King recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria about the timeliness of “Watchmen,” the collaborative process on-set and her memories of Oscar night. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: Damon Lindelof’s “Watchmen” is an audacious and timely exploration of racism, identity and trauma and it forces us to reflect on what’s happening in the world today. … Regina, this show tackles those themes so creatively with a real sense of urgency, propels the story forward. What are your thoughts on how the show tackles those themes so uniquely?
Regina King: My thoughts are that it’s really hard in the 21st century to do something unique, and something unique that also has subject matter that’s relevant, that is historical, that is source material that has a huge fanbase, to be able to do something unique and be able to capture all those different things, look, I’m just honored to be able to be a part of storytelling that can do that. That’s not an easy feat. I think it’s an example of when you have all these different voices coming together to give a story that is told through several perspectives.
Gold Derby: The show was already so relevant back when it was being made and then when it aired, but now more so the way it challenges our views on law enforcement and exposes the rot of white supremacy. Who could have imagined how prescient the show would become? Right?
RK: You don’t know. We would have never guessed it. I mean, we did know, obviously, when it came to the police violence in our country. We did know that we were touching on something that was present and that was, unfortunately, something that’s been ignored before I even was born. So that we were aware of, that that was going to strike a nerve. But we had no idea that the world would be wearing masks that resemble ours. We couldn’t have guessed that.
GD: Yeah. And then the pilot opens on the devastating massacre that happened in Tulsa just shy of 100 years ago. It’s amazing. I had no idea it had happened. And I’m probably like a lot of people. It’s a dark event that is not well known, reminds us that history keeps repeating itself. What were your thoughts on how that moment in history was handled by the show?
RK: Well, it’s interesting because my sister and I, we have a production company and the Tulsa massacre was something that we wanted to see become a story because we were just amazed how many people did not know about it. And that was a conversation that she and I were having probably like eight years ago. So when I got the script and then I started reading and I got through the first few pages, I closed it and I was like, “Oh my god, is he is he doing Black Wall Street?” And then, I continued reading. And I just felt how brilliant it was of an idea to let that be the entry point into this world, real, true American history be an entry point into an alternative history. It’s quite brilliant and also I think as far as for the audience, most people out there like to learn, at least I think so. At least I’d like to believe so. There are people that are exhibiting behavior that would prove that statement wrong. But I think that for a lot of people, it opened up their mind, like, “How could I have not known this? How can I call myself a person that stays a historian or a fan of history and not know that this took place?” And then for people who did do the dive and did get on Google found out that there were several moments in American history that mirrored Tulsa before and after Tulsa, and I think that that’s powerful. Knowledge is power.
GD: Knowledge is power. And I tell you what, Damon Lindelof never ceases to amaze me. What is with that guy? To me, he’s a genius. I’m still getting over “The Leftovers.” And now this? The way he tells stories is so unique and original. Is that what attracts you to want to work with him?
RK: Absolutely. That and the fact that he’s a true collaborator and I think it’s important… well, it’s important for me as an artist when I am a part of something as an actor that I feel that my thoughts are valued, that the people that I’m working with know that I bring something to the table beyond just being an actress. The actress that I am is because of my 49 years of experience in life and the writer that Damon is is because of his life experiences and every writer and every camera operator, the wardrobe designers, everyone that has something to do with a project, and specifically this project, brings something to the table because we all have different experiences. And Damon welcomed that.
GD: Yeah, that’s the beauty of it. From when I’ve spoken to him, he’s so generous and he’s so smart. I think you’ve got to be pretty bright to be able to pull this off because I was quite skeptical. I thought, “Really? We’re doing ‘Watchmen’ again?” But yeah, I’m amazed.
RK: I mean, it’s funny because I did not read the comic book. I had not seen the film but I was told that when Damon reached out to me and said, “I’ve got something for us to do, something that I’ve written and I see you as this character, I’ll send it to you,” at that point, I didn’t know that Damon had this rule of not working in another project with the actor or whatever that he’s worked with before. I am so grateful that I was able to break through that because “Watchmen,” playing Angela has been such an amazing experience for me. But it’s funny because I knew that it was a comic book because I was told that when it was being sent to me. I had a feeling that the Tulsa massacre part of it didn’t have anything to do with the source material but I really had no reference point. So I just thought, “Wow, this is amazing.” I tell my son that I just got the script from Damon and I did actually say it’s based on the “Watchmen” comic book. And he was like, “Oh my god. You know! You know, the comic. You’ve seen the movie.” And I was like, “No, actually,” because when that movie came out, he was old enough to go to the movie theater by himself, with friends. So, yeah, I was like, “No, I don’t remember.” And then he starts telling me about it. I was like, “Yeah, no, that’s not what this is. This is different.” But I think Damon did a great job, in my opinion, once I did watch the film and started reading the comic book that I felt like he did a great job of honoring this magnificent story that Dave [Gibbons] and… I think I’m just supposed to say Dave’s name because the other writer doesn’t really want to have anything to do with… yeah. But no, it doesn’t make him any less brilliant. And so for him to honor the work that they did and honor what inspired him to want to write, and then bring just a new take on it, and honestly, it’s probably not even totally a new take. He wrote it in the spirit, in the way the original source material was written, taking a huge social thing that’s happening in the moment and creating a story around it. And that’s what he did. He chose to make those things be race and police violence.
GD: Yeah. Incredible. And then he created this character. Well, he brought her to life with you. Angela Abar, a.k.a. Sister Night. She’s complicated. She’s fierce. She’s very nuanced. She’s a lot like a lot of the other characters you’ve played. Like, that’s your wheelhouse. Complicated, fierce, nuanced. We’ve said that before. What scene are you most proud of if you can think back when you’re bringing her to life.
RK: Gosh, that’s tough.
GD: I’ll tell you one.
RK: Which one?
GD: The second to last episode, “A Guy Walks Into Abar,” you’re in the bar in Vietnam and Angela first meets Dr. Manhattan. We never see his face. It’s the most incredible directing by Nicole Kassell. But you guys sold it. And I’m so dumb, I didn’t even realize we never saw his face because I was so in that moment. That takes a lot of work.
RK: Yeah, that was a lot of work. I mean, that takes just partnership. Having someone with the vision that Nicole has and having those conversations with me and Yahya [Abdul-Mateen II] beforehand and Yahya and I just trust each other so much. And we have amazing chemistry. So when you bring all of that together, it just makes something that seems like it should not work, work. It was terrifying to me. At some points, we’re shooting and it’s like camera angle this way, camera angle this way, camera angle this way, and I have all of this dialogue and I’m like, “Oh my god.” Cut to eight hours later. Because we’re in that bar together for something like 17 pages. So, that was insane. But, you know, just having an incredible team, we were in it together. Some shots, the camera’s right there on my face. And because of the relationship that I have with the camera operators, we’re able to do a dance where they’re protecting me at all times. Make sure maybe I’ll shift just a little bit because it just improves the shot a little bit more, makes it a little more interesting. Nicole just created a space that made that possible.
GD: When I spoke to her, she gave all the credit to you guys, but I think you’re right, a team effort. I think it would also be quite fun to wander around in a nun’s outfit with a balaclava and some rosary beads. So badass. Jeez, that was so well designed.
RK: That was so fun. That’s actually one of the things that I was thinking about as one of the most memorable. When I found out she was gonna have the rosary beads. I was like, “Well, you know, it’s got to be like a weapon of sorts.” The prop master, [Michael] Sabo, on our show, he kind of agreed. We had a conversation on the phone beforehand and we thought of all of the different ways that she could use it, even though we don’t get to see a lot of the different ways, we were just kind of talking about it. And I was like, “Damon, I’ve got to use it at some point in this show,” even though it wasn’t necessarily written. So in the first episode, I just decided that, “What if she just wrapped the beads around and she uses ‘em to just like beat his ass?” And Damon had come to set that day, he was like, “Oh my god, I love that.” And it goes by so quick. Some people missed it. But that was very exciting.
GD: Very badass. Now, we’ve spoken before, so you know that I can’t help myself and I have to ask you about some award stuff, just to get it off my chest. Last year you won an Oscar. There’s really nothing else that needs to be said. But I will say you were with your mom and through tears of joy, you honored her and the artistry of James Baldwin. It was a beautiful speech. Take us back to that night. How special to be able to say that you won one of those bad guys?
RK: I mean, it was magical. To have that moment happen and to be able to share it with the first face I ever saw in my life, you get up there and it’s like, (sighs). It’s kind of surreal, just to be able to have my mother to look at and to center. You’re just hoping for grace in that moment because the floodgates open. You just are overcome with so much emotion because that was my first time ever experiencing awards season for Oscar. It’s a lot. It’s a lot of work. It’s a journey. It is a journey and to be lucky enough to that be the outcome, a lot of emotion just wants to come out at that time. And when you’re consumed with emotion, sometimes words just don’t come out right. But having my mother right there, she’s always been a center for me, my sister and even my son. So to have the opportunity to tell the world that I have the greatest mom on the planet Earth, and I’m sure most people feel like that their mom but really, no, my mom’s the greatest mom.
GD: I will fight you!
GD: I got to say as well, that Oscar came after winning your third Emmy in 2018. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but it’s like every time you’re nominated now, you have to win. But that was for “Seven Seconds,” and I remember when we first talked about that, when it was not even out yet, you were like, “We’ve got this new thing happening and it’s going to be a bit controversial.” You won for that. It was a huge surprise.
RK: Do you remember that? I was so unsure.
GD: Yeah. You were outside in your home and you’re like, “This is going to be a different one.” You won an Emmy!
RK You were so, so wonderful in that moment because you allowed me to have a little conversation with you offline before we started recording. I was kind of like, “I don’t know,” because for me, more than anything, it is so important that we honored the pain that these parents lived with, who have had slain children. And I told you that. And I said, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. I don’t know. I hope we did it.” Then cut to.
GD: Then cut to, “I didn’t even prepare a speech. What the hell am I doing here?” It was so cool. I love awards moments like that. You have given us so many of those. It’s just for the nerds like me who just enjoy watching that. It was a pretty good one. And it does hold a mirror up to what’s going on today, now more than ever. So it was great. Also, speaking of awards, “Watchmen’s” already won a bunch of them. You won at the Critics’ Choice with Jean Smart, which reminds me. We interview her the other day and she said that when you met, she called you the TBTSME, which apparently stands for, “That bitch that stole my Emmy.” I think that’s pretty funny. I think it’s pretty cool. She seems like a pretty cool person to work with.
RK: Oh my god. She’s everything. And I think for she and I, you go into a project and you find out who you’re going to be able to play with. She and I both have so much respect for each other’s work. But you don’t know what a person’s character is going to be like. And you can only hope that their character is on par with their talent, with their gift. And she and I, when we first met, we just connected and we both subscribe to the same ideas as far as our approach as actors. We were just kind of talking about the process, and I think it was the first time I was having a conversation with an actor, she said that, “When people ask me about how I am so real in a performance,” she always tells them, “Even when I’m not speaking. I’m into you. I believe that you’re in it, you’re present.” Because she’s thinking, and her face shows when she’s thinking. And I say the same thing when people ask me. So us having that like moment, we’re just like, “Oh my god, I love you.” And then we got to have that wonderful scene together in Episode 4. And every time we got a script, we just were waiting to see, “Do we get to get another scene? Do we get to get another scene together?”
GD: You can tell, that’s that magic you can’t just create. And you know that when two people can connect that you see it. But unfortunately, we’re running out of time. I wanted to talk about your next project, your directorial debut for “One Night in Miami.” That’s very exciting. Are you almost done? I know we’re shut down for the time being.
RK: Yeah, we’re almost done. I’m editing now, we’re starting the music. I hope that it will be something that’ll be out this year. I mean, it’s timely. It’s one night in Miami. It’s about the moment that Cassius Clay. Jim Brown, Malcolm X and Sam Cooke spent together after Cassius Clay became heavyweight champion of the world in Miami. And the things that these men were talking about at that time in ‘64 are still relevant now in 2020.
GD: Absolutely. Well, look, Regina, thank you for Angela Abar. Thanks for Aliyah, Terri, Latrice, Sharon Rivers, they’re your award-winning performances. And I’d say thanks to Dr. Manhattan, because I think that’s what happened.
GD: We really appreciate your time today and good luck for “One night in Miami.” It sounds amazing.
RK: Thank you so much, Robert. Always so good to see you.