Regina King is still on LA time. Even though we meet in London, I have no idea why she precedes our interview with this fact because, although she assures me that it feels like 3am for her, she can’t help but speak with the calm authority that leaves you begging to be drenched in more of her easy wisdom. If she’s struggling on LA time, it’d be fair to assume I’m moving to the jerky beat of another planet entirely.
You can’t miss the tenderness in King’s voice. Granted, the perception I have of her as a maternal figure is influenced by her Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated role in If Beale Street Could Talk. She plays Sharon Rivers, whose daughter Tish (Kiki Layne) is pregnant, the father, Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) in jail after being falsely accused of rape.
The film is heart-achingly brilliant and you’ll awaken steadily to how the narrative – which deals with race, class and the justice system – is just as poignant today as it was in 1974, when James Baldwin wrote the novel on which the film is based. Comparing the two, though, King says: "The book is more biting. Just because James Baldwin is very descriptive and sometimes takes two or three pages as he lays something out, and Barry [Jenkins, the film's director] seemed to pull more of the love out of it." So much of which is manifested in King’s character.
We chat a little about how the story, while deeply rooted in the black American experience, in the difference and difficulties of black love, has at its heart the power of various iterations of love – between mothers and daughters, between friends, even between strangers. The film's context challenges this view with what happens when people are motivated by fear instead, but King reminds me that regardless, "James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins were very good at [ensuring that] in the story no matter who you are, you can relate to the support of love and what happens when you are motivated by love."
She wants to tell me about a wonderful Baldwin quote that's also really pertinent, but she's worried about getting it wrong. "It starts out with 'We can disagree, that’s fine but when the disagreement is based on oppressing me, on oppressing the black race, then we have a problem'," King says. "I am definitely just giving my version of his quote but what I realised and what I think applies here so much is how so many people confuse disagreement and oppression, [and] not even realising. In America, the dude they call president – the things that he says, disagreeing with the things that others say, not realising that what you're doing and saying is oppressing a people is really fascinating." I laugh and tell her that it's a very polite way of putting what's been going on. She chuckles too and agrees. "Yes, I was trying to be polite."
This line of conversation leads us seamlessly into a quick reflection on King's wonderful acceptance speech at the Golden Globes last month. She vowed to make sure that from now on, everything she produces is going to be 50% women. King extended the Times Up X2 challenge to those outside of Hollywood, reiterating: "We understand that our microphones are big and are speaking for everyone."
It's an exciting promise that bears a lot of weight while conversations about equality continue to weave in and out of the news cycle. And it feels as monumental to King as it does to those of us who have been waiting to see tangible progress in an industry that continues to sideline women. "It feels like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing as a human being. That I’m using my voice, that I am a part of active change and it’s exciting to witness. I feel like, I think for the first time, that I’ll actually see the change. So it’s exciting," King explains. "It’s exciting that there are more people being vocal about the importance of parity, not just gender parity but racial."
Eager for King's insight, I confess that the pressure that comes with taking that step to be a representative voice for a minority is something I've battled with on a very different, personal level in my career, and it's not spoken about enough. She can relate but assures me that she has "to be honest about what I'm capable of doing".
"When I made that pledge, whether it was subconscious or conscious, I know that I have a village of people that want to see the same thing that I want to see and want to actively make that happen so I don’t feel like I stretch beyond my means," King adds. "But I definitely understand and have been in the place of, 'Oh man, was it right saying that?' Even when it comes to just posting something on social media, I go back and forth before I hit post because of that. Am I ready for that responsibility? Because it's huge. And when you have declared something and you don’t live up to it, that would be the worst feeling ever. So I guess that even though I have felt like that, I don’t feel that I’ve let myself down."
If Beale Street Could Talk is in UK cinemas now