Powerhouse creator Regina King covers WSJ. Magazine’s December/January Issue!
After three-plus decades on-screen, King had her breakthrough lead role, in 2019’s ‘Watchmen’; and this year she directed her first feature film, One Night in Miami, an adaptation of playwright Kemp Powers’s 2013 stage imagining of conversations between four Black legends. Now, after years of momentum, an expansive body of work in film and television as an actor, director and producer, and numerous awards, she is regarded as one of Hollywood’s most dynamic creators.
The scope of King’s performances since her first role at age 14—as Brenda Jenkins on the sitcom 227—has been wide ranging. Her first two Emmys came in 2015 and 2016 for roles in the ABC anthology ‘American Crime.’ She picked up her third Emmy for the 2018 Netflix drama ‘Seven Seconds,’ in which she played the mother of a son killed by a cop in a hit-and-run. She then won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in 2019, playing another maternal character in Barry Jenkins’s film adaptation of James Baldwin’s ‘If Beale Street Could Talk.’
‘One Night in Miami’ plays out like elevated fanfiction with four historical figures: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) before he called himself Muhammad Ali. The movie, though fictional, is based on a real gathering between the men on the night of February 25, 1964, when a 22-year-old Clay was victorious over Sonny Liston to snatch the heavyweight title.
King on finishing her movie during BLM protests & Covid:
“The work has truly been a welcome distraction. I find that…on set or editing, working on the music for the film [or] on the color, it forces you to focus on something else. Because everything around us has to do with the pandemic, who’s been in office, this election,” she says, two weeks before Election Day. “But as a Black American, that’s been the story before we were even born—of being marginalized people. That’s all the time happening, and the work kind of allows for me to escape it and not feel like I’m irresponsibly escaping it.”
King on winning an Emmy while wearing a Breonna Taylor T-shirt:
Like many Black Americans, King felt the fatigue of maintaining a professional visage amid violence. “The faces that we put on to smile and to succeed,” she says. “That shit is exhausting.”
King on having her son in mind when telling the story of One Night In Miami:
King describes the story as a personalized portrait of revered figures. “We meet them in places where they’re each getting punched in the gut and getting reminded of their blackness or inequities in some way,” she says. “I wanted the world to see Black men the way I see them, as complex, as vulnerable, as strong…as human beings that feel—who are not void of being hurt.”
King on keeping a focus on her Black audience without feeling she needed to please everyone:
She points to a pool scene of Cassius Clay that’s soundtracked to Donny Hathaway’s timeless cover of Ray Charles’s “I Believe to My Soul.” “I was like, ‘That’s for Black people! I’m letting y’all know now: I’m not changing that!’” she says, laughing. “There’s some things that are inside jokes that, because you’re not Black, you’re going to miss that joke. And in those moments, do you think, OK, does it matter to me if the joke is missed or that beat is missed? No, sometimes it doesn’t matter.”
The article appears in WSJ. Magazine’s December/January Issue, on newsstands December 12th.
[Photo Credit: Alexandra Leese for WSJ. Magazine]
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