‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ shined for Regina King and Stephan James at NYC holiday party

Regina King is a hugger. “I’m so glad you saw this movie,” she said to one well-wisher after another. Then they got the warm embrace. This was the after-party following a Manhattan screening of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The lower level of P.J. Clarke’s across from Lincoln Center was packed. Playwright and filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan was on one side of the room, while Josh Mostel was tucked in a back booth. And throughout the place, normally jaded academy voters seemed genuinely starstruck by King and co-star Stephan James.

James worked the room effortlessly, but King was dead center and the core of the party. “I want everyone to see it,” she repeated to me. “I haven’t made a movie in years. And plenty have come across my desk. This film gives the audience affirmation and a hug.” The film hugs too!

I told her I liked her “Kwan” at this party, a reference to her scene-stealing performance in “Jerry Maguire.” She threw her head back with a big laugh and then wanted to dish more about “Beale.” The 1970s-set drama from “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins went uptown for the lean production, and the cast got to know one another quickly. “We shot in the last un-renovated house in Harlem,” King told me. “They were about to remodel it and we said, ‘No, don’t do it. It will be worth more when we are done.’ Everyone, cast, crew in that one house. It was tight.”

James attributes his performance as a man wrongly accused of a crime to his committed but comfortable director. “Barry Jenkins is a genius. We didn’t have that much time to rehearse, but when there’s a good general in charge everything works well.” James and co-star KiKi Layne met on the set, but Jenkins understood their intimate scenes were crucial. “He made it so easy. I had to undress a woman I didn’t know. He creates a place where everyone is comfortable,” James added.

The actor marveled again at Jenkins’s ability to bring the modestly budgeted ($12 million) film to fruition: “25 shooting days. He was never nervous. Always in control. People think because he directed an Oscar-winning movie it would be intimidating. It was just the opposite.”

Speaking of Oscars, some in the room were touting King for her first nomination. She said she’s ready for the campaigning, but not because she wants a trophy. “I will do whatever it takes to get people into a theater to see this movie.” And then with a smile she was off to hug another party-goer.

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