“The theatre experience transcends all the lines that separate us”: Regina King on her dream palaces

The renowned actor and director of One Night in Miami… praises US theatre chain Alamo Drafthouse and explains why some films need to be seen on the big screen.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Tempe, Arizona

▶︎ One Night in Miami is released in UK cinemas from 26 December 2020 and on Amazon Prime from 15 January 2021.

I appreciate streaming but I will always love the theatre experience, from the sound to just settling in to watch the trailers. It’s an experience.

My favourite theatre is the Alamo Drafthouse. It started in Austin and then expanded all over the US. I went back and forth to Austin shooting a couple of shows between 2013 and 2016. I had a weekly date with myself at the Alamo Drafthouse. It was a little treat date. I remember seeing Heath Ledger in Batman [The Dark Knight, 2008] there. More recently, I saw Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade in their theatre in Brooklyn.

Regina King directs Eli Goree on the set of One Night in Miami…

They really lean into the theatre experience. No cellphones are allowed – they will remove you from the theatre if your phone rings. They show blockbusters but they do a lot of classic films – anything from The Goonies (1985) to The Godfather (1972). You feel their love for film. They treat it like it’s special.

There is nothing like watching a film for the first time in the theatre. The two films that made me want to be an actor – both Sally Field movies, Norma Rae (1979) and Sybil (1976) – I saw on TV. But there are so many important films for me that I can’t imagine not seeing in theatres: Big (1988), Coming to America (1988), Dead Presidents (1995), Menace II Society (1993). I remember going with my mother to see An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). Louis Gossett Jr – he was so badass. And I still remember Richard Gere carrying Debra Winger out of the factory. When I think about that moment, there’s something about seeing it big and hearing the music all around you. It just makes it more romantic.

I’m not going to lie. I am guilty myself of missing a film when it comes into theatres and not seeing it until it’s on demand. But there are certain films I would make a point of going to the theatre to see, because I know it would not be the same experience to watch, say, Black Panther first on demand.

Going to the theatre is always a field trip to me. It’s always a treat. If I am going with people that make me run late and miss the previews, it takes me a few minutes to get out of my attitude. That’s part of the whole experience to be sitting there with your popcorn. It makes me excited about what’s to come. What’s my next treat date…

Regina King directs Kingsley Ben-Adir on the set of One Night in Miami…

I am behind a government bailout of movie theatres. The theatre experience is one of those things that transcends all the lines that separate us – gender, colour, cultures…

People will probably think: “This is what you do. You want your films in theatres.” But this is coming from me as an audience member. I don’t want theatres to go away. While the cost of a movie ticket is more than it was a couple of decades ago, it’s still, in my opinion, the most inexpensive way to have a family or group experience.

That experience goes beyond the moment in the theatre. It’s about the before and after too. When you’re sitting together as family and friends and you pull out the newspaper or go online to see what’s out – you’re making the decision together. And you go to have this experience as a collective and then afterwards you talk about it.

There are people and kids who don’t have the opportunity to go the theatre on a regular basis. I remember when I was younger, saving your money just to wait for $2 Tuesdays to go to the theatre. You saved money so you’d have enough for your bus ride and your snacks. You’re gonna sneak some snacks in, of course, and you’re gonna get some popcorn. You’re going to enjoy that film with your friends for $2. That’s a moment that’s with me still as a 49-year-old.

  • Regina King was talking to Isabel Stevens.