Meg Stalter takes the mic — and spotlight — for her first starring role in Cora Bora

Meg Stalter had a "childhood dream to be the lead of something" — and her dream came true.

The Hacks breakout, who you might also know from her viral "Hi, gay" Pride month video a couple years ago, is playing the title character of the indie dramedy Cora Bora, about a young musician who escapes her life in Oregon, girlfriend and emotional demons included, to pursue a music career down the coast in Los Angeles. While the movie isn't without its lighter moments, it is a major showcase for the Ohio native to prove there's more to her than comedy.

"This is my first really big role and it's also the movie I've always wanted to be in and the movie I've always wanted to see. It's definitely different than anything I've gotten to do so far," the actress and comedian tells EW following the movie's SXSW premiere this month. "I love being on Hacks and I love making videos and performing live, but this is the first earnest thing I've gotten to show that's a little more dramatic."

Cora Bora (2023) Megan Stalter
Cora Bora (2023) Megan Stalter

SXSW Meg Stalter stars in 'Cora Bora'

Cora's struggle is evident from the movie's opening moments: She and her girlfriend's long-distance relationship is so clearly getting the best of them (and is that another woman's bra Cora spots in her former bedroom?); Cora's attempts to kickstart a solo music career are stalling; and impulsive decisions — both past and present — bite her in the ass. But she's not really a screw-up; Cora is running from trauma (that won't be elaborated on here to avoid spoilers) and is actually in need of some emotional life support.

"She's trying. She's trying really hard to fix things but she can't really show up for anyone because she's not showing up for herself," Stalter explains. "She's having a hard time taking care of her girlfriend because she can't take care of herself right now because I think she doesn't fully love herself in the beginning of the movie. And she's having a hard time letting go."

Unlike Cora, Stalter had a lot of comfort and encouragement in her journey, starting with director Hannah Pearl Utt (Before You Know It, Disengaged), who reminded her in advance of filming to "make sure that you're taking care of yourself" since she's in every single shot of the movie. Stalter found that help in her fellow cast and crew. "Luckily, I just fell in love with everyone, so we were all best friends," she says, smiling while talking about her monthlong experience making the movie. "They were all good at taking care of me — they forced me to rest between shots."

Andre Hyland, Hannah Pearl Utt, Chrissie Fit, Megan Stalter, Jojo T. Gibbs and Ayden Mayeri of 'Cora Bora' pose for a portrait at SxSW Film Festival on March 12, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
Andre Hyland, Hannah Pearl Utt, Chrissie Fit, Megan Stalter, Jojo T. Gibbs and Ayden Mayeri of 'Cora Bora' pose for a portrait at SxSW Film Festival on March 12, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

Robby Klein/Getty Images Andre Hyland, director Hannah Pearl Utt, Chrissie Fit, Megan Stalter, Jojo T. Gibbs, and Ayden Mayeri of 'Cora Bora' at SXSW Film Festival

That support also extended to her onscreen musical abilities. Cora's songs were written by singer-songwriter Miya Folick, who also helped Stalter "learn the guitar a little bit," at least "good enough to be in a band."

"I like my voice a lot but I think it is funny to act like I have an amazing voice… It's funnier to me than having a bad voice and then acting like it's good," Stalter says, admitting it's "really, really hard to play [guitar] on camera and sing at the same time, especially solo. "There's the cafe scene that I played all my own. I did know, technically, how to move my hands by the end of it, but it is really hard when you don't play."

Aside from the music she wrote, Folick even makes an appearance, as Daisy, Cora's best friend and a member of her former band — scenes that Stalter was able to rewatch later in the shoot, when Utt saved filming of some emotional moments.

"We filmed the opening song at the very beginning, day zero, so I always had the memory of the band… and we just had the best time," Stalter recalls. "Anytime I had to do like a scene that was more emotional, I would watch the clip of the first day of us singing together and I would cry every single time. Just the love that she's had for those friends."

Hacks Season 2
Hacks Season 2

Karen Ballard/HBO Max Paul W. Downs and Megan Stalter in 'Hacks'

And for now, Stalter is reunited with some other friends, on the set of Hacks (which is back in production following a short hiatus while star Jean Smart recovered from a heart procedure). Stalter says she's excited for fans to see Kayla's growth.

"You meet her in the first season, she's a very bad assistant. Very fun. It's a very fun character — it's very silly," she says. "And then the second season, you get to see a little bit more heart between Jimmy and Kayla. And then, I think, third [season], it's like you get to see all of it and you get to see her step up in a new way. It's been really fun and exciting because I feel like she's gotten to show another side of herself in this season too."

In other words, stepping up to prove she is not a hack?

"Right! I love that"

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