Q&A: Hollywood Veteran Regina King

The actress talks about Tupac, Southland and diversity in Hollywood.

Posted: 02/16/2011 05:17 PM EST
Regina King

Regina King has a career that most actors dream of in the fickle land of Hollywood. The Los Angeles native has landed steady work and respectable roles and has managed to maintain a scandal-free career.  We first got to know her on the classic television series 227. She made her feature film debut in 1991 with the Oscar-nominated Boyz n the Hood. However, King’s big break came when she played opposite Tupac and Janet Jackson in John Singleton's Poetic Justice back in 1993.

Now, with over 25 years in Hollywood under her belt, King is officially a veteran. Take notes, aspiring entertainers: This is how you become a star but never fall victim to fame.

Currently, King is receiving critical praise for her role as Lydia Adams in Southland. In addition, she still provides the voices behind some of the controversial characters in The Boondocks.  Here, King talks about Tupac, Southland, diversity in Hollywood, and more.

So, I have to mention this. You and Jackee were on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live and had the Web buzzing a few weeks back. You had a little drink in your system!
[Laughs] People have been watching me in the business for over 20 years. Most of the time they've seen me in a character or an interview that's in an environment that doesn't allow you to be as relaxed. For some people it was shocking, other people could appreciate it because they’re fortunate enough to have friends who know how to have a good time!

Let's talk about your role on Southland. There are very few Black female detectives on television. Were you thinking about representation when you took this character?
Without a doubt, 100 percent. It was very important for the entire cast to be as authentic as possible. Obviously with art you have to spin reality sometimes to tell the story and to keep the attention of the audience. Visually and the way I carry myself, I definitely wanted to represent as many female detectives as possible. It's funny, if you look at the female detectives in Los Angeles, they are a little more glamorous than the female detectives in other cities. My character, Lydia, might be more glamorous than detectives in Memphis, Tennessee. I tried to find a common place for my character and then just my sensibility, really just trying to hit it on the nose.

Did you pattern Lydia Adams after a certain person?
As far as how she approaches her job, I did pattern her after a detective in L.A. Ironically, she's not a Black woman, she is a white woman. But she is a woman-woman! You know what I mean? You have some women when you hear them on the phone and you might not know what nationality they are. She falls in that category.

When I told people I was interviewing Regina King the universal response I received was, 'I love her and she is so underrated.' Do you feel like you don't get the respect you deserve in Hollywood?
I really try to be open to what the universe has already determined for me. I feel like I've had a successful career. As far as saying, "You don't get the respect that you deserve," I think there a lot of artists out there that aren't white that aren’t seen as often as we'd like to see them. I don't think it's specific to just me. I think it's specific to a lot of entertainers that aren't white.

Tell me the moment when you realized that you were a good actor.
Probably around the third or fourth grade…this is a little bit embarrassing! [Laughs] My birthday is on the same day as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. When I was in the third and fourth grade I told my teachers that Dr. King was my uncle, and we had been trying to make his birthday a national holiday for a few years now. I said it made me kind of sad when my birthday comes around. [Laughs] I would pretty much get special treatment the whole day. My mother had met my teacher and she said, "I'm so sorry about your brother." No need to say what happened after that! [Laughs]

That's when you realized you had the touch!
Yeah, that's a pretty big pull-the-wool-over-your-eyes! At that time that was something that my parents and their friends were vocal about—Dr. King's birthday needing to be recognized as being a national holiday. So just being a kid and hearing all those conversations, I took that information and used it to my advantage.

One of your most famous films is Poetic Justice. What was that experience like in 1993 working with the biggest hip hop star at the time, Tupac, and the biggest pop star at the time, Janet Jackson?
As I was actually living it, it was big to have a role so big. I never had a role that big before in my life. That was probably bigger for me than Janet and Tupac—that was a huge personal accomplishment. I was more caught up in, "I got to be great, everybody's going to see this because Janet and Tupac are on it."

Rumor has it Tupac was challenging to work with. Was that your experience with him?
My personal experience was we just had an awesome relationship. It was very cool to be around somebody that was very honest about whatever it was that he was feeling. We definitely had moments that we disagreed, but it was more just two people being young, opinionated, going back and forth like brother and sister do.

I have to ask you about The Boondocks.  Is there anything you've had to say that you were uncomfortable with or weary about?
Sure, definitely, but I also knew what the show was because I knew what the comic strip was. I knew what i signed up for. I really feel, especially for an actor or anything in life, you shouldn't sign up for it if you can't commit to it wholly.

Do you have a dream role?
I’d like to play Shirley Chisholm; she was so far ahead of her time. People that were born in the ’60s and before all know who she is, but a lot of people born in the ’70s aren’t familiar with who Shirley Chisholm is. I think in recognizing and appreciating Obama as president, there needs to be a reminder or education on who Shirley Chisholm was and what she represented.

Is there a role that you turned down that you regretted later?
Everything that I’ve turned down I felt like I dodged a bullet or that just wasn't for me. There have been roles where I didn’t get the part but when I saw the final piece, I was like, 'She was definitely perfect for the part.' Do you remember Low Down Dirty Shame?

Of course—Jada!
Yeah, that role. Jada was awesome in that part.

You've been in this industry for a long time. Do you see things getting easier for Black women in Hollywood?
I think for black actresses in comparison to Asian or Indian actresses, you see us more than you see them. I feel optimistic about the fact that Univision is the No. 1 network in the country. I believe that is going to translate into seeing more people of color into significant roles in movies and television. Whenever I’m having these types of conversations I’m always careful and specific in saying “women of color” and “women of different cultures,” but it always seems to be paraphrased that I said “Black women.”  It's important to recognize that seeing more of us is a struggle and a desire that's more than just [what] Black entertainers are experiencing.

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