The Revelation: How Regina King proved she could do it all with One Night in Miami…
"I try not to question the universe," Regina King, 50, tells EW during her L.A. photo shoot in early March.
Her feature directorial debut, One Night in Miami…, imagining the real-life meeting of four Black icons in 1964, arrived during a period marked by isolation. She laments not being able to see it in a theater, never getting the chance to take a group photo with her quartet of actors: Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Eli Goree. But, she says, there's "beauty in the bruises... when I get emails, or texts, or people just walking down the street expressing how the film hit them."
While the awards-season regular, who's won an Oscar and four Emmys over the past six years, isn't in contention for a directing Academy Award this year, her film still netted three nominations, never before done by an Oscar-winning actor for their first movie. "She required that we gave her our best on the floor," double-nominee Odom (Supporting Actor, Original Song) says on behalf of the cast. "What she returned to us in the final version of the film was something beautiful."
EW spoke with King about her next chapter.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: To start, how has the social aspect of this particular awards season been different?
REGINA KING: To be completely honest, it's been tough. Because, if you talked to me at the end of 2019, beginning of 2020, I was going into it anticipating sneaking into the movie theater to get that shared experience that only a movie theater can give you. I was looking forward to what that was going to feel like, and I still don't know. It looks as though, for my first film, I will never know. It's a little sad that I don't have any photographs [of] myself and the foursome, which we would have had. We would have started at Venice Film Festival with all of us together, you know?
How have you been maintaining morale when you're not seeing each other at awards shows each weekend?
I've gotten emotional with them a few times when we're all on a Zoom together, because it's just not the same. I got the opportunity to see Aldis the other day and that felt so good. To be able to see him for the first time since we were shooting, share some joy together, it did my soul some good.
I wonder too, having gone through award seasons before, is there any back to school aspect to them, where there's people you're excited to get to chat with again?
Sure, you do always look for those familiar faces. People like Sarah Paulson. We've kind of been on this awards trajectory together, and it's been happening for us kind of at the same time. She's so fun. I remember from when we first met to this moment, just all of our conversations being so honest, calling stuff how we see it. And being able to just share that space together, then to share it on this journey, keeps you grounded. [It] keeps you rooted in a space that reminds you when you do the work, those that are doing the work as well are growing with you, you are growing together. We've had so many award season moments together.
That is amazing to hear. Speaking of being candid during awards season, do you feel comfortable having one foot in, and one foot out of it? Making those statements now like, "I'm happy to be here," but also, "I'm very happy to see this change?" Because there have been so many changes reshaping how we view awards season, the lack of diversity with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards being the most recent.
I can't say that I'm comfortable, and I can't say that I'm uncomfortable. I can say that I have to call it how I see it. Especially with the HFPA, it's been a lot of things that have been questionable for a while. My introduction to the HFPA started with Ray, and I really wasn't familiar with the Golden Globes. I'd, of course, seen a Golden Globes ceremony [on TV]. But even with Ray, I just attended the ceremony. I didn't know a lot of the ins and outs and behind-the-scenes things that are happening that I've come to know.
It's unfortunate because for a lot of people, it feels good to win something. But to find out that the legitimacy of it is in question, that could make someone feel like, "Well, is my art, is my performance, is my creativity in question?" And I think that's really an unfair thing for artists to feel. It's a hard space to discuss publicly. You don't want to shame anyone who is so excited about being recognized by the HFPA. You don't want anybody to feel like they shouldn't take their moment, nor do you want the HFPA to continue the practices that they've had of exclusion thus far. So, bittersweet.
I think it's an important conversation to have about awards season because everyone always says we need to focus on the BET and NAACP Image Awards as the Black Oscars. And while that's true, the more general prestigious awards can really change the game financially for the Black art that we're trying to promote.
Absolutely, and the reality is while we do appreciate the BET Awards and the NAACP Image Awards, unfortunately a nomination or a win in that space does not actually translate to power in the bigger space. That's just a reality. We can pretend like that's not true, but it is.
Right. You've been on such an awards run the past few years. I'd say you're the Meryl Streep of limited series. Did directing feel like a breather at all?
No! It did not feel like a breather, but I'm exercising different muscles for sure. While directing, you don't have to go through hair and makeup, which I do like, it's much more brain power because you are thinking about every role. Every role in front of the camera, and every role behind the camera. It's exhausting on a whole other level, but I love it.
I guess breather is bad wording because directing is such a tough, hands-on job. But did getting the past awards response that you got feel like a pressure cooker at all? Like, "I need to keep achieving this," or "The art is working, people are responding to this, every acting role I now take has to make a statement?"
I do have a bit of that going on right now. If I decide to do a Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, how are people going to receive that? Am I going to get put in jail? I would love to do a film like that, and I'm not saying that I won't, but I will be honest and say that it definitely crosses my mind. I'm really only making choices in what interests me as an audience member. It just so happened that when these projects came, they were the ones that stood out in the pack. I guess the best thing I can do is continue to be honest with myself, and choose projects, or develop projects the way I've always done. If it interests me, I'm the first audience.
If there's one thing the past few years has shown, it's Regina's got taste. So I feel like there's a level of confidence that you can have, like If I dip back into comedy people will actually dig it.
Or they might go, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, girl, girl, get back in your lane." That could happen. But at the end of the day I could look in the mirror and say, "That didn't land the way we thought, but didn't you think it was going to be something of interest? [Nods] You're good. You could keep looking at me in the mirror now." But that's all. I have to feel like I can bring my heart into it. And I can't bring my heart into it if it's not of interest to me. I can't just do it for the check. The check is good, don't get me wrong, but I can't.
You've had some amazing directors that you've worked with.
How have they responded to seeing the film?
Everyone has just been so loving and gracious, and given me a pat on my back like, "You know what you're doing." I've been getting that. I get emotional sometimes because I remember having conversations with John [Singleton] while I was prepping for this, when we were in the very beginning stages. He was just so excited about it. But I feel like I was able to let him know before he transitioned that he had so much to do with me directing. [Singleton died at 51, following a stroke, in 2019.]
I can at least know that was conveyed and we got the time over a few occasions to talk about that. But I would have liked to hear what he would have said, because the thing about John and I, I think he would have liked the film, but he would've definitely told me, "Next time you may want to think about..." He would have given me that just because our relationship spanned over, s---, damn near 30 years.
I'm so happy to hear that you had a chance to talk to him about it, too. Especially because you talk about the film being a love letter to Black men, and your introduction in film, Boyz N the Hood, one could say is another love letter to Black men.
It's such a full-circle moment.
Oh wow, I didn't even… You're about to make me start crying. I didn't even connect that. Yup.
That was just marvelous.
I never made that connection. [Pause] Wow! Wow, thank you for that. Oh wow! I didn't think about that. Yeah, because his first film was definitely that. [Pause] Wow!
In the cover story we did with you at the end of 2019, I love the part where you said, "If the pinnacle was just to win an Oscar, then that's kind of sad… The award is great but nine times out of 10 that's usually not the reason a person sets out to express their art in a public way." And then you clarified, "By no means am I saying, hey, you can take it back."
[Laughs] I mean, I still feel that way. But there's a whole other thing that comes along with the first of something. You know? It just feels like in 2021, you still — I mean, I would imagine that Chloé Zhao feels the same way. Being the first Asian woman, it's just a lot to wrap your mind around that in 2021 we still don't have a first of everything. Of everything. Of all of the talented people out there, of all the people of different cultures that have contributed to the arts community, we're just now having firsts.
It's very frustrating.
Yeah, it's frustrating.
Is there a silver lining to having your film come out this year, in a time where there's so many interesting works from Black filmmakers, especially ones anchored in Black history?
It wasn't until our film was finished, and [landed at] Amazon, that [I had] conversations about other films that may have a similar subject matter. I remember our last couple weeks on the film, that's when I first saw the trailer for Judas and the Black Messiah. It looked so dope, and I was like, "And [the director's] name is Shaka King?! Oh my God! We need to set up an interview with Regina King and Shaka King."
My heart just danced: Here we have two films that do have similar themes, but are so different. One of the things that we always talk about is Black people are not monolithic, and we can have two stories [exploring] the oppression of Black people, marginalized people, and be two different films. That's powerful. We complement each other so perfectly well in my opinion.
When I saw that trailer, I got goosebumps. My heart started beating fast, and I was like, "Oh my God. This is fantastic." Because in a lot of regards, that's a first. That's a first that we should talk about more; that we both can be in this space together and move people together is quite powerful.
Does this feel like the closing of a chapter? We keep talking about how you've spent year after year at the Emmys and the Oscars, but also this is your feature film directorial debut.
I guess it's the closing of a chapter because I hope that we, by the end of this year, are not here anymore. Here meaning that we have to elbow bump and all that. It's the closing of a chapter because you can only have one first. But more than anything it feels like a new beginning.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more on the 2021 Oscars race, order the May issue of Entertainment Weekly — with covers featuring Chloé Zhao, Viola Davis, and Regina King — or find it on newsstands beginning April 16, and keep up with EW's Awardist online. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.