Bikinis, Bombshells and, of course, Hooters. Andrew Bujalski knows his way around an Austin, Texas, “breastaurant.” As director of the superb dry comedy Support the Girls, he spent two years investigating this familiar yet foreign slice of American eateries. “My research for this was beer and mozzarella sticks, and I didn’t feel so great,” he says.

Support the Girls (out Friday) follows Regina Hall as Lisa Conroy, the manager of an interstate-adjacent sports bar with curves called Double Wammies, as she guides a cadre of waitresses, like the stalwart Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and Danyelle (Shayna McHayle, a.k.a badass rapper Junglepussy). Together, they navigate workplace harassment and single motherhood while sporting jean shorts and low-cut crop tops.

Bujalski doesn’t consider the Texas-set film on a day in the life of sexualized women a product of the #MeToo reckoning. He wrote the script years earlier, though 2017’s election night — when a candidate accused of sexual assault won the presidency — boosted his film on an “oddball quirk of U.S. capitalism.” He adds, “I wouldn’t call it a silver lining by any means, but the closest thing to positive that I could come up with was I guess my script is relevant.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s your interest in a film on “breastaurants”?
ANDREW BUJALSKI: Because it is a peculiar environment I never quite figured out. It’s the most straightforward, American business. You go in there, and it ain’t rocket science. But there is something peculiar and unique. Not obvious to me.

The alchemy of it?
Alchemy is the right word. There is some balance between how salacious they want to be and how we’re just a sports bar and that happens to be the uniform. We’re a family place, and everybody loves our wings. Something about it works in this culture. I don’t think you see so many of these outside of the states.

Do you know if they’re anywhere else?
The movie had its European debut in the Czech Republic, and people were telling me that there is a Hooters in Prague, which apparently does fine. I did not visit it myself. I’m told it’s more of a tourist place.

What’d your research for the film look like?
I had many a lunch in a number of these places. I’m a vegetarian, so it was a challenge.

Oh, what would you order?
Often a mozzarella thing or an Onion Ring thing. Some of those more chichi places would have a salad on the menu.

A salad wasn’t always the case?
That wasn’t always the case, but I’d usually drink a beer. My previous movie Results was about personal trainers, so my research for that was going to the gym, and it felt great. Support the Girls — temporarily great but an hour later not so great.

You were editing during the #MeToo break. How’d this impact the final product?
We weren’t going to make any drastic changes to the movie itself. If you’re telling a story that isn’t tied just to the cultural conversation at the moment, it should — you hope — be relevant in any context. That conversation is way bigger and more important than this movie.

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When you write a script, do you consider the character’s race?
I liked the idea of Lisa being African-American because the character had to be a bit of an outsider, in part, because I felt like an outsider. They’re not specifically white places, but this particular one we invented had a little bit of a country vibe to it. When you’re casting and looking at names versus what they can do at the box office, your list of famous white women is longer than your list of famous black women. It was worth it to me to try to let that be an African-American character. That all said, if we hadn’t found the right person, we would have reconsidered. But we got Regina Hall, and everything’s great.

Tell me a little bit about casting Haley Lu Richardson.
She was somebody who surprised me. I was in LA and did one of these ridiculous speed-dating-type sessions. You feel like an ass doing things that way, but it’s part of how this process works. A lot of women tried to be vampy and sexy with it in a way that didn’t really reflect the spirit of what actually goes on in these places. They’re not particularly seductive in there. Haley Lu really got the bubbliness, the sweetness, and the caretaker aspect.

To be blunt, you’re a white man writing about diverse women, often of color. Today, there’s a conversation on if that’s acceptable.
Anytime I sit down to write any character, it’s some act of imaginative empathy. I never assume to know everything about the characters or that I’m going to make a grand statement about everything in their world. It’s always more questions than answers for me. You want to be aware of what you do know, what you don’t know, and to be sensitive to your own ignorance. If the characters are mouthpieces for me or something, I perceive to be the anti-me, that’s not a story. I need people who are trying to understand each other or failing to understand each other.

That’s different than most directors who only write about what they know.
My first couple of movies, I was a young white, college graduate making movies about a lot of young white college graduates. But those characters were equally mysterious to me in a good way. You can’t write from nowhere. You have to have something you can apply to any story, but the older I get, the less I know. God forbid I write what I know. I know what’s in my refrigerator. Everything else I have to imagine.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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