Regina King has had a phenomenal run as a performer for the past three decades, with plenty of one-off appearances in both films and TV shows. Playing the wife of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character in “Jerry Maguire” is generally accepted as her big break. Then her acting career took off with parts in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Ray,” some amazing turns in “24,” “The Leftovers,” “American Crime,” and “Watchmen,” and of course, with her Oscar win for supporting actress in “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

But King has also been enjoying a concurrent directing career, calling the shots on TV series ranging from “Southland” and “This Is Us” to “The Good Doctor.” Though she’s stayed busy with acting and with those directing assignments, she’s also kept the idea of moving on to directing a feature film on her radar. That dream comes to fruition with “One Night in Miami,” a based-on-fact story (with imagined dialogue) of a 1964 get-together between four friends - Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X, that happened right after Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight boxing title.

The script, by Kemp Powers, is based on his own 2013 play. King spoke about why this was the film she chose for her directing debut, and the challenges that came along with it, at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Q: You’ve been hinting at making the jump to directing a feature for quite a while. Why this one, why now?
A: It was on the page - Kemp’s script from his play. I couldn’t believe this was even a play, because it didn’t feel like a play while I was reading it. But more importantly, I’d never seen conversations like this happen before on the screen. While it was through the voices of these legendary men, I felt like I was listening to conversations from Black men speaking about the Black man’s experience, and I wanted in on that.

Q: How did you initially get involved with it?
A: I had just signed on with a new (literary) agent. We met, and talked about things I was interested in doing as a feature director. I said I wanted to do a film that was like a love story, with a historical backdrop. And then he brings me “One Night in Miami.” Talk about asking for something, and then it coming back bigger than you could imagine. So, I put on my presentation hat, because I had to get the job (laughs), and met the producers and let them know the story I wanted to tell. And thank goodness Kemp and the rest of the team wanted to have me onboard.

Q: There was talk that the film’s release was going to be pushed back because of COVID, but you decided to get it out earlier, instead. What happened there?
A: Actually, we were going to push the premiere back because we were short three scenes. The things that are being discussed in the film are just as relevant now as they were 60 years ago. That was the reason for Kemp writing it, and for us doing it. But because of COVID, we did not know what the filmmaking protocols were going to be. A lot of us had already gone on to other projects, and all of those projects had been canceled because of COVID. Luckily, I was able to be editing while we were waiting to see what the climate of the world was going to be. And then George Floyd happened and then Breonna Taylor happened. Then people exploded. We were now in this powder keg moment. Kemp and I and the other producers on the film all talked and knew we had to figure a way to get this out now. Those scenes we had to do - Leslie Odom Jr. and Eli Goree (Sam Cooke and Cassius Clay) were in them. We didn’t know how anyone would feel about doing this with a pandemic going on. I called Eli first and he said, “I am so happy you called me. Yes, I will do it! Then I called Leslie, and he was the same way: “Just let me know!” So, to hear the two of them being on the same page, that’s all we needed to do what we needed to do to make sure we could keep them safe and get this done. We ended up with 60 crewmembers, all testing negative for COVID, and were able to make it happen.

Q: The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September, and you are the first Black female director to have a film in competition there. You are a trailblazer. Did some kind of responsibility come along with that?
A: Yes, and I’m trying to figure out where to put the emotion. Because the fact that it was a first in a festival that’s been around for 80 years ... I understand the responsibility, and there’s some disappointment that comes along with it because there are so many other Black women filmmakers (that haven’t had their films there). But I do recognize that there’s a lot of pressure that goes on “firsts” ... for anyone. And that the second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on, are so often predicated on how the first performed.

“One Night in Miami” premieres on Amazon Prime on Jan. 15.
Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.