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Regina King on Directing ‘One Night in Miami’ and If a Second Season of ‘Watchmen’ Is Possible

Also on this episode, Angela Bassett talks "Soul" and a "Waiting to Exhale" reunion along with the panel's thoughts on "Wonder Woman 1984."

Regina King Variety Power of Women
Joe Pugliese for Variety

Regina King saw every Black man that she loved in the men of “One Night in Miami” and wanted them to see themselves. “You better not ‘f’ this up,” King says she would say to herself during the entire shoot, and even after.

In this week’s Awards Circuit Podcast, King talks about why she wanted to direct Kemp Powers’ play for her feature directorial debut. The Oscar-winning actress of “If Beale Street Could Talk” has garnered loads of awards buzz for her breakout work that debuted at the Venice and Toronto International Film festivals earlier this year. Along with discussing her process and casting four extraordinary actors (Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr.), she talks about what it would take for her to sign on for a second season of HBO’s “Watchmen” and manages to possibly get an inspiration on what could be her next project. Listen below!

Why did you choose “One Night in Miami” for your directorial debut and why now?

Regina King: Quite a few reasons. I was looking to do a project theatrically, when my agent had asked me “what type of stories do you want to tell you know, once you start your career as a film director?” And one of the things I shared with him was a love story with a historical backdrop. And he brought this script [“One Night in Miami”] to me. If I’m being honest, I said, I was speaking more of a romantic love story, like “Titanic,” something like that, but with us. And this, in my opinion, this – is – a love story. And it’s a it’s a love letter to Black men. I also felt that my first time out as a film director, I should play to my strengths. A true actors piece is something that I would gravitate to as an actor. These are four men. No matter who you are, especially as a Black person, they have made an impact in some type of way, in your in your life.

As an actor, now in the director’s chair, did you wish you could play any of these roles yourself?

King: That’s what I mean! When I read this script, I said, “Oh, my God, I would love to play any of these roles.” I especially just love the dynamic between Malcolm and Sam. A lot of actors would relate those types of scenes, to a great tennis match. So, yeah, as an actor, I was just titillated by the Kemp’s dialogue. I also was so excited about finding out who these actors were going to be that, and thist was an exciting journey to take.

Did you feel the pressure of this being your feature directorial debut, and the amount of the weight of that as Black female director, who are so often overlooked?

King: Honestly, it was in a constant space of, “you better not F this up.” All the way back when we were prepping and my first meeting with Kemp. Luckily, we just connected quickly. So we were both working on different projects, while prepping for “One Night in Miami.” Kemp had already done so much research. And I think that that was probably where a lot of my nerves came. Because I knew going into this, this was a story that I wanted to tell. I saw every Black man that I know and love in these men. In the words that Kemp had written. In the emotion that Kemp captured on the page. And I knew that it was my job to bring it to life. My first thought always was, I want Kemp, and every man that’s in my life that I love to see themselves in this piece. I wanted Kemp to know that I was treating his baby preciously because it was precious to me.

The movie has received stellar reviews and you could be the first Black woman nominated for best director. What does an honor like that mean for you?

King: Ah, you know, it feels like such a taboo place to even go. First and foremost, like you said, the fact that we’re still talking about “firsts” in spaces that have existed for longer than you and I have been alive. That’s really unfortunate, but I also know that when you talk about other women of color, there a lot of others out there. It hasn’t happened for the first Asian woman, Latina woman. I’m really trying to enjoy the fact that I’ve made it to the finish line.  To actually say that I’ve directed a film and it’s coming out. I want to allow myself the grace to receive that. I would have thought for sure Ava DuVernay for “Selma” would have been there or Dee Rees from “Mudbound” or Julie Dash for “Daughters of the Dust.” I know that I’m even able to have this conversation because of the wonderful work that they’ve done. And it’s unfortunate that if they didn’t do such an amazing job with expressing their art, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you, as a director. This story is, in a lot of ways, a call to action. I think about in this moment, that we’re in right now, where we have the first woman of color as a Vice President. Representation is  equally as important because a young girl that looks like me, when her mother tells her you can be the Vice President – or President – or you could have a film, that’s in the best picture conversation, you have evidence of that. It helps to believe in it more.

Are you disappointed that “Watchmen” is over and if Damon Lindelof asked you to come back, would you?

King: If Damon changed his mind? Yes. Because I know if he did it, that means something. Something happened. In all honesty, it would probably be something where, Angela dies in the first episode. I don’t know. How Damon even decided to tackle this subject matter was very risky business. Being a white man. Speaking on inherited pain in the Black community. I said, “are you really ready for this?” Then he told me the writing team he disassembled and I was like, “Okay, you’re walking into this with rose colored glasses.” You are making an effort to understand a history that you never knew anything about, that we’re all connected to. So, I know that if he did go into it, he it would be smart. It would be provocative, and he would be pushing people to think beyond themselves.

Do you recall the movie or performance that did it for you as a child, and inspired you to get into this business?

King: Sally Field in “Norma Rae.” But it was the combination of seeing her as “Sybil.” – and seeing it was the same person. I was like “wow.” You can make people feel all of that? Oh, and just be almost unrecognizable? Be this vivacious woman and then to be this broken woman. It was mind blowing. From film, it was “Sparkle” that had a huge impact. It was because it was just so Black. They were just so beautiful.

Can you recall your earliest love for a film, that was directed by a woman?

King: Penny Marshall’s “Big.” I love that film so much. When I found out she directed it, the first thing I went to was “Laverne and Shirley.” It’s one of those films that if you’re flipping through channels, and if it’s on WGN, with commercials, you stop and watch.

If you could direct a biopic, about any historical Black figure in history, with final cut approval, and unlimited resources, who would you want to tackle? 

King: Oh God. There are so many musical people popping through my mind, and then I have political people. So much pressure. It’s funny because one person just keeps coming to mind. And I know that it’s been done already. I feel like I’m gonna get slammed but she keeps popping in my head. Nina Simone.

Interesting. I wasn’t expecting that one. I had one for you…James Baldwin.

King: (gasps). Someone actually said that to me about two months ago. Another journalist said to me, “I’m waiting for you to direct the James Baldwin film.”

Do you know if there’s a script floating around Hollywood about Mr. Baldwin?

King: I don’t know. But I just know when you said that it made me perk up. And the fact that you said it. His life is so big and complex. If it was surrounding the couple of nights before and after the debate [at the University of Cambridge against William F. Buckley, Jr.]. There’s something very interesting to me about slice of life. When you have people who have these bigger than life lives. It’s so hard, and so unfair to try to get it all in 120 plus minutes.

Maybe a limited series?

King: Maybe the next installment of “Genius” [on National Geographic]

Also in this recording of this episode, we sit down with Angela Bassett and discuss her new film, “Soul” in which she voices Dorothea. The Oscar-nominated actress discusses her career, if she’s ever been approached to play Storm in the “X-Men” series and how a “Waiting to Exhale” reunion could be in the works. The Awards Circuit panel discusses Amazon Studios’ “Small Axe” which won best picture at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and if it can make the pivot to an Oscar campaign. We also discuss Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984” and the mixed reactions along with our favorite holiday and Christmas movies from “Die Hard” to “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.”

Variety Awards Circuit podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.

Listen to our past interviews with stars Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown and Leslie Odom, Jr as Sam Cooke on our third episode of Variety Awards Circuit.