Joey King – Wish She Was Here
by Jay S. Jacobs
It seems almost like a cliché to say that Joey King has grown up before our eyes, but literally that is true. The young actress, who will be turning 15 next month, has been in front of the cameras since she was only six, when appearances on commercials led to her first TV role in a couple of episodes of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
And what an action-packed almost-decade it’s been for her since. In that time she has been in such films as Ramona & Beezus, The Conjuring, The Dark Knight Rises, White House Down, Crazy Stupid Love and Oz: The Great & Powerful.
This summer is a huge one for her. She stars as the daughter of Zach Braff in the actor/director’s anticipated drama Wish I Was Here. King also is in FX’s acclaimed TV version of the Coen Brothers cult classic Fargo. Like everyone in this crazy business called show, it started small for King. Very tiny indeed.
“I used to do little Stage Door Theater plays at our local theater,” King told me recently from her temporary home as she films her latest film Stonewall. “It was really small. There were only about 100 seats in there. That’s when I really found out that I loved it so much, that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I got into commercials and it was off from there. My sisters and I did it. That’s how I got into it.”
King’s two older sisters, Hunter and Kelli, had preceded Joey into acting. Hunter is currently on the soap opera The Young & the Restless and Kelli was in the film Ascension.
For as well as her sisters did, it seems that for Joey King the skies are the limit. She has been working steadily for years now, ever since winning the coveted lead role in the movie version of the beloved children’s book Ramona and Beezus when she was only nine.
Yet King is not letting it all go to her head. When you talk to her, it is obvious that she is a well-adjusted teen who is loving the ride but not losing sight of herself. So, yeah, her day job is a movie or TV set, but she still has normal teen pressures like studies and friends.
“I’m home schooled right now,” King says. “Which works perfectly for me, because it goes with my schedule. I don’t have to worry about being at school at a certain time. I feel like I’m getting a proper education, too. I’m learning so much, not just from my books and from my school, but as I travel the world. I’m seeing things that I would never see before if I hadn’t been in this business.
“As far growing up with a normal childhood, I don’t know,” she continues. “This is my normal. I love it, because I get to do what I love every day. I get to travel the world and see things. My mom takes me and we have so much fun when we’re away. So I love it.”
Which is great. Not everyone gets to love their job. Sure, it’s not easy for a young woman living out the crazy, stressful world of show business and its temptations. “My addiction is Capri Sun,” King admits, laughing.
This journey of learning and self-discovery has undoubtedly given King an insight into one of her latest roles. She took on the role of Grace Bloom, the conflicted daughter in Zach Braff’s upcoming family drama Wish I Was Here.
“Wish I Was Here is going to be amazing,” King says enthusiastically. “Zach is such a genius when it comes to filmmaking and acting, so I’m so excited for everyone to see it. It’s just such a beautiful film. I think everyone is going to love it. It’s so wonderful, an epic of life. It just takes you on this rollercoaster and shows you what’s important.”
The movie is Braff’s follow-up as writer/director to the 2004 art-house hit Garden State. He had worked with King in a previous film and knew she was perfect for the role. King knew he was fun to work with as an actor, so she was pretty sure she knew what she was going to get from him as a director.
“He’s just such a fun-loving guy,” King says. “I worked with him as just a co-star on Oz: The Great and Powerful. That was so much fun. He’s so amazing. Working with him on this, it was so interesting to see him direct a film. I had seen Garden State before, but I was very curious to see how it would be live on set with him. He handled it beautifully. He made an incredible movie. Even though we had a limited time and a limited budget it was a stress-free set. Everyone had so much fun. He was just so fun and lovely and funny. I think it’s going to be amazing.”
Not only did she have Braff playing her dad, the film had a pretty incredible cast which also includes Kate Hudson as her mother, Josh Gad as her uncle and Mandy Patinkin as her grandpa. It was a tiny bit intimidating briefly, but quickly they all fell into step and felt like… well, family.
“Kate is so beautiful and such a sweet person. I look up to her. I’ve been watching her act for so long and I’m such a big fan of hers. So that was pretty exciting,” King laughs. “Josh Gad is amazing, too. I was so excited to work with him. He was so, so nice. And Mandy Patinkin is a legend, you know what I mean? I was so excited to work with him. He was amazing. He just did an incredible job. He’s such a good actor. I have the privilege to say that I actually got to work with him. Getting to work with this cast was incredible.”
In the film, King’s character of Grace was going through a crisis of faith and belonging and trying to fit in with her family as well as embracing her beliefs as a Jew. For King, who is part Jewish herself, the role resonated to her.
“This character, it was funny because I felt like in a way we were so different, but we were so much the same at the same time,” King admits. “She’s very, very religious in this script. Basically, her family is not. They don’t not accept her, but she wants them to make her feel comfortable with being how she is. Not always trying to get her to wear new clothes that are not the same, or try to get her to do something that she doesn’t want to do because of her beliefs.
“It’s really nice to see throughout the script how at first, she doesn’t feel quite understood. Nobody really understands what she is doing and what she’s dealing with. Then as the movie evolves, you see that people are more accepting and more understanding. And she’s becoming less uptight and more free with herself. It’s really sweet.”
One thing that made King a bit uptight about the script was that her character decides, for religious reasons, to cut her hair very short. It’s not even the first time that King had to do that for a film – she also had a near buzz cut in The Dark Knight Rises – but it was still a bit tough to psych herself up for the actual experience.
“Was it difficult?” King asks. “Yes, it was. I was very nervous before I did it. But I would do anything for Zach. When that day rolled around, I was in my trailer, getting into my new costume while everyone was waiting for me on set.” She laughs, “I felt like I was going to throw up. I come out and Zach just gave me this awesome pep talk and I got through it. I’m so happy that I did it.”
In the film, after she cuts her hair off, Brach’s character takes her character to a wig shop and gives her the choice of any wig in the place. Grace picked a neon purple wig. So what would Joey pick?
“What color wig would I choose?” King asks, pondering. “Probably the one that they chose for me. It was so awesome. It was so cool.”
Of course, beyond the fact that it was the return of Braff as a writer/director, Wish I Was Here has captured serious buzz because the film was funded via Kickstarter, the social media network in which regular people can contribute to help make a work of art, be it a record or website or film. The inclusion of Wish I Was Here on the site got the project serious press when it was still in the planning stages, making it probably the biggest name title made through the site so far. King thinks it is cool to be part of a film that is opening an interesting new direction for the making of movies.
“With the amount of attention and success that Wish I Was Here got from Kickstarter, I think that it definitely could change the way filmmaking is done,” King says. “I’m not saying forever, or every single film is going to be made by Kickstarter. Of course people can’t always get funding, because they don’t always have a bunch of fans supporting them already. But I do think that there is something so special about Kickstarter. People can be so generous and awesome. I think that Kickstarter could definitely change some people’s lives, like it changed Wish I Was Here.”
Of course, Wish I Was Here is far from the only change that King has going this summer. She is also one of the stars of the critically-lauded FX TV series Fargo, which is loosely based on the classic film. The show is a story of love, sex, murder, crime and intrigue in the frozen tundra of the great American heartland.
King was excited to get the opportunity to help bring the film to television.
“I really love that film,” she says.
Like the movie, the series excels at the droll, flat midwest line readings, a form of hyper-politeness known as Minnesota Nice which features lots of “shoots,” “ya knows,” “fer shures” and “you betchas.”
“What you said about the line delivery, it’s kind of funny, because we’re trying to stay pretty true to the movie, but we’re trying to put our own twist on it, too. As far as the accents and how we’re doing that, we’re trying to keep it close. We want it to be this really sick, dark kind of humor.” King laughs. “These people are just so simple and some of them are just so crazy. It’s so funny. But I’m so excited that I get to be a part of Fargo. It’s so much fun. I really hope everyone is loving the season so far. I think it’s doing pretty good.”
On the show, King is Greta Grimly, the daughter of timid patrolman-turned-postal carrier Gus Grimley, who is played by Colin Hanks. Tall, gangly and as good-natured as his father Tom, Hanks has been playing a diverse group of characters in his decade or more in the business, from a partying college student in Orange County to a serial killer on Dexter.
“Colin is so cool,” King gushes. “The minute we met, we were just kind of chilling on set. Just having fun. Not really worrying about being stiff with each other. It was really fun. He’s really so funny. He’s one of those people that can make you laugh. He’ll tell a joke under his breath and if you just, just catch it, it’s hilarious. I just loved hanging out with him. He’s such a good actor, too. He’s amazing. I think that he’s a great dad, too,” she laughs.
Most of her scenes have been with Hanks as well as Allison Tolman as the surprisingly clever police deputy Molly Solverson and Keith Carradine as Molly’s dad, a former cop turned diner owner. We asked King if she would be working with more of the cast, but she was very conscious of giving up spoilers in the intricately plotted show.
“Well, I can’t say too much,” King admits, “but I mostly work with those guys. But, I’m kind of… you’ll see. You’ll see.”
Fargois quite a change from King’s first big role, co-starring with Selena Gomez in the kid’s favorite Ramona and Beezus. That film was based on Beverly Cleary’s popular series of children’s books.
“The auditioning process was a very long process,” King laughs. “I actually had a birthday during the auditioning process. It was so funny, though. It was so exciting when I found out that I got the role, because I really wanted it. I thought it would be so cool. I loved the Ramona books and I loved the script. I loved everything about it. I thought this will be amazing.
“I was at the screen test with Selena and I had to do a few scenes with her and the director, Liz Allen, she was directing us. Everyone was like, ‘This is so cool!’ What if this scene that we’re doing now, what if we actually got to make it? I was like, this would be amazing. It’s just a dream come true. Then it happened and I can’t say how much fun I had,” King laughs again. “It was so amazing. Such a life-changing event. It was my first lead in a role. I was nine years old and I got to do so many cool things. With so many cool people. I’m forever thankful for that experience.”
Throughout her career, King has juggled more family friendly films like Ramona and Beezus and her voice performances in popular animated films like Horton Hears a Who! and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs with darker, more adult fare like The Dark Knight Rises, The Conjuring and Fargo.
“I love doing both, because it definitely shows a variety of what an actor can do,” King says. “Also, it gets a variety of audiences, which is always good. People get to see you. I loved having kids get to see me in Ramona and Beezus and I think it’s really cool that the adults can watch me in Fargo. All the teenagers can watch me in The Conjuring. It brings a variety of audiences and I think it’s really cool for people to get to see my work. To see me do different things in different roles and different productions. I’m very excited. I hope more things come in the future where people of all ages can see something.”
However, from the very beginning, King and her family kept it all in perspective. After all, it would be a strange feeling to make movies which as a girl you were not allowed to watch. King and her parents looked at it pragmatically.
“When I was younger, I didn’t do really dark things,” King says. “I did Quarantine when I was younger, but I was still allowed to see it, because I in it. I did an episode of Medium, but I was still allowed to see it. I think my parents allowed me to see it because they thought that if I knew that I was in it, I would know that it is make believe. The only thing that they were worried about was me getting scared, but because I knew that it was make believe, I wouldn’t get scared. So they did allow me to watch my things, even if they were a little bit frightening. I could handle it because I knew it was all fake.”
Therefore it wasn’t scary to act in, say, a spooky ghost story like The Conjuring?
“The Conjuring wasn’t scary to film, but it was so scary watching it,” King admits. “I don’t really watch scary movies that often. I’m not a big scary movie person, when it comes to watching them. So, it very nerve-wracking.” She laughs.
“But it was so cool. Now I kind of like scary movies, after seeing The Conjuring. But The Conjuring was exceptional. The director, James Wan, is so brilliant. The cast was amazing. The other thing about the film was how true they stuck to the actual story of the people. It was incredible. The people who actually went through this experience came to visit us on set once. That was really bone chilling, because we got to hear part of their story. That was so, so cool.”
Even before The Conjuring, King’s career had run across ghosts, playing guest roles in Ghost Whisperer and Medium. After going through those experiences and meeting the Perron family, King is a believer.
“Oh, I’ve always believed in ghosts,” King smiles. “I definitely believe. Especially after hearing the parents’ story about things that happened in that house, The Conjuring. I believe it even more now.”
Ghosts aren’t the only dark characters that King has run across as an actress. She had a small but vital role in director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, one of the biggest films to come out in recent years. She played the young Talia al Ghul, a child who would eventually grow up to be Marion Cotillard’s character and play a huge part in the film’s twist ending.
“Christopher Nolan, I’m a huge fan of his,” King says. “I love Batman, so getting to work on The Dark Knight Rises was… I was shaking with excitement. Because I knew I got to work with him and I knew I got to work with Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. I was just freaking out. Christopher Nolan is so awesome and brilliant and he’s so nice. He’s so involved, which is so cool. And Christian Bale is so nice. So, so nice. Tom Hardy, too. I can’t even explain how cool it was to work on The Dark Knight Rises, because I’m a huge Batman fan. That was just… it was crazy. I still can’t even believe it happened.”
King also dipped her toe into straight comedy a couple of years ago in Crazy Stupid Love playing the youngest daughter of Steve Carell and Julianne Moore. It was a fun stretch to do a comic role after a few years when King has played mostly more dramatic parts.
“Absolutely, I love doing a variety of things,” King says. “Doing things that I haven’t done too, too much. Like straight comedy. Crazy Stupid Love was so much fun. The cast was… like Steve Carell, I love him. I look up to him. Julianne Moore was flawless. I definitely would look forward to doing more things like that. Just keep it going.”
Over the years, King has dabbled with music, too, doing some singing and songwriting. It’s something that she loves experimenting in as well.
“Acting is mainly what I do and I enjoy it so much, but I definitely would love to explore that aspect of the business at some point in my life.”
The movie that she is currently filming as we speak with her is returning King to more dramatic fare, though. Stonewall is a labor of love for director Roland Emmerich, telling the story of the Stonewall riots, a series of violent clashes in Greenwich Village in 1969 between the New York police and the local gay community. The riots are widely considered to be the most important event leading up to the modern fight for gay and lesbian rights.
It’s certainly a different vibe for director Emmerich, who is best known for special effects-laden action films like Independence Day, White House Down, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.
“It’s not your typical Roland Emmerich film,” King agrees. “Bring tissues to the movie theater, because it’s really an amazing story. I’m so honored to be part of it. We have Jeremy Irvine in the cast, who is an incredible actor. I think it’s going to be so cool. It’s going to be such a cool movie. It’s going to be something that will educate people in a lot of ways, and it will break their heart and it will lift their spirits up at the same time. There’s a lot going on in this movie. You’re not going to want to miss it.”
King was honored to get a chance to play a part in Emmerich’s vision of the story.
“Working with Roland, there’s nothing like it,” King says. “He’s so loving and so wonderful. When I first met him, I was kind of intimidated by him. I was like: wow, this is Roland Emmerich! Then I realized he’s just this really cool guy who is so nice and smart and talented and brilliant. I just loved working with him on White House Down. When he asked me to be in Stonewall, I was overjoyed, because I just love working with him.”
Did Emmerich tell her why he felt so strongly about the story?
“The movie, I think, was so important for him,” she continues. “It’s his passion project. It’s something that he’s passionate about. I can’t give away too much about the film, but it’s just so heart wrenching. I think that maybe it hits a little close to home for him. It’s going to be so incredible. It will be a movie not just for a certain type or group of people, everyone can go see this movie and enjoy it and learn something from it.”
Stonewall has a fascinatingly diverse cast, with actors like Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ron Perlman as well as King and Irvine.
“I have only met Jeremy so far out of all of them,” King admits. “I haven’t met the other guys yet. But Jeremy is amazing. He’s so awesome and he’s so nice. He was just over here for dinner last night. We all have become so close as a cast already, so it’s been great.”
It’s just another step in making the sometimes awkward segue from child star to legitimate actress. King has heard all the horror stories. She knows all the pitfalls that face a young person in show business. Still, she feels confident, in herself, her talent and her chances.
“You know, people talk to me about this a lot,” King allows. “About how I feel about making that transition. About what I think I’m going to do. There’s clearly been problems with it sometimes, with people, and I’m determined not to have those problems. I’m determined to make it smoothly. Hopefully I will. I hope that I can continue to keep working while I make this transition. My roles hopefully can show that I can make that, because there is a big variety. Some of them are really deep and dark. Some of them are funny. I’m definitely looking forward to making that transition when the time comes, and making it smoothly.”