Regina King has taken on another heavy role in Netflix’s “Seven Seconds,” where she plays Latrice Butler, the mother of a young boy shot by a white police officer and left for dead. King is no stranger to complex, racially-charged material, having won two Emmys for her work on ABC’s “American Crime” in 2015 and 2016, earning another nomination just last year for the show’s final season.
King spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria in a video chat about embodying another weighty character in “Seven Seconds,” the show’s themes of race and law enforcement, and what it means to be a two-time Emmy winner. Watch the exclusive video above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Regina King, let’s go straight to how you got involved with “Seven Seconds.” I know we talked about it last time but now that you’ve done it, tell us how you got involved in the project.
Regina King: Actually, Veena Sud and Gavin O’Connor reached out to me with interest for me to play the role of Latrice and I read the script and it was amazing like I told you before and did I tell you before that I originally was interested in the role of KJ?
RK: Yeah, that’s the role that I wanted to play, and it kind of took after I played Latrice to discover why I really wanted to play KJ. Initially, I felt like it was just I played “mother” several times before so I just felt like this will be a different role, playing someone who doesn’t have her stuff together and doesn’t initially come off as the most likable person, so I thought that that would be a challenge, and Veena just felt in her heart that I was Latrice and she had always seen me in that role so I ended up playing it and by the time I got to six months later, after playing Latrice, I realized that I didn’t want to play Latrice ‘cause I kind of had an idea of the emotional journey it was gonna take me on and I think I was scared of going on a journey like that.
GD: Yeah, I can see why and it’s gonna be hard for us to discuss what happens throughout the series so we’ll try to keep it super general so that people can discover it for themselves, obviously, but when we last talked, we talked about how in the past, in Season 2 of “American Crime,” you played a really strong mama bear, and then Season 3 you played a woman who couldn’t have kids and wanted them desperately, and now you’re back in a role where you’re dealing with something that is so unimaginable, the loss of a child, and I’m trying to understand when you took on the role, you didn’t wanna play it originally, when you took it on, what scared you the most?
RK: I guess having a son. Having a son and having moments just myself, if Ian may have been even a little bit late for curfew and that nervous feeling I would get. One time Ian, he was being a good friend and taking one of his friends’ girlfriends home and he was pulled over by the police and asked questions like “What are you doing? What are you doing with her?” And made to get out of the car and had to sit on the curb and when he came home, he was just so upset and so frustrated because although we had had so many conversations about the police and how he should handle himself if he’s ever pulled over in a situation when confronted by the police, he had never that experience. That was only a conversation, a discussion about what potentially could happen became a reality for him, so experiencing that through your child and feeling them being upset and there’s nothing that you can do about it. As parents we wanna be able to fix everything. We wanna be able to put our children in positions where they feel empowered all the time and the reality is you can’t. So I guess knowing that from an experiential place and then talking to a mother who actually had a son that was murdered just made something that has always been… I’ve never had that experience. I wish that no one would ever have that experience.
First of all, just to lose a child is unimaginable but then to lose a child at the hands of someone else is even more devastating. And again, it’s something that I can only imagine and I can only know from the conversations that I’ve had with other parents. I gotta tell you, it was just bone-chilling to talk to Marion, who’s a mother, the woman that I talked to about her son. And what was so interesting about talking to her is that somehow she’s been able to find little bits of joy, even throughout her sadness and it’s been years since her son was killed but that sadness, that pain is still there. But she still has finally found a way to smile again and she has other children. I guess I felt like, “Oh, well thank God she did have other children.” She was telling me there was a time where she was totally checked out, even though she had other children to take care of. Just that hole that was left inside her was something that was indescribable. So I really tried to tap into that, even though that’s just a scary thought, but I knew that if I’m gonna say yes, that it is so important to honor, I guess, the pain that parents feel when they go through this and because it is something that’s just so much of a reality right now in American culture, that I kind of felt like I had to take the role, even though that’s not the one I originally wanted. Just talking to her and talking to Veena kind of felt like, “Okay, well, the universe is putting this in my lap. I’m gonna accept it and just hope that it makes some people who wouldn’t ever consider another person’s story consider it. That it’s not a story, it’s a reality for a lot of people.
GD: Yeah, you talking about it, you can see on your face and mind that it is an uncomfortable place to be in, and you knew going into this working with Veena Sud that you’ll be working on something that will be dark. That’s really her repertoire. And this is a very dark, Jersey, New York, tristate area. It’s a very dark, unforgiving and cold place. So all of that is playing on your mind when you take on the role and you’re starting but I was thinking about the scene in the first episode, trying not to spoil too much, but when you walk into the room and you realize that’s your kid and he’s there, how do you mentally prepare yourself for that? Are you thinking about your personal life to bring out that emotion?
RK: It’s interesting ‘cause you go through a myriad of emotions, because I have a son, like I said. So a part of me would really work hard to try not to think of my son ‘cause it would make me so emotional that it would take me out of what I need to do to execute the performance, so it just took a lot of… I know this just sounds so simple but it’s not when you’re in it, a different level of focus, a focus that I don’t think I ever really had to wrangle that level of focus before. Again, to separate it from being a mom of an only child, an only son, and not just internalize that was tough, and in all honesty, probably sometimes I didn’t do a good job of not internalizing it, ‘cause my son, sometimes I would call him every day or every other day with just random things, like asking him to put the towels in the dryer, just odd things. I guess it was something inside that was just yearning to still be connected to him because I’m playing this role of a woman that lost all physical connection with her son.
GD: Yeah, it’s pretty heavy. But there’s a lot more to it. When we talked last year, I think you were vacationing in Mexico and you were talking about how this show actually has a lot of other themes, obviously, when you see it. What do you think it says about race and socio-economic class and law enforcement and all of these things that are so relevant to today?
RK: Well, it’s so many different things. I can’t remember the woman’s name that said it, but throughout that whole experience just kept bringing me back to, “When privilege is your norm, equality can feel like oppression.” You watch this story and you see people who have a life of privilege, and not just a privilege because of the color of their skin but because they abuse the badge that they wear, and how so many people get a label put on them because of other bad behavior and I guess in a lot of ways, I think when we talked before about “American Crime,” I think this is in the same regard, that it’s kind of almost like an anthropology lesson. It’s a study on behavior and just like you can pass down DNA, you have the same eyes as a family member or all of these physical attributes, that I think things like pain and guilt, those things can be passed down as well. When you come from a lineage that has a lot of oppressing people, that plays itself out in a certain way and when you have a lineage that comes from a people that have been oppressed, that plays out a certain way. When you have a lineage of people who have been oppressed but have overcome, that translates in a certain way. And I think here we are, all of those three things, you have all of us ancestors of all of that living together but not talking about it and it just makes for a real interesting mix, or lack thereof.
GD: Yeah, absolutely. So fascinating, you see it in kids. They do things and then you think, “Man, that’s exactly what I was like.” It’s just there. So that’s what you’re saying, it’s fascinating. So let’s get a little bit lighter now just so we can lighten the mood slightly. I always talk about this with you because it’s so fascinating. For many years, there was always talk in people like me who do this for a job, that, “Why isn’t Regina King winning any awards? It’s so frustrating.” And then all of a sudden you became like the Emmy, you were there all the time, nominated three times in a row, you won twice. It was like, “Man, she’s just getting nominated for everything.” So I’m wondering what it feels like these days to be known as a two-time winner and a force at the Emmys and you could be there again.
RK: Well, I guess it’s kind of cool. “Two-time Emmy winner Regina King.” So now I have an introduction to my name. I don’t mind that introduction. I think that that goes right up there with some of the best introductions out there. So that feels good. Then, in a lot of ways I feel like, “I’m just Regina.” And then I hear that, and it’s a nice reminder of all the work that I’ve been doing all my life. I think that a lot of times you’ll… I’m not gonna say you plural, I’ll say me. I think I’m guilty of not owning having a really great career and it’s still going on and I get caught in this place of not trying to sound like I’m braggadocios instead of just walking in my truth and recognizing that it is something special and it is okay to say it. So I think conversations like this and when you say that, it reminds me that it’s something to smile about. It’s something that you should be proud of. It’s nothing wrong with saying I’m a two-time Emmy winner. Saying that out loud doesn’t make me a person that doesn’t have humility. I’m still Regina, but I’m a two-time Emmy winner (laughs).
GD: The thing is, it’s a fact, first of all, but secondly, any of us that get a pat on the back from peers or from colleagues or the industry that we work in, there’s not much better than recognition when you’re doing a good job and the reviews for “Seven Seconds,” I think you’ve been one of the people that most of the critics have said, “Yet again here’s Regina King and she’s killing it in a role that would’ve been extremely challenging.” So the point is, two-time Emmy winner but it must feel rewarding after years and years and years. I mean, you should have won for “Southland” and God knows what else, to actually finally say, “People are recognizing that I’m doing good work and I appreciate that.”
RK: It does feel good, and I do appreciate that but also I gotta tell you that it’s kind of put me in this place where it lines me up to continue to be considered for groundbreaking material. So if “two-time Emmy winner” is gonna help continue that, I will take it, because I can’t help but to think that if “American Crime” wasn’t what it was, would I have been on a Veena Sud’s radar? Would I have been on a Damon Lindelof’s radar? Maybe not. So I’ll take it (laughs).
GD: Take it, you’ve gotta take it. Regina, thank you so much for your time. “Seven Seconds,” it’s heavy but it’s relevant and you were incredible and good luck for award season. You never know what could happen.
RK: Thank you, and all those Gold Derby people out there, please check out “Seven Seconds.” I still remember when I talked to you when I was on vacation, it was so heavy to me that I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know about this.”
GD: You were like, “I don’t know if I can talk about this, it’s so heavy.” And you were right. But it’s good.
RK: Yeah, and I still haven’t watched it. I don’t think that I can but I read all the scripts, I was there and I think it’s something worth taking the time to check out.
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