“I’m So Much More Interesting Now Than At 25”: Regina King On Making History at 50 With ‘One Night In Miami’

It’s a winter evening in east London for me, but my laptop screen is lit up with the brilliant blue sky of a New Mexico morning. Regina King, the much-lauded actor enjoying a new era in her multi-chaptered career, is sitting on a balcony up in the Santa Fe hills. She wraps her zip-up hoodie tighter around herself, a pair of her trademark gold hoops swinging in her ears as she does so. “It’s not warm,” she assures me with a throaty chuckle, as I almost visibly salivate at the sun-filled scene some 5,000 miles away.

At 49, King’s creative powers are irrepressible. The past few months have seen her win – yet another – Emmy for her role in neo-noir series Watchmen and, more than three decades into her career, become the most talked-about new director in Hollywood for the upcoming film One Night in Miami, an adaptation of the Kemp Powers play of the same name. King has impressed critics with her ability to bring a cinematic quality to a story that – save for a handful of scenes – takes place within the same four walls, with four male characters. What’s more, it is her first time in the film director’s chair.

Let’s set the scene. It is 25 February 1964, Miami Beach. A 22-year-old Cassius Clay has, against all odds, beaten Sonny Liston to become boxing’s world heavyweight champion. Among the fight’s relatively meagre crowd of 8,000 is Clay’s friend Malcolm X – the charismatic civil rights figure and a leading member of the Nation of Islam – who that night throws an intimate after-party for the new title holder at his motel. He invites two others to join them: superstar singer Sam Cooke and American Football legend Jim Brown.

These are the facts. What occurred at this spontaneous celebration for the young boxer – who, two days later, would announce his conversion to Islam and a name change to Muhammad Ali – nobody but those in attendance could know for sure. (Within the year, both Malcolm X and Sam Cooke would be dead.) But decades later, American playwright Powers imagined what might have taken place; what conversations were had by these four men, titans of American culture and sport, at a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement and a turning point in their own lives.

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