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Southland’s Regina King: NBC Is Like ‘a Horrible, Drug-Addict Mom’

On TNT's Southland, which airs the first of the final four episodes that NBC commissioned and canceled tonight, Regina King (Jerry Maguire, Ray) plays detective Lydia Adams, a tough yet emotional officer whose partner, played by Tom Everett Scott, was shot in last year's season-ending cliffhanger. (He lived, and returned this season, albeit in an off-duty capacity.) We spoke to King about learning to walk like a cop, and why NBC was a horrible, horrible parent.

How did you feel when NBC canceled your show before the second season even aired?
It was disappointing. It was very disappointing, there’s no denying that. But I never had the feeling that the show was going to be over. I felt like we were going to go someplace else. It was hard to see this many people putting this much energy into something and think it might go away, just because of a couple of people who aren’t really that smart over at NBC. I could not believe that.

How is TNT treating you?
It’s night and day. It's like you had this great mom, and all of a sudden she becomes a horrible, drug-addict mom, and you go to live with your auntie, and she’s awesome, and you have a bed again, and you’re getting to school on time, and you’re getting breakfast every morning.

So NBC is a horrible, drug-addict mom?
Comparatively.

You have a very strong film career. Did you ever think you’d be on a cop show?
If you would’ve asked me, I probably would’ve said no, just because there are so many shows about cops, so many shows about law, so many shows about medicine — can’t we be more creative? I’m the person who says that. And then, you know, I turn around and one of the best scripts I read in four or five years is one about cops. So never say never.

How did you get the part of Lydia?
I was looking for a TV project, and I sat down with [producers] John Wells, Ann Biderman, and Chris Chulack and they explained the vision they had for the show and they thought I would be awesome for the part of Lydia. What’s interesting is that Lydia wasn’t written for a black woman, it was just written for a woman. When Ann wrote the script she did not have a black woman in mind for that character. So that was pretty cool. Ann says that when she’s writing, she doesn’t have anybody in her mind, and then when the parts are cast, then she gets inspired to take the character even further by the actor or actress.

That’s refreshing, considering the few black female roles that seem to be available these days.
The roles are limited. I had this conversation with Alfre Woodard, and she was saying she and Kathy Bates were having a conversation that once you hit a certain age in Hollywood the roles aren’t there. So if you go from there, and to the world created for older black actresses, the numbers get even smaller.

So, were you shocked when you read the script in which Tom Everett Scott’s character was shot?
Ann called me the day before the script was released to let me know, and yes, I was shocked to get that call. She said immediately that he was coming back, though, and I asked if she already told Tom, and she said yes, she already told him.

How did he take it?
Tom is such a good guy, he was like, "It is what it is." He’s not going to call someone a bag of bitches, he’s going to take the high road and make a joke out of it. I imagine he was disappointed like we all were, because Tom and I were just starting this bond and most of my scenes were with him.

I heard the cast had law-enforcement officers on set for consultations. You can tell: You even walk like a cop.
That's one of the first things we started working on the first week of boot camp! It's called a command presence — a command presence is basically exuding that authority, that energy, so there is a level of respect that is demanded just by your body language.

Do you find yourself in real life walking around like that?
Oh my God, yes. It's calmed down more now, but when we were first on the set, you could tell all of us are in that zone.

Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images