Regina King has been one busy actress over the years. And her plate seems completely full now, too.
Over the last few years, she’s provided two voices for Adult Swim’s The Boondocks animated TV shows. Movie roles have included This Christmas, Year of the Dog and the upcoming Living Proof on Lifetime. And then there’s the role in the intense L.A. cop drama Southland, returning to TV on TNT after a quick stint on NBC.
It’s the latter that’s brought her to Philadelphia to host a screening party and talk to the press. She considers it a crusade to keep Southland going and gaining an audience, after getting the “too edgy” tag on the network. She thinks TNT, with series such as the Ray Romano middle age dramedy Men of a Certain Age and Timothy Hutton’s thriller Leverage, could be the perfect fit for the impressive ensemble show Southland.
For the part of Lydia Adams, a detective who tries to balance her demanding job of dealing with Los Angeles’ toughest gangs and caring for her mother, King received a first-hand experience by hanging out with L.A. cops.
“I did the classroom thing,” says King from a Philly hotel during a hectic publicity tour. “I learned the procedures, the dos and don’ts of the trade.”
King, 39, says the police force loves the show because “it’s been an honest departure all around. Most shows are about the LAPD and corruption, and they have a suspicious reputation. And they believe Southland makes them more human and allows viewers to understand them better.”
The actress point to the enormity of an L.A. cop’s job by throwing out this statistic: Manhattan, which is a fraction of the area of Los Angeles, has 18,000 cops, while the City of Angels has only 8,000 police officers.
In Southland, the top-notch ensemble includes The O.C.’s Ben McKenzie as a rookie cop, Michael Cudlitz (Band of Brothers) as his veteran partner, Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!) and Shawn Hatosy (Public Enemies) as detective partners, and Arija Bareikis (Crossing Jordan) as a female cop with a desire to become a member of the S.W.A.T. team.
Southland: The Complete First Season (Uncensored) is being issued on DVD now, while TNT airs the first seven episodes, followed by the broadcast of the show’s second season. The idea is to familiarize the TNT audience with its myriad of characters and situations, so they can follow them throughout the second season.
Created by Anne Biderman (who scripted Public Enemies and Primal Fear and worked on NYPD Blue) and produced by John Welles (E.R., The West Wing), Southland is superior to most other TV police stories becomes of its realism and how it delves into the private lives of its principal characters. Here, cops aren’t just heroes or corrupt. They deal with family strife, battle alcoholism, and fight the stress of law enforcement in L.A., where gang violence is rampant on a daily basis.
Some of the material depicted on the show has made a strong impact on King, especially an episode in which a young girl is molested and killed and another in which an innocent person is left in an alleyway for weeks before they are discovered.
The show hits home particularly for King, who was born and raised in the area, attending Westchester High School and University of Southern California. In the 1980s, she was a child actor who played Marla Gibbs’ daughter on the sitcom 227. After that run, she decided that she didn’t want to act full-time, and had hopes of being a dentist. However, appearing in Boyz n the Hood, John Singleton’s 1991 Oscar-nominated debut film, led her back to acting.
“He and I went to USC together, and we ran into each other on campus,” King says of Singleton. “He put in the film when I couldn’t get an audition, so I am grateful for that.”
King also appeared in the filmmaker’s subsequent films Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. She’s also scored other key movie roles: in 1995’s Friday, as Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr.’s wife in Jerry Maguire, as Will Smith’s wife in Enemy of the State, and playing the backup singer and mistress to Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx in Ray. In addition, she’s appeared in Daddy Day Care, Miss Congeniality 2, A Cinderella Story and appeared on the TV show 24.
A single mother with a teenage son, King has also delved into the food industry, owning a restaurant in Los Angeles. Producing movies is yet another endeavor she will tackle, teaming with actress sister Reina King (What’s Happening Now!) to gather an African-American cast for a remake of The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 film about the reunion of college friends.
“Keeping control of your own projects makes lots of sense,” says King. “Producing also gives me a chance to mix things up a little more.”