‘Watchmen’ star Regina King on race, dating and her directorial debut
November 6, 2019
Article taken from the New York Post.
Do clothes make the superwoman? “Watchmen” star Regina King, for one, knows she looks best in pieces that put her at ease. Reclining on a couch in a Manhattan photo studio, the Oscar-winning actress is rocking a hooded black sweatsuit and a bandana, her gorgeous hazel eyes rimmed with dramatic liner from the Alexa shoot.
“I’m a suit person, a flats person,” she says. “I love a good sneaker, an awesome loafer.” And, oh, the virtues of a soft pant! “I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I feel okay walking into a room and being the only person in a sweatsuit,” she says. “I am totally fine with that. I don’t feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m underdressed.’ Not even a little bit.” At home in Los Angeles, or everywhere? “Everywhere.” She smiles.
King is so self-assured, I assume she commands every room she enters, no matter what she’s wearing. She doesn’t need a superhero outfit to exude badassery — but it’s still pretty cool.
“I got chills,” King says, recalling the first time she saw her “Watchmen” costume. As detective Sister Night on the HBO show, she fights crime in head-to-toe leather. Her ensemble has a deep hood, fabric covering her lower face and a flowing skirt-cape. It evokes both nun and Batman — and is a stark contrast to the stereotypical bustier-clad female superhero.
Who better to give this trope a shove forward than King, a beacon of excellence in every role she’s had? “When I read the script,” she says, “I felt like I had never seen anything like it on TV or film in my life.”
Nor, judging from its debut’s critical raves, has anyone else. King’s character is the heart of Damon Lindelof’s (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”) riff on the groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which deconstructed superhero mythology and mined the nuclear paranoia of the decade.
For his adaptation, Lindelof revisits the same alternate universe 30 years later, and leans into one of our own era’s cultural anxieties: America’s history of racial brutality and its roiling legacy. The show’s first episode depicts the 1921 Tulsa race riot, an event mostly buried by history books, in which an affluent black community in Oklahoma was attacked by murderous white supremacists. (Robert Redford is the fictional country’s long-sitting president, and baby squid occasionally rain from the sky. There’s a lot going on.)
While eager to dig into what the multigenre show does with issues of race, King’s journey started with building her character. The actress felt an echo of 1970s-era Pam Grier as she developed the role of bakery owner Angela Abar, who moonlights as Sister Night, a spiritual descendant of the flawed caped crusaders in the novel. “As a black woman, there were certain characters I saw as a young girl — just visuals, I was too young to see the movies — but someone like Grier, she just felt like a superhero,” King says. “While they might have been blaxploitation movies, she still had this strength, she didn’t feel less than. At 10 years old, that stuck with me.”
On a broader scale, she says, the conversations “Watchmen” will stir up — about race, power, the use of costumes and anonymity to wield that power — are long overdue.
“You’d have to be living under a rock if you’re not aware of what’s going on, as far as policing — the difference between white Americans and black Americans,” she says. “I feel like it’s painful for a lot of white people to even consider that they play a part in any way, and to admit that turning a blind eye is playing a part. It’s very painful for black people to have a conversation with a white person about our history without being angry. So we’re at a place now where the Band-Aids are ripped off. Hopefully we can come to the table together with grace, but still be honest about the pain and anger that we have.”
King is no stranger to weighty roles, but still found herself gutted by some material in “Watchmen.” Hardest was the sixth episode, which delves deeply into Angela’s turbulent family history. Shooting was “emotional for every single person on the set,” she says. “There were moments where you would see any crew member at any given time just go to the side and cry.” She is silent for a moment, tearing up. “There were times when I had to take a moment and go to the side.”
At 48, King is one of those performers who defines nearly every project she’s in. “I just love the performing arts, I love being in that world,” she says. “I’m born and bred in LA, so I’ve never not known it.” Following her professional acting debut in 1985 on the sitcom “227,” King was in some of the most iconic films of the ’90s, including “Boyz n the Hood,” “Friday” and “Jerry Maguire.” Her more recent performances on TV’s “Southland” and “American Crime” and Netflix’s “Seven Seconds” garnered raves — and three Emmys for the latter two.
I ask her what it’s like to be the heart — the emotional and moral center — of so many projects. “It sounds hokey, but I’ve always listened to the universe and tried to answer,” she says. “My mom is a very spiritual woman, a constant safety net to remind me not to be hard on myself.”
Since King’s Oscar win, in 2019 for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” there’s been a shift in the way she’s treated in the industry “in a good way,” she says. “I think I’m enough of a realist to know it’s how you regard it. I’m going to use this as currency to move forward, to move upward. To create more opportunities for myself and those around me.”
That forward motion doesn’t leave a ton of time for relationships — and King, the mother of a 23-year-old son with ex-husband Ian Alexander — is fine with that. “People say, ‘You’re not dating anyone?’ I mean I’m dating,” she says, “but it’s very comfortable where I am right now. Disrupting that means being in an uncomfortable place, and I’m not ready for that.”
Besides, she’s hard at work on her feature directorial debut, “One Night in Miami.” Based on a 2013 play by Kemp Powers, it is a fictional take on a 1964 meeting between Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown. “Oh my gosh, I’m terrified, I’m so excited, I’m filled with so much gratitude,” says King. She has a very specific game plan for her first movie: “Bringing voice to our history as black people in America that doesn’t involve slavery.”
Will she migrate behind the camera permanently? “I see myself doing both,” she says. “In a perfect world, I could be on ‘Watchmen’ for three or four seasons, if it’s a success and Damon wants to continue it. And in between, I direct films, and if I can squeeze in something I’m acting in on the big screen, I’ll do that, too.”
Mostly, King is interested in projects that start uncomfortable conversations.
“I feel like art like ‘Watchmen’ creates spaces for that to happen, you know?” she says. “It’s like comedy, when you’re watching someone like George Carlin or Dave Chappelle, they say stuff and you go, ‘Well … yeah. It’s true.’ And a conversation actually starts. You get it with a spoonful of sugar.
OK, ‘Watchmen’ may not be a spoonful of sugar … maybe it’s more savory: a spoonful of salt and pepper, with a little barbecue.”