Career Breakthroughs: Regina King

From a child actor on television, to winning an Oscar for her performance in a major motion picture, Regina King’s profile as a multi-talented actress has risen steadily. This is a look at her early life and career leading up to the film which made her widely famous. 

Regina King’s rise to become one of Hollywood’s brightest and most talented filmmakers didn’t occur because of a role embraced by pop culture, or a critically-acclaimed performance. Unlike other major stars, Regina King didn’t come to notoriety out of nowhere. Instead, her career showed a steady trend of improvement, showcasing steady and dependable dramatic acumen. Gradually, as she secured more high-profile roles, audiences and critics began to recognize her talent, which in turn opened up her career even more. 

King’s career is interesting also because it is split between work on television and in cinema. Oftentimes once an actor reaches a certain level of notoriety for their talents, they take work primarily in cinema. For King, she received critical and commercial success in film and in television, and yet she remains heavily involved in working on television both as an actress and a director.

But becoming a high-profile actress and director for both television and film didn’t happen overnight. This is the story of how Regina King’s success came about as a result of artistic flexibility and a motivation to portray strong independent female characters….

In The Beginning… 

Regina King was born in Los Angeles, California on January 15th, 1971. Her father was an electrician, and her mother was a special education teacher. When Regina was 8 years old, her parents divorced. Along with her younger sister, King went to live with her mother. The hard work that her mother put in to raise two children as a single parent would inspire Regina later on in her career to select roles of strong, independent women. During her childhood, Regina’s mother would send her children to many different activities to try and learn as much as they could, and pick up on something that they had an interest in. 

For Regina, she found that she had a natural talent for acting. One of her teachers noticed her abilities at a young age and encouraged Regina’s mother to seek out professional acting opportunities for Regina. At age 12 she began to perform in local theater productions, and at age 14 she won a recurring role in the television program 227 portraying Brenda Jenkins, the daughter of the show’s lead character. The show was moderately popular and lasted for 5 seasons. During this time Regina attended high school off and on when she was not taping episodes. 

Starting a Career…

King graduated high school in 1988, and then went on to attend the University of Southern California with the intent of becoming a dentist. While in college, King was hired by director John Singleton for his film Boyz n the Hood. This began a collaborative relationship between the two, and King decided to drop out of college and pursue acting. She acted in Singleton’s next two feature films, 1993’s Poetic Justice alongside Janet Jackson and Tupac, and 1995’s Higher Learning. During this time, King also found some work on television, but not in a recurring role.

While working on Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, King became close friends with Ice Cube. Ice Cube wrote a movie script and was able to secure funding. He had control over the casting, and gave a small role to King. That film was 1995’s Friday, which became a cult hit. More importantly, it allowed King to branch out from the dramatic roles she had been cast in so far. Her next film was a romantic comedy, 1996’s A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, in which King featured in her largest movie role to date.  

The Breakthrough…

While A Thin Line Between Love and Hate was a prominent role for King, the film was not very successful. Her next role would be different. King auditioned for the role of Marcee Tidwell in Jerry Maguire, the wife of the football player that was portrayed by Cube Gooding Jr. The role was originally given to Janet Jackson, but she had to drop out, and King showed good chemistry with Gooding Jr., having worked with him in Poetic Justice, and she was given the role. 

Jerry Maguire became the biggest hit of King’s career so far, and although she had a small role in the film she made a positive impression. The success of this film opened up a lot of new opportunities for her over the next few years. That included big-budget blockbusters like Enemy of the State, and Mighty Joe Young, and major roles in comedy films like How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Down to Earth. Although these films did not immediately catapult King to superstardom, they did allow her the opportunity to take on more dramatic roles in the 2000’s, which helped to build her career and would be the roles for which she received the most amount of accolades. 

Check out the previous installation in this series: Career Breakthroughs: Hugh Jackman


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Managing editor. Fascinated by the history of film. "Film can teach us just as well as it can entertain us, and the things we learn from film can be much more beneficial to our lives than the short-term entertainment we extract from it."