With an acting career spanning four decades and multiple awards and nominations, Regina King has effortlessly embodied countless memorable characters across the big and small screens.
From thought-provoking films like Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, Jerry Maguire and Ray; to lighter fare like the Legally Blonde and Miss Congeniality franchises, Regina King brings a special sparkle to every role she’s tackled. On the small screen, King’s presence in past television series like Southland, The Boondocks, The Leftovers, Shameless, and her Emmy- winning turn in American Crime, have highlighted some of the more significant social issues of our time, both with ironic humor and with poignant drama. Wherever art is imitating life in a significant way, Regina King has been tapped to play a pivotal role in the project.
What audiences may not know is that King is also an accomplished television director, with a growing resume of credits including smash hit television shows from Scandal and Greenleaf to The Good Doctor and This Is Us.
Her most recent Emmy-nominated performance as Latrice Butler, grieving mother of a teenage son who is the victim of a death by auto, hit and run by a group of Jersey City police officers, is a true tour de force and a defining role in a long and treasured career.
Allison Kugel: What drew you to playing Latrice Butler in Seven Seconds?
Regina King: I was actually drawn to the role of [prosecutor] KJ Harper (played by Clare-Hope Ashitey), and [series creator] Veena Sud was sure that she wanted me for the role of Latrice. I liked the pilot script and decided to take that dive into the emotional pool.
Allison Kugel: You play the mother of a teenage boy who is killed by a police officer. What was your creative process in tackling such an intense role?
Regina King: Being a mother myself, and the mother of a black young man, there are certain fears you have that are unique to having a black child in America. You have fears as a parent when your kids are growing up because you can’t control everything. But there are those experiences that are specific to black children that are not the same for others. You experience a bit of it, yourself, as a child growing up in America. Unfortunately, it’s our culture and something you grow up with. You then carry that perspective with you throughout your life. So, I had that going into this role. I also spoke to a mother whose son was murdered by a police officer. Hearing her pain up close and personal, and her feeling safe enough to share it with me, I would say that combination of things was how Latrice was birthed into Seven Seconds.
Allison Kugel: Is the story a fictional account or based on true events?
Regina King: It was based on the truth as far as the regard for black American kids and the law, and how they are regarded in America. That part of it is true, of course. So many examples have had similar outcomes to this story, but it was not taken from one specific person’s story.
Allison Kugel: While you were shooting Seven Seconds, did you think about the parents of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and so many young men who’ve lost their lives in similar circumstances? And did you feel a responsibility to reflect these parents’ pain in your performance?
Regina King: There was a responsibility to accurately portray their pain, their lives, and their stories, absolutely.
Allison Kugel: Do you think a series like Seven Seconds has the power to impact hearts and minds for change, or to simply reflect what is going on in society?
Regina King: I think both. What’s reflective for me is not reflective for you. Seeing it in a television show or in a movie creates an opportunity for each of us to see the other’s perspective. I feel that the series American Crime (the ABC series for which King won an Emmy) was very similar in that way.
Allison Kugel: Do you take a role like this home with you?
Regina King: I tried not to take it home with me. But again, a bit of this lives with you. It is the narrative of a part of the fabric of what America is. Unfortunately, you are always living it. It took a lot out of me; I’ll be honest. It was the closest to an experiential role I’ve ever had. I’ve known people who have been victims of police brutality, but no one who was closer than a friend or a distant family member. Because it was a friend or a distant family member, I wasn’t with them in their day-to-day struggle of what that experience brings. You go through life hoping that you never personally have an experience like that, but you know that the odds are greater than not that you will, because of who you are. It’s crazy to even say this, but you feel blessed or lucky that your child has made it to twenty-two (King is referring to her 22-year-old son, Ian).
Allison Kugel: What is so remarkably upsetting about your statement is that even if you are regarded by society as successful, you are thanking God that your son has made it to the age of twenty-two.
Regina King: Made it to twenty-two without having a criminal record, and without having an experience with the police where you may not survive; you may not come home. Unfortunately, that is something you feel gratitude for. He has had an experience with the police pulling him over, and him having to sit down on the curb. He was let go after they ran his license plate and his ID. He was pulled over for being nineteen and driving his girlfriend home. That’s not a normal reason to be pulled over.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about your most recent Emmy nomination for Seven Seconds. Now that you have an Emmy win from 2015’s American Crime, is the pressure off somewhat for this upcoming ceremony, or are the nervous butterflies still there? And what’s the feeling in your body when you’re sitting there listening to the names of the nominees being called out?
Regina King: All three times being nominated felt different. But there is nothing like the first anything, right? It’s totally surreal. The second time is kind of like, “Nah-uh, really?! How did I find a hundred-dollar bill again in the exact same place?!” It’s one of those feelings. Not to be frivolous about it, but it’s like, what are the odds?
Allison Kugel: I don’t think it’s a luck thing. You really are such a gifted actor, and your performance in Seven Seconds was a tour de force.
Regina King: Well, I mean, what are the odds of walking by that same corner again and finding that same bill?
Allison Kugel: Do you let that stuff, like awards and accolades, or critics, shape you at all? Do you ever find yourself being very conscious of, “What are the critics going to think?” “What are the nominating committees going to think?”
Regina King: First and foremost, I’m focused on doing good work. I’m not thinking, “Ooh, this is gonna get me an Emmy!” (Laughs)
Allison Kugel: (Laughs) There are people like that in your business. You know that, right?
Regina King: I joke, but yes, I know! The first time, I wasn’t even in the Television Academy. Becoming a member of the Television Academy and knowing all that goes into voting, with all the material that’s out there, it’s a lot. Since my last name starts with a “K,” I fall right in the middle of all the names. When you’re voting, and you see all the titles of the shows and the people’s names, first it starts with the Z’s and then it goes all the way to the A’s. Then the next category starts with the A’s and goes all the way to the Z’s, in that same pattern. So, I don’t take it lightly that someone was able to get to “K” for King and get to “S” for Seven Seconds. I don’t take that lightly, that not only did they make it that far, but they made it that far and they watched and stayed. I don’t take that lightly because those are my peers.
Allison Kugel: What do you see as your higher purpose in all that you do, from parenting your son to your work. And what spiritual philosophy do you subscribe to?
Regina King: Overall, just trying to walk in my truth. I recently did a panel talk (Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass Comic Con Panel) and [actress] Chloe Bennet said something that I definitely subscribe to. She said, “At this moment in time I can feel a certain way and say a certain thing, and then in 2022 I might contradict that just because I’m in a different place at that point.” For me, I can only be in my truth right now, in this moment. If I am walking in that truth, if I share an opinion right now about something, in the year 2022 I will not say, “I didn’t say that in 2018.” I would know I said it, because in that moment it was true for me.
Allison Kugel: Right. You would say, that was me then. I saw this beautiful tribute on your Instagram feed to actress Marla Gibbs. Marla gave you your first big job playing her daughter on the show 227 when you were fourteen years old. You thanked her for all that she did for you as a mentor. You say, among many other things, “She taught me how to be a professional.” I want to ask you about some other influential people you’ve worked with over the years, and what your takeaway was from working with these people. Let’s start with Tupac Shakur, who you worked with in 1993’s Poetic Justice.
Regina King: I would say he’s a man that walked in his truth. Man, did he ever. That would be the biggest takeaway, in that he was just unapologetic, and it was beautiful.
Allison Kugel: And working with Tom Cruise in 1996’s Jerry Maguire?
Regina King: An example of a consummate professional. If you hear anybody say that they don’t like that guy, hmmm, I don’t know. I’d have to go back and look in the books on that person. He’s a good guy, and he is a professional. He is that same example of what Marla [Gibbs] was, and I saw from him that it exists when you’re on that mega level.
Allison Kugel: And working with Jamie Foxx in 2004’s Ray?
Regina King: Jamie is super talented. The first thing that came to my mind when you said “Jamie,” is that he’s a caring guy. He takes great care with things that he does, and with the people that he works with. That’s the reason why he’s so good at embodying a character because he takes care with the details.
Allison Kugel: I also came across a picture you posted with your son. You were waiting in line together to vote in the June primaries, and it was his first time voting. Finish this sentence for me: “I hope that in my son’s lifetime…”
Regina King: The first thing that came to my mind is that he wants to have children, but he goes back and forth between asking if it’s irresponsible to bring children into this world. And I see where he is coming from with that.
Allison Kugel: Tell him that you have great faith in the next generation to lift the consciousness of this planet.
Regina King: Oh, I tell him that all the time, that I have great faith in him and his generation. Literally, from year to year with the conversations that we have, it goes from, “When I have kids,” to, “Man, I don’t know if I want to bring a kid into all this.” Just because of certain things that happen in the world. It’s the same reason you don’t want to turn on the news half the time.
Allison Kugel: If there’s one thing the kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida showed me, it’s that with the younger generations coming up there is a different level of consciousness, and it gives me great hope.
Regina King: What I love is that they’re able to articulate their passion in a way that is open. Whereas I feel like a lot of our generation, we weren’t able to articulate our anger as effectively. There is a maturity present with the younger generation, but they still have that passion. It makes me more confident in what they can accomplish.
Catch Regina King’s Emmy-nominated performance in the limited series, Seven Seconds, streaming now on Netflix. Follow her on Instagram @iamreginaking and on Twitter @reginaking.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel and at AllisonKugel.com.
Feature image photo credit Diana Ragland