When “King Richard” star Aunjanue Ellis and “The Harder They Fall’s” Regina King paired off for Variety‘s Actors on Actors, presented by Amazon, Ellis asked King to dish on one of her favorite performances from her fellow actor — Marcee Tidwell in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire.”
“You’re taking me back to a long time ago. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since that film,” King told Ellis.
The film debuted on Dec. 13, 1996, just over 25 years ago, opening at No. 1 at the box office and earning $273 million over its run. Marcee is the no-nonsense wife of Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the star client of sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise). [Technically, after Jerry’s in-office meltdown at the top of the film, Rod is his only client, but an important one regardless.]
“Jerry Maguire” went on to be nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, with Gooding taking home the best supporting actor trophy. In 2019, King earned an Oscar of her own, winning the best supporting actress prize for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” in which she starred opposite Ellis. But long before they shared the screen in “Beale Street” and 2004’s “Ray,” Ellis sat in the audience and watched as King’s onscreen presence totally enraptured her.
“What I saw in you in that performance, I saw a clarity and a confidence in character,” Ellis told King. “I see confident actors all the time, but I don’t necessarily see a confidence in character.”
Ellis was so struck by King’s work in the film that she has specific scenes “tattooed on [her] brain.” So, she asked, what was behind the character’s confidence?
Looking back on the experience, King shared that Marcee’s assuredness was evident from the moment she read writer-director Cameron Crowe’s script.
“Marcee was so clear on the page,” she explained. “I felt like, ‘I wish I had her confidence. I wish I had her assuredness.’ You hear that saying: ‘The woman behind the man, the woman is the backbone.’ When I read that script, I felt like that [woman] is the force behind it all.”
In fact, King believes Marcee is actually “the most confident person” in the entire film.
“When I read that script, I felt like, ‘Marcee’s got it together more than Jerry, more than anybody involved in this entire story,’ so, I just stayed in that place,” she recalled. “I’d just become a mother. I was nursing my son on set, so a lot of that was naturally happening within me because Marcee was just having her second child in the film.” [This interview was conducted before King confirmed on Jan. 21 the sudden death of her son, Ian Alexander Jr. He was 26.]
Key to King’s performance was her onscreen chemistry with Gooding, who she’d previously worked with on 1991’s “Boyz n the Hood.” The actors developed a quick camaraderie, in part because they saw the Tidwells the same way.
“I’m not saying that it didn’t exist — but I hadn’t really, until that role, felt like I had seen a Black couple on TV or in films that were together, fun, and the couple that … if anyone knows Marcee and Rod, they’re inviting them to the party,” King explained. “For us, they were the hero couple and they were the glue.”
“My aunt and uncle are kind of that couple in real life. Usually, any role that I play, I try to find a blueprint — a real-life person or people that I’m studying and hijacking personality traits from,” King added with a laugh.
Watch the full conversation between King and Ellis below.