Here’s why Watchmen lured Regina King back to TV. Picture: AFP
Here’s why Watchmen lured Regina King back to TV. Picture: AFP

How winning an Oscar changed Regina King’s life

Exclusive: The day after she was crowned a very popular Oscar winner for her quietly forceful performance in the excellent Barry Jenkins film, If Beale Street Could Talk, Regina King was feeling pretty good about herself.

"For a minute, I went off to this place in my head, like, 'This is the ultimate! I have the Oscar! It's happened now! I can rest!'" laughs the actress, heartily.

"But the next day I left Los Angeles to go to Georgia and I was right back on the set of Watchmen getting my a** beat in the dirt, so that kind of kept everything in perspective."

Almost a year on from that little golden man moment, the actress is in New York talking to News Corp Australia, her face very much out of the dirt, the highly-anticipated Watchmen ready to premiere, and King at the absolute peak of her powers.

So why did a series, whose genesis came via a graphic comic beloved by teenage boys the world over, lure King back to TV?

"I never read anything like this. I've never seen this woman before. She's so complex," King muses.

"You may have heard me talk about playing complex roles before, but she blew me out of the water."

Regina King, second from right, with her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in If Beale Street Could Talk. Picture: Getty Images
Regina King, second from right, with her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in If Beale Street Could Talk. Picture: Getty Images

Watchmen is based on a graphic comic from the 1980s, which was adapted into a 2009 blockbuster directed by Zak Snyder and starring Patrick Wilson, Malin Ackerman and Matthew Goode.

Author Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons' landmark 12-issue series released in 1985 to immediate acclaim.

Such was the devotion of its following, the director passed the baton for the new TV series got on the front foot, writing to fans what amounted to a five-page apology letter for being "the unscrupulous bastard currently defiling something you love."

Damon Lindelof, the man who created the TV game-changer series, Lost and critically-acclaimed, The Leftovers, was quick to posit his production as a "reimagining."

Set 30 years in the future, it is an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, Robert Redford has been president for decades, mobile phones were never invented, and the police wear masks to protect their identities, especially from a white supremacist group known as the Seventh Kalvary.

King leads the cast as Angela Abar, who wears three masks: one as a lead detective in The Tulsa Police Force; another as vigilante Sister Night; and another as wife and mother of three.

Lindelof didn't think he had a hope in hell of convincing King to take on the part of Angela (which he'd initially written with her in mind).

 

Regina King as Angela Abar, masked in her role as a police detective in Fox Showcase and HBO series, Watchme
n. Picture: Foxtel
Regina King as Angela Abar, masked in her role as a police detective in Fox Showcase and HBO series, Watchme n. Picture: Foxtel

Even pre-Oscar he couldn't conceive that she'd commit to a long-term television series, having come off of three series of the brilliant American Crime (for which she won two Emmys) and a made-for-Netflix series, 7 Seconds where she played the mother of a murdered teenager.

"Everyone was saying, 'it's going to be Regina, right?' And I said 'Regina doesn't do TV. She's even more popular now than she was when I asked her to do The Leftovers. She's won a bunch of Emmys. She's just done Barry Jenkins' movie and she's probably going to win an Oscar for it … which she ended up winning … she's going to say no, it would be insulting'," Lindelof recalls.

"But everyone's like, 'it should be Regina'. So we started writing the pilot and in the writers' room, I kept saying Regina instead of Angela. And the writers were like, 'JUST ASK HER.'"

He sent King the script and she asked him out to dinner, which Lindelof thought was "to let me down gently".

Instead, they talked for five hours and King agreed to take on the role.

As for her ditching TV for the big screen, King is bemused.

"Well, I've been doing TV for a minute. I don't know where Damon's been," she laughs.

"I came back to television years ago because it just allowed me to not ever have to have a nanny, to be able to not miss my son's games and things like that, so that was kind of my introduction back to television."

Regina King as Angela Abar, as wife and mother with co-star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Watchmen. Picture: Foxtel
Regina King as Angela Abar, as wife and mother with co-star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Watchmen. Picture: Foxtel

In Watchmen, King was drawn to the complexity of the characters, the grey areas that shade us all.

In fact, watching the show, which also stars Don Johnson, Jeremy Irons and Louis Gossett Jr, it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys.

What King didn't like so much? The at-times raunchy sex scenes with on screen husband Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, which she describes as "awkward and uncomfortable".

Now, when King gives herself a minute to reflect on that Oscars win, she remembers the pride of her mum, her sister, Reina, (with whom she runs a production company) and her son, Ian.

"It was a fantastic moment for me and for my family. But I think probably what made it the most fantastic is that If Beale Street Could Talk is James Baldwin's work - he's our literary American hero. And to be able to be there on stage representing the first adaptation of his work was just truly surreal in a lot of ways."

King's Watchmen director Nicole Kassell remembers King turning up back on set (on time) right after that Oscar win, thinking there might be a bit of burgeoning star attitude.

There wasn't.

"She's amazing," coos Kassell, who had also directed the actress in The Leftovers.

"That's one thing, Regina is always a truly amazing person and she didn't change in the best of ways," Kassell muses.

"She got right back down in the dirt."

 

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT … WATCHMEN

 

1. THIS IS NO KIDS' SHOW

Like the comic's drunken Comedian, psychotic Rorschach and mass-murdering Ozymandias, these caped crusaders are violent and driven - and utterly disinterested in truth, justice and the American way.

 

2. NOT EVERYONE IN A CAPE IS A HERO

'Costumed adventurers,' as they're called in the Watchmen universe, face two choices: work with the government or be hunted as outlaws. The most dangerous went underground and fought alone.

 

3. REMIX, NOT REBOOT

Lindelof expects backlash. Not content to simply repeat what's come before, he's promised to "remix" and "disrupt" what fans know.

 

4. STAND BY FOR NEW FACES

While some of the familiar characters are back (including blue-skinned Dr Manhattan), new masks will be donned by heroes, villains and characters who are both.

 

5. PLAYING THE TRUMP CARD

Lindelof hints that Watchmen's vision of America will reflect current politics: "(it will) resonate with the frequency of (US President Donald) Trump."

 

- first published in Foxtel Magazine

 

Watchmen premieres noon/8.30pm, Monday on Fox Showcase



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