Little Regina grew up and her career grew with her....

Little Regina grew up and her career grew with her. Since her time on "227" she has starred in multiple hit movies including "Enemy of the State," "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate," and "Miss Congeniality 2." Now she is back on the small screen with her role in the TNT show "Southland." Credit: NBC Universal

Regina King has been in show business for more than 20 years, and the 39-year-old actress, who started out as a teenager on the TV series "227," is probably best known for her performances in "Jerry Maguire" (as Cuba Gooding Jr.'s wife) and "Ray" (as Margie Hendricks, Ray Charles' mistress). But she has really come into her own in the past year as Det. Lydia Adams, the no-nonsense cop in the critically acclaimed series "Southland." That show was bumped by NBC before its second season even began in order to pursue the ill-fated Jay Leno at 10 p.m. experiment. Now it has resurfaced on TNT, where new episodes begin Tuesday. Lewis Beale caught up with the powerhouse actress during a break in filming.

The word "schadenfreude" means getting pleasure out of someone else's misfortune. Are you feeling some schadenfreude about NBC these days?

No, I don't ever wish that on anyone. I think they made the decision they made to put Jay Leno in a different time slot, and because of that they didn't have a place for the 10 o'clock shows, and our show is definitely not a 9 o'clock show, it's a 10 o'clock show.


Were you ever worried that you weren't going to be picked up by another network?

I never was worried we were not going to be picked up. Usually when you get bad news you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, but I never got that. I really think the show is an awesome show, and although it's another cop show, I think it's unique. We haven't seen L.A. the way our creator captures L.A. You haven't seen that on TV before. The places in L.A., and the style in which it is captured. It's not showing just the glamorous side, it's showing real-life stuff going on that's not Hollywood-related.


Your character is a thoroughly professional detective with some real personal issues. How would you describe her?

She has her act together when it comes to her job, but Lydia is a real person. She's written in a way that most career women can relate to, someone who has it together with their career, and the other parts are dangling in the wind, and tying them together is a day-to-day job.

Prior to "Jerry Maguire," you had been in a series of films with predominantly black casts, like "Boyz N the Hood" and "Friday." What did being in a huge hit with a major star like Tom Cruise do for your career?

It exposed me to an audience that had no idea who I was. The movies I had done prior were black films, and the audiences that went to see them were predominantly black. From ["Jerry Maguire"], I did "Enemy of the State," "Mighty Joe Young." Groups of producers were aware of who I was, and when movies came up, instead of them saying we don't know who she is, when my agent called, they said we'd love to see her.


So what does that mean regarding opportunities for black actresses these days?

There are some opportunities, but not as much as we would like. We'd like to play more than the best friend, or the wife. I'm not here to complain about it, because I feel like I'm at the beginning of what's in store. It gets better when you're in your 40s, you've lived more life, the stories are more interesting.


Even though you've been working since you were 14, I was wondering if there was a particular moment when you realized you could make a living as an actor?

I don't know there was a moment when I had an epiphany. If it was a moment of knowing could I make a career out of it, that took place when I was in college [at University of Southern California]. I already had my foot in the door, and I felt I could learn more not in college, so I dropped out, and focused on making a movie career.


You've been a very vocal supporter of President Obama, even campaigning for him in Ohio prior to that state's primary. How do you think he's doing so far?

I think he's been doing an outstanding job. But it's like a football game; you gotta give him until the third quarter to see how he's doing. This whole political world is a game, and he's trying to change that.

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