article by Wesley Morris via nytimes.com
LOS ANGELES — Regina King’s house has a cozy seat at the foot of a hill in a section of the Los Feliz neighborhood here. The house isn’t far from the street but fosters an aura of secluded serenity anyway: A grapefruit tree guards the property. Off the rear patio is a small room with a vintage Pac-Man console and a signed LP of Prince’s “Controversy” on the wall.
On a sunny January morning, Ms. King sat in the kitchen calmly as the finishing touches were being done on her hair and makeup. She was hours from a trip to the Critics’ Choice Awards. Getting dressed would happen later. In the meantime, she wore a black one-piece unitard that unzipped in the front.
It’s easy to imagine this scene playing out regularly in her kitchen. After 30 years in the business, starting as a teenage actor on the NBC sitcom “227” and continuing with a series of notable but supporting film roles, Ms. King has made her mix of hard candor and intense warmth an asset for dramatic television. In 2015, five years after she published a short but action-packed plaint in The Huffington Post criticizing the lack of inclusion at the 2010 Emmys, she won her first Emmy for her work as Aliyah Shadeed, the Muslim-American sister of a murder suspect on John’s Ridley’s ABC anthology series, “American Crime.”
At the same ceremony, Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba also won awards in a year in which 18 very different black performers were nominated in the acting categories. Ms. King received her Emmy from the stars of “Empire,”Terrence Howard and an elated Taraji P. Henson. Seated at a glass table on her back patio, Ms. King said she often gets asked about what that night was like. “It still would have been a special moment for me if Taraji and Terrence hadn’t presented, but would it have been as special?” she wondered. “Would it have been as special for everyone if you didn’t see Taraji have as much joy as I did? Would it have been as much of a moment in time? Probably not.”
When the next batch of Emmy nominations are announced later this year, Ms. King will have two more commanding contenders. On Season 2 of “American Crime,” she plays Terry LaCroix, the affluent mother of a suspect in a sexual assault. Where Aliyah could be gently reasoned, Terry is driven by maternal protectiveness and a racial elitism that, in the early episodes, Ms. King feasts on. But it’s her performance in the second season of “The Leftovers” that’s the real traffic-stopper. And one moment in particular.
“In my career, that night was one of the highlights,” she said of “The Leftovers.” “It felt like theater. It felt like we did a short play. It felt special.”
“It” was a long scene near the end of Episode 6 in which Ms. King, as Erika Murphy, the hearing-impaired doctor in a small Texas town untouched by the show’s unexplained, Rapture-like departures, sits opposite her new neighbor Nora, played by Carrie Coon. Erika’s daughter has gone missing, and Nora asks her a series of probing questions.
Neither woman raises her voice. Yet despite the apparent serenity, there’s judgment in the air. The encounter is done in close-ups that resemble shots from “The Silence of the Lambs,” in which the “quid pro quo” between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling doubles as emotional portraiture. Elsewhere in the episode, Erika is testy and distressed. But here, Ms. King assumes a steely serenity that feels new even for her. It’s the best acting she has ever done.