There comes a point in every person’s life when they realize that there are no superheroes coming to save them. It’s why the film industry has been dominated for the last decade by tales of extraordinary men and women taking it upon themselves to save not just the world, but the galaxy — because we understand that it’s not real and maybe a small part of us wishes that it was. It’s why we’re drawn to everyday humans who go above and beyond for the betterment of humanity and the world around them.
And when we come to realize that Superman was never anything more than a fable, some people choose to disengage and become cynical, smug in the belief that its every man for himself. But others — others take the world’s lack of superheroes in stride and decide instead, to become superhuman.
Before (maybe) becoming modern fiction’s most powerful demi-god, Regina King wasn’t even that into comic books. Speaking to IndieWire over the phone in an interview in mid-May, the “Watchmen” star assured me, however, that even though comic books escaped her purview as a child, cartoons didn’t. And more than that, King was smitten with Wonder Woman, a powerful woman always in charge of her own fate.
“There’s something about Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Diana, that even though she had a small costume, I still never felt like she was being objectified,” King said. “For the late 1970s, for her to be able to find that line, to be able to walk it and for me to not feel offended as a young girl watching it, but still feel that she’s feminine and strong, is remarkable.”
King knows a thing or two about powerful women, having made a career of playing empathetic women who nevertheless have spines made of steel. But her role as Angela Abar a.k.a. Sister Night in “Watchmen” was next level, and stepping into Night’s habit felt like something that was a long time coming.
“Having a very strong mother and grandmother and aunts, all those things that were synonymous with being a woman exist in [Carter’s] portrayal [and that was] was exciting for me,” she said. “I mean, Sister Night was long overdue. We needed a Black woman to be that, to feel that. I wish I had that as a young girl. I wish I had a Diana Prince and a Sister Night. I think that I would have been more conscious that the possibility of that happening would have been, but that wasn’t the case. So cut to now, 30 years later, and I get the opportunity to hopefully be that for another teenager.”
HBO’s adaptation of the legendary “Watchmen” comic book series was spearheaded by “Lost” creator Damon Lindelof, a man who’d purportedly dedicated himself to never using an actor more than once across any of his shows. And then he met King.
The second season of “The Leftovers” — Lindelof and HBO’s first (brilliant) creative endeavor — saw King join the cast as Erika Murphy, a tough-as-nails doctor whose goal above all else is protecting her family. The actress stayed on through the show’s third and final season. But after a time, King received a delivery from Lindelof with a surprise inside.
It was the pilot script for “Watchmen” with a sealed envelope that King was only to open once she’d reached a certain page. When it was opened, it revealed an artist’s rendering of the actress as Sister Night. “While he was writing the show, they were referencing me, but he was always looking to another actress to play that role. And so I like to say that whether he wants to admit it or not, he was framing this Angela character so that I could step into it,” King said.
“I feel like roles find people,” King said. “The simple, cosmic answer at the same time is the role chose me, but getting into the weeds of it, Damon sent the script and I was on board before I even read it, because Damon wrote it. I had not seen the film at that time. I’d never read the comic books, but I had been a fan of Damon’s work. And my experience working with him on ‘Leftovers’ was exceptional.”
“From ‘Southland,’ I discovered that I wanted to be a part of projects that are collaborative. That was my experience on ‘Southland’ and that was kind of the first time I’d experienced that on television and I just knew I wanted to continue that from there,” King said. “And that was my experience on ‘Leftovers.’ So any of those creators from Damon Lindelof to John Wells to John Ridley, all they have to do is call. I’m in before I read the script, because I just know how their minds work and that they are interested in the complexities of storytelling and not just surface.”
Mark Hill / HBO
“Watchmen” was all about complexity, functioning as an alternate history taking place after the events of the original comic books. In the limited series, both police officers and vigilantes wear masks and racial tensions are at a boiling point, as America is forced to reconcile itself with its long history of systemic racism.
So, you could say it ended up being pretty timely.
While our conversation took place before the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, an event which sparked weeks of protests in the streets, speaking out against institutionalized racism and police brutality, King did speak to the surreality that is all of America wearing masks just months after starring in a series which portrayed much the same.
“One of my girlfriends texted me a picture of Sister Night and said, ‘Who would have known that your costume would be our grocery store outfit?'” King said. “I had not thought about it until she sent me that. And then I started thinking about the show in totality. And there are a lot of things that are playing out now. I think every day you’re just trying to digest what’s going on and not become so consumed with the news feed 24/7 that you drive yourself crazy.”
Like everyone, King is just trying to survive these trying times while anxious to go back to work both in front of and behind the camera. She was just two scenes shy of completing filming on her full-length directorial debut “One Night in Miami” before the pandemic forced everyone into lock down. In the meantime, she focuses on editing the film and feels positive about what’s been accomplished so far.
It is, like most things, about equilibrium.
“It’s this really interesting balance, trying to stay informed, trying to be responsible, trying to be positive and send out energy out in the universe that’s positive,” King said. “It’s kind of a difficult place to be for everybody now. Not kind of a difficult, very difficult. But you still want to find a space to smile and laugh. And then on the flip side, there’s a part of me that’s like, ‘Wow, maybe this is the universe speaking really loud that we all needed to take a step back and take inventory.'”