After three almost-consecutive Emmy wins, Regina King knows how to handle the rigors of the TV awards season. The film space, though, is something else entirely. Shortly after 2018s fall festival season, King was anointed an Oscar front-runner thanks to her stirring performance in If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkinss moving adaptation of James Baldwins 1974 novel. Her biggest test yet will come at the Golden Globes on Sunday, where she is nominated for both best supporting actress in a motion picture and best supporting actress in a limited series for her Emmy-winning performance in Netflixs Seven Seconds.
Though shes got three decades of film and television roles under her belt, the last few months have given King a crash course in the various critics-circle prizes and film festivals that line the path to the Oscars. The actress is finding ways to relish the novelty of it all—“Its been crazy,” she said good-naturedly in a recent phone interview—even if the dizzying number of galas and ceremonies is wreaking havoc on her schedule. King has to balance pushing Beale Street with work on the Atlanta set of HBOs Watchmen adaptation, a high-profile production that she is guarding every last detail with Game of Thrones–level secrecy. Its her first foray into the superhero world, and her second collaboration with show creator Damon Lindelof, whom King also worked with on the drama series The Leftovers.
“I dont think anyones ever seen me play someone like this,” she said carefully, describing her character. “And in true Regina King fashion, yes, she is strong. I do not have any desire to play women that are not strong.”
Though she cant say much more about the series, King can chat at length about Beale Street—from the Skype session with Jenkins that cinched the role for her to the films most challenging scene, in which her character, Sharon, confronts a woman, Victoria (Emily Rios), who has accused Sharons daughters partner, Fonny (Stephan James), of rape. The film makes it clear that Victoria definitely was assaulted, just not by Fonny—who now faces a lifetime behind bars because of the accusation. Sharon pleads with Victoria to recant, but Victoria stands firm in her claim—and is re-traumatized as Sharon questions her, to the point where she starts screaming hysterically and has to be carried away by a cluster of concerned older women.
“It just had to be delicate,” King said of crafting the scene. “All the women that are in that film, weve all read the book and all had a sensitivity to that subject matter. Whether youve had an experience yourself or youve had to go through that with someone, it is heartbreaking, and all you want to do is protect.”
For much of the film, Victoria is an offscreen entity, the faceless person who sent Fonny to jail; its only during the confrontation that viewers are faced with the reality of her pain. According to King, a scene that was ultimately deleted from the film may have given audiences even more empathy for Victoria; in it, Sharon happens to see Fonnys accuser through the window just before their meeting. “I just stood there and watched her and kind of just took in, Oh gosh, this woman is broken,” King said.
Though that material ended up on the cutting-room floor, the film was shot chronologically, and both actresses were able to use it to bolster their performances. “We needed to shoot that scene to get to where Emily and I needed to go,” said King.
When asked how it felt to watch the scene again for the first time at the films premiere, King confessed that she was too swept up in the experience to recall how she felt in that exact moment.
“I was just so moved for two hours,” she said. “The movie just sat with me for days. It was love I was feeling. It was sadness I was feeling because of the fact that James Baldwin wrote this book forty-something years ago and gosh, were having the same conversations, and were having the same fears.”
But Beale Street isnt only about heartbreak. The love story between Tish and Fonny forms the core of the story, conveyed through plot and dreamy close-ups in which they gaze at each other happily, worshipfully. The story also labors to show that Tish is loved by her family, a kind of love that King wishes more movies would show—particularly for black women. (Her son, Ian, agreed; he told his mother that Jamess portrayal of a young man in love was the first time he really ever saw himself on-screen.) Much has been written about the dearth of tender black love stories in cinema; Beale Street fills a vital gap in the canon, not least because of those breathtaking close-ups. Regardless of whether she makes it to the Oscar stage, that alone is a win in Kings eyes.
“For Barry to hold that camera on Stephans face—you see the pain in Stephans eyes, but also the love. You know thats real, raw emotion,” she said. “It made me hopeful.”
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