Regina King was one-third of the #BlackGirlsRock trifecta that captured our hearts the night of the 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards when she won. The other two winners were Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba.
A part of King’s appeal was that her Emmy win was a long time coming. She’s been a mainstay on film and television screens for three decades, since being introduced to mainstream audiences as teenage Brenda on the series 227. Now, at age 44, she’s reflecting on her career and her future in an interview with Vulture. Here are some highlights from her discussion.
1. After five seasons on 227, she enrolled in college at the University of Southern California and majored in communicatons, thinking that she wouldn’t pursue acting as a career. She thought of it more as a hobby. However, when the right role came about that shattered her child-actress image, she accepted it and hasn’t stopped acting since:
“Acting was a hobby for me when I started out, or maybe it was because there weren’t a lot of examples of me when I found an interest in this art form,” she explains, pausing. […] “I knew I was so much more than Brenda, and I just needed an opportunity to show it,” King recalls.
2. That breakthrough opportunity came in the role of Shalika in Boyz n the Hood. She had to prove to the casting director that she could “get ghetto”:
“The casting director called me in to audition just to see if I could ‘get ghetto’—that’s what she said. ‘Get ghetto.’” […]
“I was like, ‘Watch me; just watch what I can do.’ I read three lines and she was like, ‘Okay, you can come back to audition for the producer and director.’” […]
“It needed to happen that way so I could say, ‘Okay, this is good for you, and you’re supposed to be an actor.’”
3. King was worried that she and other black actresses were being stereotyped after Boyz n the Hood and other successful films like it in the early 1990s. She made sure to create an authentic backstory that she then pulled from when playing a similar female character in the movie Poetic Justice:
“[Iesha in Poetic Justic] was a young alcoholic; it was sad, so she wasn’t the same girl [as Shalika]. Maybe she thought she had love at one point, maybe she lost a baby,” she offers. “A lot of people didn’t see it that deeply, but that’s how I saw it. I would pass on roles if I didn’t think I could build an honest backstory.”
4. Once she felt that she’d broken away from her child-actress image, she drew the line in the sand and stopped accepting roles similar to the one she played in Boyz n the Hood:
“I started saying no to things if the stories were too narrow, the kind that only depicted women as the kind of woman I was in Boyz ’N the Hood. It was a great role for me—I needed to do that to show the difference between what I did in 227—but after that, that was enough.”
5. She was up to the task of doing something that Hollywood actresses typically dread: playing women their own age or older. King described how she jumped at the opportunity to play grown women because she wanted to be seen as a mature actress:
“I saw that this was the time to be looked at as a woman, not as this girl,” she says slowly. “Some people in our business want to play young as long as you can. I just wasn’t interested in being a 30-year-old playing a teenager.”
6. The title of King’s Vulture interview is “The Scene-Stealer”—a reference to how King stealthily comes on-screen, delivers a powerful performance typically as a supporting actress and then stage-exits left onto her next film. It’s a strategy that has enabled her to enjoy a consistent and highly respected career. King reveals that such a career was mapped out in part for her son:
“I’m not missing out on his life,” she says. “I don’t ever want my son to say, ‘Well, the nanny was there.’ I would be devastated.”
7. She and her son have matching tattoos to demonstrate their bond. They both have the words “unconditional love” spelled out in Aramaic—hers running down her left forearm and his from his elbow to his wrist:
“His is huge, from his elbow to his wrist, but he said, ‘No, you can’t get that size, Mom!’” she laughs. “We considered different ones, but we felt this really embodies how we feel about each other.”
8. King is happy about her Emmy win earlier this year, and especially for portraying a Muslim American in the show American Crime. She’s sad, however, that the industry’s lack of diversity is still an issue:
“It’s very interesting to think I’ve been in this business working successfully or consistently for 30 years,” King says, “and that we still have a lot of the same conversations or disparities going on. It’s really unfortunate. I am witnessing some shifts—obviously, with this past Emmy celebration. That was A+ for our industry. Well, not A+,” she says, reconsidering. “I’d give it a B, B+, maybe.”
9. Oh, and be sure to add “director” before King’s name. Yep, King has been cutting her teeth in the director’s chair by directing episodes of some of our favorite TV shows, and she has her eyes set on even bigger projects:
She directed six episodes of Being Mary Jane this year alone, as well as an episode of Scandal. […]
"My career right now is not a transition [away from acting], it’s a hyphenate. In a lot of regards, it’s just beginning,” she smiles. “You guys haven’t had a chance to see what I can do yet.”
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.