Joey King Gets Vulnerable in Hulu's 'The Act' (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Hulu's new true crime anthology series, The Act, is complexity at its finest, according to Joey King.
The 19-year-old actress stars in the eight-episode drama as Gypsy Rose Blanchard, whose mother, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette), had Munchausen syndrome by proxy and manipulated her into believing she was wheelchair-bound suffering from a series of chronic illnesses. In a stunning turn of events, Gypsy helped plot her mother's murder with the help of a boyfriend she secretly met online. "[The Act] is never one tone. It's not as simple as it seems," King says. But neither is she.
A team of people surrounds the former child star as she walks into a hotel bar in Pasadena, California, in February. One would expect such a sight from an actress whose starpower is only just beginning to grow. Though some may recognize King from the 2010 kid movie, Ramona and Beezus, opposite Selena Gomez, she looks completely different nearly a decade later -- her long locks shorn off into an edgy buzz cut, a look she adopted for The Act -- and exuding a confidence that comes only with years of life experience. But with nearly 9 million Instagram followers, her notoriety is at its peak following her performance in Netflix's YA romance, The Kissing Booth.
"I love comedy, I love action, I love all these different genres, but my heart really does lie with drama," King says, as she begins her transition from shiny, wholesome family-friendly projects to emerging adulthood ahead of turning 20 this July. "I feel my most confident and comfortable in drama, because I love diving into characters that have a lot of complexities that need exploring, that need cracking open, and I want to crack them open."
King thrives in this darker medium. While Arquette, who went straight into The Act after starring in another true crime series, Escape at Dannemora, finds herself struggling to break free from the intensity of her characters, King happily turned Gypsy on and off like a switch.
"I have to tell you, I've slipped into a bit of a state of depression now that we've wrapped," King admits, though it's not because the character drained her emotionally. Instead, she's mourning her time spent on set. "I've been missing Patricia and our showrunner and all these people who I got to see everyday for the past five months of my life."
"But I'm so lucky that I got to trust myself with this character enough to a point where I could flip in and out of it if I need to," she says. King didn't get to meet the real Gypsy, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for second-degree murder in Missouri, but repeatedly watched videos to get her voice, cadence and mannerisms down. "I wouldn't stay in the voice all day on set. I would do it when I was in a scene, and then I would stop when we weren't in a scene."
Having Arquette as an acting partner certainly helped. "There was so much trust and no judgment between us," King recalls, clasping her hands together as if one was her co-star's, in an attempt to convey their closeness. "It was so helpful to have someone so generous, with not only their performance, but just as a human being."
King credits the experience of working with Arquette to making her "a better actor." Arquette, meanwhile, attributes their bond to an instantaneous connection. "We really had this chemistry right away. She's such a good actress and she's such a sweetheart to everybody, and we just have a very funny, off sense of humor that's similar," Arquette says. "There's just a lot of things that I think clicked and were familiar with one another."
The Act did "take a toll" on King. The most obvious reason being her shaved head.
The Los Angeles native had cut her hair off several times over her young career for various jobs. But this time, she wasn’t as excited about it. "I've never felt so vulnerable as I have with this role," King notes. In the end, however, she says it was worth it.
"These past five months [filming The Act], I've honestly harnessed such a happiness as to who I am, because I was surrounded by people who really support me and lift me up and make me realize, 'OK yeah, I'm cool,'" she reveals, pausing to laugh at the statement that could come off a tad arrogant. "I think it's OK to be confident, it's OK to be happy with who you are, and I'm just thankful that I'm around people who make me realize that."
On social media, King has inspired millions of her young fans to approach life the same way, though she's not looking to be labeled as a role model. "I want to make sure that I am myself, as authentically as I can. I don't want to be anyone else but myself," she insists. "If my attitude of just being who I am causes confidence, inspiration, self-love, that makes me so unbelievably happy, because I embrace myself for who I am, and I want people to embrace themselves for who they are as well."
King's candor is refreshing. She confesses that the increased interest in her personal life after the success of The Kissing Booth (the sequel is currently filming) and her much-publicized romance with Aussie co-star Jacob Elordi is "really weird." She's "appreciative" of her starring role in Ramona and Beezus, but ready to move on from that connection. And despite her new fame, King says she doesn't think much about the future.
"Dude, I’m with you," she says, her eyes widening when confusion of whose side one should take in Dee Dee and Gypsy's tragic tale is brought up. "I know people are going to ask me what audiences should take away and how I feel, and everyday, it's back and forth for me."
"The sympathy and the anger and the confusion, betrayal, I think that when people watch the show, they're definitely going to be disturbed. I think they're going to be completely enraged. But I think throughout the entire series, your sympathy and your rage and your confusion will be directed at both Gypsy and DeeDee at different points," she postulates. "It's just really horrible what happened to these people."
That horror, though, can make for an intriguing, drama-filled TV show. And it helps that over the past several years, she's built up a legion of fans who are, like her, growing up. "Knowing that when I put the teaser trailer on my Instagram, and seeing what they are all saying and seeing them repost it, like, my heart really does fill up with a lot of joy, because I think it's so special that these people really care about my career," King says in amazement. "I've learned to be flattered by it."
"I feel so unbelievably… I don't know if this is the right word, but blessed," she says, chuckling at her choice word. King can’t help but marvel at how far she’s come since Ramona and Beezus. "I'm so excited for people to see me go from something like that to all the things I've had in between, to Kissing Booth, to now."