Venice: Regina King on Why Her Directorial Debut ‘One Night in Miami’ Is a “Story That Needed to Be Told”

The ‘Watchmen’ star discusses how her 1960s civil rights drama could, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and the coronavirus pandemic, “be a reminder for some, and a discovery for others.”

For more than 30 years, Regina King has been acting’s equivalent of the go-to player.

Whatever role directors threw at her — Detective Lydia Adams on the TNT police drama Southland, the unflappable Sharon Rivers in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, or an honest-to-god superhero in Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen for HBO — King has hit it out of the park.

Now with one Oscar (for If Beale Street Could Talk) and three Emmys on her shelf (and a possible fourth on the way for her performance in Watchmen), King has stepped behind the camera. One Night in Miami, her feature debut as a director, is an adaptation of Kemp Power’s acclaimed 2013 play, which imagines what was said in a real-life meeting between Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown on a fateful night in 1964.

Ahead of the film’s world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Monday, King spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about finding the “ordinary black men” behind these Civil Rights icons and how current events — from the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus pandemic to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign — will make the film’s themes “resonate even stronger.”

How was the transition going from the most powerful creature in the universe at the end of Watchmen to directing your first feature with One Night in Miami?

I think I speak for a lot of actors that sometimes it is hard to shed a role, to let go of it. That’s especially true with a project like Watchmen, which is so complex, that involves so many different genres, with a character that had so many aspects to her. She was a heroic character but was also at the center of a love story and on a journey of self-discovery to understanding where the pain she carried all of her life, understanding where it came from. It was very complex.

But I always find the best way to transition out of one role is to move into another. It’s kind of therapeutic. For me going back and forth from directing to acting just feels like a really natural and necessary transition because I get to shed whatever I was working on quickly and start exercising different parts of the brain.

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X); Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown); Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke) and Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

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