Regina King has had a stellar award season so far thanks to her soulful performance as Sharon Rivers in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Winning the lion’s share of critics awards for Best Supporting Actress including this weekend at the Golden Globes, she could add even more hardware to her collection, following last year’s third Emmy win for “Seven Seconds.”
King recently talked with Gold Derby senior editor Daniel Montgomery about why she chose to star in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the various emotions she felt in filming the movie, and what it was like to win that surprise Emmy last year.
Gold Derby: Regina King, you co-star in “If Beale Street Could Talk” as Sharon Rivers, who is trying to save her daughter’s boyfriend after he’s wrongly accused of a crime. What were your thoughts about this script when you first read it, this Barry Jenkins screenplay?
Regina King: I thought it was beautiful and I thought that I needed to read the book so that I could be familiar with James Baldwin‘s version of “If Beale Street Could Talk” and I was very pleased to see that Barry did a really true adaptation of the book. I didn’t feel like the things that were not in the script, because whenever you’re doing an adaptation, a book adaptation you can’t leave everything in it, I didn’t feel like I missed those things.
GD: Did you have a lot of familiarity with James Baldwin in general before this film came about or have you developed an interest since?
RK: Yeah, I mean, I think just over the past four years there’s just been this resurgence of people pulling up old interviews and tapping into old speeches and moments that have James Baldwin speaking with the passion in which he always has about being black in America, and I think a lot of it is because of just where we are as a country still, so I was definitely seeing a lot of those posts and I’d read his essays before. I was very much aware of who Baldwin was but I had not read “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
GD: As you mentioned, this is a sad and relevant story about racial injustice but in some ways, it’s also a hopeful story because of how much love and support there is for Sharon’s daughter, Tish, and Fonny, who’s been wrongly accused. What was it like developing that kind of loving family dynamic in the midst of this struggle they’re going through?
RK: I think the beauty of the cast that Barry chose, and Barry himself, we all come from very loving families and we all have reached the places of success that we’ve reached because of the love and support of our family. Since we all mirror that same foundation of love, it was like we were meant to be together as a family because we all knew that. So to really answer your question as far as what did it mean for me, for us, was it meant that we had an opportunity to show the world how we love on each other and how black people with all of the injustices and always feeling like our backs are up against the wall, we still find a way, some way, to laugh, to dance, even with all of that and that we were able to display that with Barry at the lead, we felt lucky.
GD: It seems such a tight-knit cast in general. You’re developing that dynamic with your co-stars who play your family, Kiki Layne, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris. What was it like to develop that rapport with them and what was shooting like with the entire cast?
RK: It was great. I mean, while this is a film that’s very emotional, we did have a lot of laughs while we were shooting. There is that one scene where you have all of the actors together where the two families kind of face off, if you will. One of the days that we were shooting was actually Mike Beach’s birthday, so it was singing and celebrating him in between takes. We all signed up to do this because of the James Baldwin-Barry Jenkins union, if you will. So I think we were just joyful about being together. We all respected each other’s work. Kiki, this being her first project, she was able to be around actors that love what we do and really appreciate what we do as an art form, so I feel like she couldn’t have been in a better space with better examples for her first. Now, what other people do from there, we’re not responsible. But we definitely surrounded her with love and support, just kind of like how the Rivers family surrounded Tish. I feel like there was a lot of synergy between the actors and the characters that we were playing.
GD: You mentioned the scene between Tish’s family and Fonny’s family. It was a very emotional and intense scene but also there are moments of it that seemed like it would have been just satisfying to shoot. What was that like balancing the intense emotions of that with this battle between those two families?
RK: While we were having fun, thankfully we all really like each other, because that was a long scene. It took two days to shoot that, and we were in an actual brownstone so it’s not like a set that’s built, because when a set is built, you can remove walls to get the cameras in and get certain shots. You can’t do that when you’re actually shooting at a practical place, so it’s all of us there and also the entire crew, and if you think about it, I think there were eight actors, and you’ve got to get coverage on every single actor. I’m just grateful that we all really liked each other, ‘cause it could’ve been a much different experience if even one person was not there with their A game.
GD: Your character has a segment of the film where she’s trying to find the woman who is accusing Fonny of assaulting her. You have these scenes in Puerto Rico where Sharon eventually finds her. What was it like, that segment of the film, getting to explore Sharon on her own in that sense and then the confrontation scene that arises where she has to kind of try and talk this assault victim into maybe doing something that she doesn’t want to do? The complexity there.
RK: You see a moment where this woman who, while she is the matriarch, she is someone that definitely leans on her husband, her family as well, and Colman Domingo, who plays Joe, my husband, we kind of felt like Tish and Fonny were the younger us, and so I think we were more impassioned to a couple that see themselves in a young couple. I think it’s more impassioned to want to see that couple win, thrive. Then you have the extra added layer that they’re actually our kids, so you want your kids to win regardless. When you normally have your rock to lean on, and he normally leans on you and you’re in this space where you don’t have him to lean on, it could be terrifying. That’s part of what’s happening in those moments.
GD: The film thus far has gotten a lot of support from critics. Your performance, in particular, has been awarded by multiple critics groups, nominated for a Golden Globe. How has that recognition been and what’s this award season been like so far that you’ve been on?
RK: So far so good. I mean, the movie opens and it’s a small release in L.A. and New York this weekend and then it widens out Christmas and then it widens out even more at the beginning of January. So for me, I hope that the award season translates into people coming to see the movie because we feel like we’ve really been blessed to be a part of something special and the movie, when we watched it as an audience, we were touched and moved. So I really feel like this is a film that everyone should see because there are some universal things going on and I feel like no matter what your background is, you can relate to family support, how love gets you through things, and having that love, how you survive anything that is a trial or tribulation. So I want it to translate into people coming to the box office. That’s really more than anything what I think we want for this film. We want people to feel that hug that we feel that we get when we read James Baldwin’s words or that we felt that we got when we saw “Moonlight.” That’s what I hope.
GD: You’ve spent recent years in TV, “American Crime,” “The Leftovers,” “Seven Seconds” earlier this year. How does the opportunities, the style of storytelling differ for you as an actress? What do you get out of it differently from TV vs. film? Is there a big difference between the kind of opportunities and experience?
RK: For me, it has been. I went back to TV because my son was going into the sixth grade and there was so much work just not in L.A. anymore and I made the decision not to take any jobs that were gonna take me outside of the city ‘cause I didn’t wanna miss any part of my son growing, so that’s how coming to TV started, but once I was there, all of the projects that were coming our way, when my reps and I were reading, everything that moved us, they were all TV projects. It just kind of happened that way. I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other. I just prefer being a part of a great story. That’s why I’m an actor. I love the storytelling process and I wanna continue to be a part of that process, so it just so happened that “Beale Street” was the first film that came my way that made me go (gasps). I mean, you know, you say James Baldwin and then you say Barry Jenkins at the helm, you’re like, “Oh, okay!” As soon as I saw that email, while I was directed an episode of “This Is Us” and I walked out of the office and I called my agent, I was like, “Are you serious?” I ended up reading the script that night even though I should have been studying, doing my homework, for “This Is Us.” I did do my homework but stayed up probably later than I needed to because I couldn’t wait to read the script.
GD: You’ve been getting recognition for your TV work as well as your film work now. You won your third Emmy this year for “Seven Seconds.” What was that moment and that entire evening like?
RK: It was great. I was there not feeling any pressure ‘cause I was in a category with some really awesome actors and actresses and I was just looking forward to wearing my pretty dress and going to some parties afterwards and cornering a couple executives up at the party and getting the next thing going. So that was what was on my mind. I had my business hat on. So that just was like icing on the cake.
GD: I’m sure it’s much easier to corner when you have the Emmy in hand.
RK: The hardware, yes.
GD: It’s pointy, so you could actually—
RK: You could accidentally go, “Oh, I didn’t mean to do that. Oh, Scott Rudin! How are ya?” (Laughs.)
GD: As you mentioned, you directed “This Is Us” and you’ve been directing a lot of TV in recent years also, “Shameless,” “The Good Doctor,” “Insecure.” Are you interested ever in bringing that to the big screen?
RK: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. My sister is my business partner. We have a company together and we’re developing something now with hopes to be diving in and me having my theatrical film debut 2019, so fingers crossed.
GD: Being a director and also an actor, do you come away from something like “Beale Street” where you’re working with someone like Barry Jenkins and get a lot of lessons or ideas or inspiration for your own work?
RK: Absolutely. I feel like I get inspiration everywhere. You’d be surprised where artists get inspired, or who inspires them or what inspires them. It could be anything from an article to a plant. It’s about remaining open so that you can receive the inspiration and not feel like it can only come from one space, or that you can only be in one setting, meaning the school setting, to receive a lesson. Every time I’m in Barry’s presence I feel like I’ve learned something or I’ve discovered something. I can say that I try to surround myself with people that I am learning from or that do inspire me. I feel like it would be really boring to feel like you learned everything.
GD: Well congratulations on “Beale Street.” I’ve actually seen it twice and I hope everyone watching this and everyone over the holiday season sees it twice as well.
RK: Tell all of your family members and all of your friends how much you loved it. I feel the best advertisement is from people who’ve already seen a project, so if it moved you and it made you feel a certain way — I’m guessing it did ‘cause you said you saw it twice — tell a friend, tell them to bring a friend, ‘cause I think they’ll leave feeling like you put them onto something. You left them with a little gift.
GD: I do think so and I definitely will spread the word and congratulations on that and as the film opens, best of luck as the season progresses.
RK: Thank you, and thank you to the Gold Derby crew for always being so supportive.