Dressed in a form-fitting, cowl-neck sweater dress, sporting a pair of gorgeous thigh-high brown leather boots from GianFranco Ferre, complemented by a tasteful oversized taupe leather hobo bag from Bottega Veneta, Regina King sat ever so poised to promote her latest onscreen project, THIS CHRISTMAS; she became quite expressive as we chatted about the realistic family drama.
The story focuses on the entire Whitfield clan, who for the first time in four years, is assembled for Christmas at the L.A. home of the family matriarch, affectionately known as Ma' Dear (Loretta Devine). Ma' Dear's three sons and three daughters have come from all over the country for an emotional reunion that promises to be as dramatic, contentious and hilarious as it is heartwarming.
The threat of dwindling family finances causes sparks to fly, long simmering disputes boil over and closely held secrets are revealed.
The ensemble cast is impressive featuring: Delroy Lindo (The Cider House Rules), Idris Elba (“The Wire” ), Loretta Devine (Dreamgirls, “Grey's Anatomy”), Chris Brown (Stomp the Yard), Keith Robinson (Dreamgirls), Laz Alonso (Stomp the Yard), Columbus Short (Stomp The Yard), Sharon Leal (Dreamgirls, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married), Lauren London (ATL, “Entourage”), Mekhi Phifer (8 Mile, “ER”) and Regina King (Ray, Jerry McGuire). Preston A. Whitmore II (The Walking Dead, Crossover) wrote and directed the film and also produced along with Will Packer. Executive producers are Mekhi Phifer, Ronnie Warner, Paddy Cullen, Damon Lee and Delroy Lindo.
A welcomed departure from director Whitmore's previous film fare (Civil Brand, Fled, The Walking Dead), in this domestic holiday story, King is cast as Lisa, the oldest daughter of the Whitfield siblings, who is feverishly trying to convince the rest of the Whitfields to sell the family dry cleaning business that their mother has run for years so her overly-ambitious husband Malcolm (Laz Alonso) will have the capital he needs to close an important business deal.
Malcolm is not only a zealot, he is also unfaithful.
Adultery aside, the look of the film is crisp and vividly colorful, capturing the rich hues of the diverse African American cast; so much so, even a philanderer comes across as likeable.
That aspect established, King and I began our conversation.
Sandra Varner (SV): This is one of the most beautifully filmed movies (with a principal black cast) that I've seen in quite a while, and, kudos to Preston Whitmore II who is still a relatively new filmmaker for giving us a story in this vein…
Regina King (RK): Well, Preston had a really lucky situation. Clint Culpepper, who is the executive producer and president of Screen Gems, surrounded him with enough components that it (the quality of the film) was really hard to miss. When you look at this incredible cast and our DP (Director of Photography/Cinematographer) Alexander Gruzynski, who was absolutely amazing; he made sure to take the time and see to it that we were lit properly. So, sometimes when there was an effort to rush the scenes, we also had the luxury of experience to get the scenes right. When you see this film, I am so happy Alexander demanded that we take the time needed. Here, you have a family made up of a bunch of shades of brown, that can be difficult to light; and, that's the reason why so often in the past when you see people of color in films with white people, somebody's gonna end up not being lit correctly. Nine times out of 10, it's going to be the person of color.
SV: Thanks for that explanation, it clarifies so much. Many actors of color are not working as often as they'd like; what do you do to keep the scripts coming and the telephone ringing?
RK: You know it's so funny when I hear that because I don't work as much as people think I do. I say that because I would not want to be in a position where I'm working so much that I can't balance being a mother, being a daughter and enjoying life because, there is so much more to life than this (acting) although, it's a blessing that my income can come from my hobby. I don't know, I think it comes from having such an incredible mother, who taught me at a very early age, the importance of minding my money. Therefore, I have been able to be very selective when choosing roles. I think for some, they don't have a choice but to take certain roles. It's not so much that they are “bad pickers” rather it's the fact that they've gotta pay bills. You know, half of Americans are probably working in jobs they have to keep for the same reason because they have to take care of the family. I would say that the beauty of having a mother that was a teacher who drilled the importance of saving a dollar into the minds of me and my sister has allowed me to create a body of work that “I” am proud of. So, if I'm proud of it, there's a greater chance that others will be proud of it too, and respect my choices.
SV: Again, your explanation sets the tempo for what I've observed about your career to date; you have been one who has not been afraid to take chances and who still, at the young age of 36, have diversified your choices. You've lent your voice to animated projects, volleyed between comedic and dramatic roles, and if I'm not mistaken, is that your voice in a feminine protection television commercial?
RK: Yes, it is. She smiles and goes into character, “Have a happy period, always,” (laughter). It's funny that you're asking about my plan because it makes me hear echoes of my mother's voice from childhood. When you think it's going in one ear and coming out of the other, your children are paying attention and tend to find those messages very helpful during the adult years. My mother would always say to us, “You've got to have a plan. The plan can change, but, you've got to start out with one.”
SV: You talk about your childhood in such a nostalgic way; many of your fans still remember you as “Little Brenda” on the TV sitcom, 227.
RK: Yeah, and it's been 22 years since that time. I'm 36 and I feel like the expression, 'The sky's the limit.' I feel like I'm just reaching the 15th floor of the Empire State Building and I'm not even close to the sky yet. And, the roles get better as you mature. A mature person is always going to be more interesting than a person who's 'green.' You've experienced more and have more to talk about; more stories to share so the characters get better.
SV: Speaking of maturity, another aspect of THIS CHRISTMAS I found most enjoyable was the romantic relationship between Loretta Devine's and Delroy Lindo's characters. It was refreshing to see this display of discerning and fully-developed intimacy between them in a black film.
RK: Let me stop and say, I don't like to call this a 'black film' because the issues and themes the Whitfields deal with are universal. They just happen to be a black family. To your point though, you don't see this (a loving adult relationship) in a family film in general, across the board, which is why I think The Cosby Show was so successful. 'Cliff and Claire Huxtable' (Cosby Show parental figures) were like the most romantic couple on TV. And, they were never portrayed in a lewd or loose manner, never inappropriate. They were respectful and looked into each other's eyes. Delroy and Loretta kind of continue on that same energy and it was just great to see a man --our men-- in this capacity, and, when I say 'our men' I mean as a nation. So often we get down on our men. Here's a guy who is fathering six kids who are not even his and he does so gladly because of his love for this woman. He knows they are a package deal.
SV: In this film, you have a wrenching bathroom scene with your husband (Malcolm) when you confront him about cheating. Closer to home, how hard was it for you on the set, given the end of your marriage to your son's father?
RK: In my (personal) relationship, I was the one who wanted the divorce. I think it's just as hard for the person who is being asked for the divorce. The reason why is because the person that's being separated from and not wanting to, feels as if the divorce is coming out of nowhere, and it's really not. It's been happening for a while. But, I should have done it sooner than I did. Because, staying longer made the ending even worse, so I could relate to Lisa (my character) staying in a relationship too long. Her reasons for staying were different and some of them could have been the same. I gave Lisa a back story for why she stayed in a bad marriage because of her children and that's why I stayed. For Lisa, that was probably the smallest of her marital concerns, but for Regina, that was the main reason why I stayed. What I discovered after I left was those two or three years that I stayed longer were terrible for my son. He actually said that I smile more now. Kids are so intuitive. You think you're hiding something from them but they are just as sad as you are. Kids are much more 'present' than we think.
SV: Your son, Ian, has he expressed an interest in acting or other art forms?
RK: No. He can sing and dance and play sports; he's a very talented young man. He has his own form of artistic expression and I would never try to squelch his passion for the arts but I'm really trying to make sure that he is consciously aware that there are so many other things out there for him to choose from. He's really into art history right now. If he decides in the end that he wants to forego college and pursue a career in the arts, I'm going to fully embrace and support him. But, you know that mother side of me wants to protect him from it (a career in acting) because I don't want to expose him to the 'wolves.' Children are exposed to so much more these days with the Internet and such…
SV: You made it as a child actor…
RK: Yeah, I made it, I made it… (pause)
SV: Speaking of art, your body is a work of art. What's your workout regime?
Of course, there are times when I kind of falter, like now. While I'm continuing on this 5-city tour, I'm going to enjoy the culinary treats of each city (laughter). But, I'll hit it (working out) when I get back home. I find that when I'm working out, I feel so much better; I make better food choices and I sleep so much better. So, it's more than just wanting to have a great body.
To all you Regina King fans, before or after you get stuffed on Turkey Day, get your fill of THIS CHRISTMAS, opening in theaters on Nov. 21.