A walk through Regina King's old stomping grounds in Los Angeles unexpectedly became a literal walk down Memory Lane. "Leimert Park mostly represents the good," she said.
She and "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Michelle Miller passed a plaque honoring Marla Gibbs, King's TV mother on "227," the 1980s show that launched her career.
Thirty-four years later, King's starring role in HBO's popular superhero reboot "Watchmen" has brought her an entirely different fan base — something she acknowledges is a bit of a running joke, as told on "Saturday Night Live": "If you're Black, you probably know me from being in some of your favorite movies. And if you're White, you probably know me from 'Watchmen,' or this monologue right now."
Miller asked, "What do you make of that? The fact that, you know, there seems to be two audiences, or three audiences?"
"A lot of us are just living in the present, you know, and have not connected the dots," King said. "Every now and then I'll have that moment where someone goes, 'Oh my God. You were in that!' That's the blessing of a fruitful career."
From her Oscar-winning role as the determined mother in "If Beale Street Could Talk," to her Emmy-winning roles in the TV series "Seven Seconds" and "American Crime," at age 50 King is getting awards buzz for "One Night in Miami" — her directorial debut in film.
Daunting? Scary? "Maybe scary, scary in a good way," King said. "I don't want to fail the legacies of these men."
The film is a fictional account of the real story of Malcolm X, singer-songwriter Sam Cooke, the NFL's Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali). They meet up in a hotel room after a boxing match.
"I felt like I knew all of these men," King said. "I saw my son in these conversations. I saw my father in these conversations. They love, they're vulnerable, they're strong."
To watch a clip from "One Night in Miami" click on the video player below:
One of the challenges the characters face is how to use their platform to make a difference … something King said she thought a lot about, after the police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. She wanted to release the film ASAP. "When we become complacent and we don't continue to be diligent, things can lead right back to where they were," she said. "So, it's what makes the conversation in 'One Night in Miami' so urgent right now. Because Black people dying in the streets, it's happening again."
"What was your biggest takeaway?" Miller asked.
"I think that God put me here to tell more of our stories. It was the reminder that a Black story is an American story."
Regina King grew up middle class, the daughter of an electrician and a teacher who pushed her and her sister into the arts. "I guess I would probably have to thank my mother for helping me keep my priorities in order," she said.
"'Cause a lot of child stars don't turn out quite like you?" said Miller.
"Yeah, they don't. And also I was a child star before the smartphone."
Eager to show her range, she jumped at the chance to play against type in "Boyz N the Hood." But her grandmother wasn't exactly thrilled.
"She told me, 'Yeah, the ladies at the church, they're askin' me, How does Regina speak like that? Where did she learn that?" King laughed. "And so, you know, my grandmother was like, 'And I just had to tell them, She is an actress.'"
Similar roles, in "Poetic Justice" and "Friday," followed. "I kind of got in a box where people just wanted to offer me roles that were, like, 'hood girl' roles, and then I broke out of that box and became wife!" [as in her roles in "Jerry Maguire" and "Enemy of the State"].
Miller asked, "So, how do you break that mold?"
"I think along came 'Ray.'"
She auditioned for the part of the mistress of Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic:
Off-screen, after going through a divorce, King made the bold decision to turn down roles outside of LA, so she wouldn't have to leave her young son behind. (He's now 25.)
Miller asked, "Was it hard to say no to projects?"
"No," said King. "I've seen so many examples of parents that have had to make the choice to not be there as consistent in their children's lives, and just kind of what the aftermath was of that."
And in a year when COVID deferred so many of our plans, King was hit hard emotionally, tearing up as she said, "Sometimes it's even as simple as, now that things are opening up and you're going to your regular store or someplace that you used to gom, to frequent, and to find out that face, that person that you knew so well is no longer with us, is … hmmmm."
"Who is that for you?" Miller asked. "Who are those tears for?"
"Yeah. It's actually just tears for everyone. We so quickly say, 'How ya doin'?' 'I'm fine.' So many of us are not fine."
But even in this time of uncertainty and unrest, King sees her next story as one of hope: "I would like to actually witness the change. And part of that is, as Americans owning that ugly stuff that still exists, so I would like to witness a fabric when the fabric gets to the place where we all think it's beautiful. And then go home to my grandma and say, 'We did it.'"
To watch a trailer for "One Night in Miami" click on the video player below:
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Story produced by Robbyn McFadden and John D'Amelio. Editor: Mike Levine.