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From the Archive: Regina King on 'If Beale Street Could Talk' (January 2018)

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1 Apr 2020
15 min listen

In this episode, we look back to January 2018 and Barry Jenkins' film 'If Beale Street Could Talk' with a passionate and powerful conversation with Oscar-winning actor, Regina King. 

I've been likening it to a visual symphony, the way the camera was moving over Tish and Fonny as they were walking in the greens and the smell of the music. And when you're watching it in the theatre, that music is surrounding you.

From the Archive sees us dig into our extensive contemporary and classical music and cinema podcast archive as we rediscover interviews and discussions with artists, with our long-standing producer and presenter, Ben Eshmade. 

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From the Archive: Regina King on If Beale Street Could Talk

In this episode, we look back to January 2018 and Barry Jenkins' film 'If Beale Street Could Talk' with a passionate and powerful conversation with Oscar-winning actor Regina King.


BE: Hello and welcome to Nothing Concrete. I'm Ben Eshmade and this week we're reaching into our archive to look at Barry Jenkins romantic drama If Beale Street Could Talk. And in January 2018, we spoke to actor Regina King.

RK: I've been likening it to a visual symphony, the way the camera was moving over Tish and Fonny as they were walking in the greens and the smell of the music. And when you're watching it in the theatre, that music is surrounding you.

BE: Let's set the scene in 1970s Harlan Tish and Fonny dream and love big, but fate has other plans.
Tish (KiKi Layne) in If Beale Street Could Talk: I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love, through glass.

BE: Regina King as an actor has made her mark through an incredible hard working career. Her first film role was in the groundbreaking teen drama Boyz n the Hood. But for me it's her roles on the small screen which made an impression including The Leftovers, Seven Seconds, Southland and maybe the greatest cosmic love story of all time in Watchmen.

Sharon (Regina King) in If Beale Street Could Talk: This, is a sacrament and no I ain't lost my mind. We are drinking to new life. Tish gonna have Fonny's baby.

BE: This was director Barry Jenkins' follow up to break-through Oscar winning film moonlight. So back in 2018, I met up with Regina King to talk about her role in If Beale Street Could Talk. This really is a film where every part of the creative process shines the acting, scripts, cinematography, directing, costumes, everyone made a difference. What did you think when you first saw it all the way through?

RK: Oh my gosh, well, first of all, I normally don't watch myself in things. I don't like to watch myself but the producers were like you have to see this film, not for you. You just have to see this film. And first five minutes into the film, I started getting really emotional. And I was like, Oh my God, why is this happening already? And I think because of all of the things you just mentioned, you know, it's I've been likening it to a visual Symphony. You know the way the camera was moving over Tish and Fonny as they were walking in the greens and the colour, the swell of the music. And when you're watching it in the theatre, that music is surrounding you. And then the camera lands on Tish's face and she's looking at Fonny with so much love. I just was filled with so much emotion and was ready like it, it just pulled me in. And I think that's what it does throughout and there's just, there are just so many moments that are quiet and we don't get to see quiet films too often anymore. And when we do they're usually not interesting or you know what I mean? They're not entertaining. And Barry Jenkins was able to find ways for the audience to just sit with the characters and allow the audience to emote with the characters and which is fantastic what he did, James Laxton, the cinematographer, just, oh the trio of Barry, Nicholas and James is just, you know, I feel like as an audience member we've got a treat. 

Tish (KiKi Layne) in If Beale Street Could Talk: You all right?

Fonny (Stephan James) in If Beale Street Could Talk: Me? I'm not the one who just got punched.

BE: And you sort of as a director and a writer and a producer as well, I mean, do you look at them magpie like and see what they're doing and see if you could take something or be inspired by them?

RK: Sure. I think we're always I mean as a as an artist you're always pulling, for instance, you're finding inspiration in everything, whether it's a photograph to an experience with someone, with Barry he's just like a walking lesson. You know, like some people that are so smart. You're just always like, Here they go. You're just when you're with Barry, you want to hear him talk you want to know his opinion about something because he's such a kind person as well. So you know his opinion is not coloured with any malice or any negativity. I always feel like I leave my moments with Barry as a better person.

BE: And the combination of James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins, I get the impression that the director is very thoughtful, thinks through things, thinks about language and so it's a great marriage.

RK: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's what attracted me. The combination of James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins is what attracted me to want to do the film. I've been saying that James Baldwin birthed the baby and Barry raised the baby.

BE: The mother that you play to Tish and the family that you help create. It's such a beautiful role. And I would have thought a lot of the times when you see a mother part or written within a script or a television show it could be weakened, stereotypical.

RK: Yeah, I mean it starts again with what Baldwin with his writing. In the book, Sharon, I think is multi dimensional. And Barry just did a beautiful job of pulling that out even more and pulling it out and condensing it because in the book, Baldwin takes two or three pages with some of his descriptions, which as a reader, is lovely, but you can't do that in a film.

BE: And Kiki Layne, this was her first role, and I read she still refers to you as her mama.

RK: Yes, Yes, Yes, she does. And I feel like she's the daughter that I'll never have. You know, she just impresses me so much, because I feel like it's very common for young artists to be so interested in the celebrity of it all. And she is so excited about expressing her art. And it's just contagious. And, you know, a lot of people ask, well, was there anything that you taught Kiki? I'm sure that would be more of a question that you would have to ask Kiki, because I feel like every experience that I've had in my life on any set, I feel like I walk away having learned something about myself and learned something about art form, having learned something about technical things, whatever, Kiki just came ready and she was professional and I feel like I could see her doing a bit of the same, being a sponge.

Tish (KiKi Layne) in If Beale Street Could Talk: Fonny's mother didn't like me. She just didn't think I was good enough for Fonny, which really means that she didn't think I was good enough for her. And in another way, she felt that I was maybe just exactly what Fonny deserves.

BE: And that's the power of it for her and for you, you could relate to these characters perhaps more so than others you've played?

RK: Absolutely. Well, one being a mom, you know, having a mother and a grandmother who are women that embodies a lot of the same qualities that Sharon has. So it was, you know, I was able to tap into those things that I felt as a daughter about my mother. And Kiki, I think feels the same about her mother and then, you know, when you ask, every single one of us we all have very strong relationships with our mothers, and some of us very tight relationships with our fathers Colman and Stephan. You know, I know their fathers are really big in their lives, I've because I've gotten to meet Stephan's father, which is very cool, which was very cool. We were in Toronto, but we all of us came from supportive families. So we know that from an experiential place

BE: Speaking of Colman, who plays Joseph, your husband in the film, there's something about him. I mean, maybe it's the voice. Maybe it's the personality. He doesn't say a lot, but I instantly loved him.

RK: Yes, you do. He's so cool. He's so darn cool. Now he's so sophisticated, you know, he's, he's, he's one of my favourite people to be around. We spent New Year's together and he has that, I'm every man thing, you know, like Chaka Khan's I'm every woman song Colman's I'm every man, you know.

BE: The way he reacts to the pregnancy, though, again it just felt fresh and different.

RK: Yeah. And I think that that's the beautiful thing about the Rivers family that you get the feeling that Joe and Sharon, they've created a home where there's no shame. And you feel that you know when you just see the way they rally around this young couple.

Sharon (Regina King) in If Beale Street Could Talk: A child is coming. It's your grandchild. I don't understand you. It's your grandchild. What difference does it make how it gets here? The child ain't got nothing to do with that. Ain't none of us got nothing to do with that.

BE: Your character does have a bit of action, goes to Puerto Rico and tries to do the job you would normally see of a detective or or kind of the person trying to solve the crime but it's a tough journey for her.

RK: Yeah, I mean, I don't think so much that it was like trying to solve the crime. I think She, the way I interpreted is that Sharon is the the matriarch. She's the person in the family that she solves everything. She fixes everything. And she knows that she's known for that. But she is terrified with the fix it that she has right now. So she's going, because she knows that everyone believes if anyone could fix it, it's her. So that's what she's got to do. And I think that this is one of the layers that you get to see which Sharon that moment where she's, she's terrified. And for those who watched the movie to see how it works out.

BE: And the same way you're wearing the wig as well and adjusting the wig and she's...

RK: To me, I felt like that was, you're seeing her fears you're seeing she doesn't have, we felt Colman and I as we were building these characters that Joe and Sharon lean on each other a lot. Sometimes it's way more on Joe. Sometimes the responsibilities are way more on Sharon but they are definitely a partnership. And here she is thousands of miles away without her partner. What does that look like? And anyone I think that is an adult age. And I think even some kids have felt this where you want to just break down but you can't so you suck it all in and most of us know what that feels like. And that's what that moment was for Sharon.

BE: Fonny who we have mentioned obviously, it's someone that we don't see a lot of except in in flashbacks but because he's obviously in prison, this injustice that's happened to him this this terrible sort of like accusations and that process. It's interesting in the sense that it's nothing that's kind of can be done about it. I think I think that's the frustration but it's obviously Barry and the writing there to make sure that doesn't overwhelm the film, the anger is calm or steady. How would you describe it?

RK: Um, I guess quiet, that's the word that I keep using but Barry was very smart because there's some scenes that he removed that we actually shot and shot a different ending, because to do exactly what you're saying so that we're not left with this feeling of hate at the end of the movie, you know, because at the end of the day, especially when you think about the black American experience that it's amazing to realise, all we've overcome to be where we are. And this film is not only a representation of the survival of the black American, the black man but also the universal theme of when faced with trauma, it's usually love that gets you on the other side. And that's, that's not a black story. That's a universal story. And I mean, and I think that it's, you know, anyone who's read any of Baldwin's essays. You know, you definitely know you can hear in his, in his words how much he loved America even though he felt like America didn't love him didn't love us. And he's been a voice he's still speaking from the grave. Yeah.

BE: And does a character like Sharon stay with you? I mean, that's the beauty of the film or the thing for the film as I walked out and I can even now I can feel it in a sort of what do they call it? Synesthesia kind of way I can feel the film I can feel you're still there looking after the child.

RK: Um, I don't know if Sharon stayed with me but the film definitely just I mean, I've only seen seen it once and I thought about it, that film every day for like three weeks just because I got the chills there were so many things that I was feeling, you know, so so many emotions at once and I think that's quite powerful.

Fonny (Stephan James) in If Beale Street Could Talk: Ready for this?

Tish (KiKi Layne) in If Beale Street Could Talk: I've never been more ready for anything in my whole life.

BE: It was a few months later that she would deservedly win a Best Supporting Oscar for this performance. As with all good interviews, I would have loved more time to learn more about Regina King and her career. She was extremely kind and engaging with her answers as hopefully you've heard. 

I'm Ben Eshmade. Thanks for listening to this archive edition of the Nothing Concrete podcast. We're here hopefully to inspire more people to discover and love the arts with weekly episodes of archive finds and themed series. Subscribe to Nothing Concrete on Acast, Spotify or wherever you find your podcasts, and if you can leave us a review to help us get the word out

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