Real-life ‘mama bear’ Regina King on ‘If Beale Street Could Talk,’ playing a superhero at 47
December 12, 2018
Article taken from USA Today.
NEW YORK – It’s a great time to be a Regina.
Last month, Regina King won best supporting actress from the New York Film Critics Circle for her heartwarming turn in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the new romantic drama based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. The award was especially meaningful for King, 47, who was recognized alongside her longtime friend Regina Hall, who won best actress for her workplace comedy “Support the Girls.”
“Yeah! The Reginas!” King exclaims, sitting in a hotel suite overlooking Central Park on a rainy afternoon just a few days after the awards were announced. “I texted her and said, ‘Well, we’re really going to confuse their (butts) now,’ because people have a hard time keeping up which Regina. We’ll see posts (on social media) that say her name but tag me. But I don’t mind them getting us confused, because she’s a pretty awesome human being.”
The honor is the first of many expected to come her way this season for “Beale Street” (in theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles, goes nationwide Christmas Day). Also named best supporting actress by the National Board of Review, King is nominated in the same category at the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards, and is the favorite to take home the Oscar among awards prognosticators at GoldDerby.com.
“The marvelous King is a quiet powerhouse throughout,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote in its review, while IndieWire raved that she “owns every second she’s onscreen.”
In the film, which is set in 1970s-era Harlem, King plays the benevolent, righteous Sharon Rivers, who ferociously fights for her newly pregnant daughter, Tish (KiKi Layne), and Tish’s boyfriend Fonny (Stephan James), who is wrongfully imprisoned for a rape he didn’t commit. Although Fonny’s evangelistic mother reviles Tish for having a baby outside of marriage, Sharon and her doting husband, Joe (Colman Domingo), support the young lovers.
“There’s no shame in their home, no judgment,” King says. “Most people I know have a Sharon or Joe in their life, in some form or fashion.”
For King, it was her grandma Loretta, whom she fondly remembers visiting every year in Cincinnati while growing up in Los Angeles (“Just hearing her words and her voice made you feel better”). The actress also sees hints of her own mother, Gloria, in the character. King’s parents divorced when she was young, and Gloria, a teacher, raised King and her sister, Reina, by herself.
“My sister and I were definitely allowed to dream big. My mother put no restrictions on that,” King says. “As far as that comforting feeling that Sharon gives, my mom definitely had that.”
King herself is mom to Ian Alexander Jr., 22, who is a budding DJ/producer and named for her ex-husband. She and her son are extremely close, even sharing matching tattoos on their forearms reading “unconditional love” in Aramaic, which they learned while studying Kabbalah together.
“That mama bear thing where I’ll do anything for my child, I’m one of those moms,” King says. “I’ll give my right arm – and that’s my writing arm – for my child’s safety, and so my child can advance and reach higher than I’ve ever reached.”
That overwhelming love made it especially difficult for King to play Latrice Butler in Netflix drama “Seven Seconds,” the grieving parent of a black teen killed by a white cop. The role earned her an unexpected Emmy Award for lead actress in a limited series in September (her third in the last four years, after winning two supporting trophies for ABC’s “American Crime,” which similarly tackled issues of race and class).
Her genuine shock as she received a standing ovation and off-the-cuff acceptance speech (“This is amazing, I want to curse right now”) were also a hit with viewers on social media.
The series “flew under the radar,” she says. “Most of the people I knew who were watching the show were black people, and the majority of the (Television) Academy voters are not black. So it was a nice surprise for that to happen.”
“Beale Street” director Barry Jenkins believes awards recognition is long overdue for King, who has been a scene-stealer for three decades in films such as “Boyz n the Hood,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Ray,” and TV shows “Southland” and “The Leftovers.”
“Regina has been working so diligently over the years in all these ‘small’ parts, but she gets so deeply embedded in her characters,” Jenkins says. “I think when people see her in this film, they’ll see all the emotion and humanity that she collected from those performances. She just does such a good job of channeling all this amazing energy and spirit.”
Although she’s been acting since she was a teen on ’80s sitcom “227,” “I’ve never had too big of a lull career-wise,” King says. “But since becoming a mother, I’ve been making choices with projects that are speaking to a lot of us. And because of what’s going on in our country and the timing of my choices, the light is shining brighter (on my work).”
When she’s not promoting ‘Beale Street,’ King is shooting HBO’s highly anticipated “Watchmen” in Atlanta, from “Lost” creator Damon Lindelof. The series, premiering next year, is her first time starring in a project that’s based on a comic book, and she’s sworn to secrecy about her character.
“I’m like, ‘I wait until I’m darn near 50 to be a superhero,’ ” King says, laughing. “Thank goodness my body is still fluid, and I can run and jump and do some cool stuff.”