A matriarchal supporting actress of film and television whose quick wit and instantly likable persona has served her well on stage and screen, Irma P. Hall has found frequent work in such African-American-oriented dramas as A Family Thing, Soul Food, and Beloved. Equally effective with comedic roles in such features as Nothing to Lose and The Ladykillers, the multi-talented educator, poet, and actress actually stumbled into a career before the cameras by accident -- impressing director Raymond St. Jacques at a poetry reading so much that the filmmaker requested she essay a role in his 1973 crime film Book of Numbers. Her acting career subsequently snowballed, and it didn't take long for the increasingly busy actress to make quite a name for herself on both the stage and screen.
The Texas native's early career consisted of teaching foreign languages at public schools in her home state. An interest in acting eventually led the then educator and poet to co-found a small repertory theater in Dallas. In 1973, Hall's performance in Book of Numbers resulted in frequent small-screen work. Her career continued to blossom throughout the 1980s, and with feature-film work increasing in the 1990s, she became more recognizable than ever thanks to work in such features as Backdraft and Straight Talk. Despite the fact that the roles she essayed were frequently relegated to the supporting variety, her onscreen presence was undeniable, and Hall continued throughout the decade with roles in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Beloved. In A Family Thing, her role as a kindly blind African-American woman who helps her family warm to their newly discovered white relative earned Hall a Chicago Film Critics Association Award. An Image award for her role in the feature Soul Food followed in 1997 -- the same year she was voted "Chicagoan of the Year."
The early 2000s found Hall flourishing on the small screen with roles in such series as Soul Food (a spin-off of the popular feature), A Girl Thing, and All Souls in addition to meatier parts in such made-for-television features as Miss Lettie and Me and An Unexpected Love. For her role as the perceptive landlady who catches wind of a criminal scheme in The Ladykillers, Irma P. Hall received the Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately, Hall suffered a massive heart attack while driving shortly before the film was released into theaters -- resulting in an automobile accident. Hall was eventually able to overcome her injuries thanks to intense physical rehabilitation, and later that same year, she could be seen in both the family short Gift for the Living (based on O. Henry's tale The Gift of the Magi) as well as the Michael Mann thriller Collateral.