Joey King’s remarkable acting résumé can be intimidating. But sit in the same room with her and she’ll make you feel right at home. The bubbly young performer has been working nonstop since her first television role, a guest spot on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Since then, she has appeared in the music video for Taylor Swift’s song “Mean,” nabbed guest spots on shows such as Fargo and The Flash, and charmed legions of new fans after starring in Netflix’s runaway hit The Kissing Booth.
Recently, Joey has been busy with her transformative role on Hulu’s The Act, a crime anthology based on the real-life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Joey plays Gypsy, a young woman who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after her mother was found stabbed to death in 2015; Gypsy is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. Her mother, Dee Dee (played by Patricia Arquette), suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy and had allegedly been abusing her daughter by making her sick for years to win sympathy and attention. (Gypsy’s boyfriend at the time was later convicted of first-degree murder.) Joey is almost unrecognizable as Gypsy, having shaved her head and donned large, wide-framed glasses for the part.
Along with her work on the much-anticipated series, Joey has also been working on The InBetween, a supernatural romance recently picked up by Paramount Players that she’ll be starring in and producing. There’s hardly anything Joey isn’t already a queen at. As part of Teen Vogue’s Young Hollywood Class of 2019, she opened up about doing Gypsy’s story justice, becoming increasingly passionate about politics, and more.
Teen Vogue: As a representative of young Hollywood, what parts of you as performer do you hope to see more of in Hollywood in general?
Joey King: I’m a big people person. I love getting to know people before making any judgments, getting to know their story. I find that when I work a lot on sets, I meet the most interesting people. Not just people who are producers, directors, or cast. The crew is such a vital part of making anything happen, and so really getting to know those people and respecting those people is a huge thing that I want to see more. I want to see people respecting others around them, because we all have a job to do, and each job is just as important as the next one.
TV: So far, what has been the biggest challenge to proving yourself in Hollywood?
JK: I just really want to show people that what I do is so important to me, no matter what kind of role it is. I want to show people that I can do any kind of role. That I can take on anything and really just go at it 110%. The biggest challenge in proving myself is being able to obtain those roles and certain characters that really get to show the range that I have and want to show.
TV: Your social media following majorly increased after The Kissing Booth. What have you learned about having a huge platform of more than 8 million Instagram followers?
JK: I really feel very lucky to be able to have a voice that people care about hearing, but it is a lot of responsibility, you know? I want to set a good example for people, but at the same time I just want to show them a good time, so I try to do a little bit of both. Mostly I just try to be myself, and as cliché and stupid as it sounds, I feel like that’s the most important thing, because I want people to be themselves in real life or on their Instagram platforms or wherever.
Something that I just love to do is just never take anything too seriously. Sometimes I post just the stupidest pictures of myself with a face mask, this close up, or I call myself an egghead since I have no hair. I also think just not being afraid. Because so much of the time, you get mean comments from people. And that sh*t just rolls off my back. I don’t even notice them anymore. And so I post whatever the hell I wanna post.
TV: What’s an example of something that you have spoken out about that was maybe dealing with a heavier topic?
JK: Because I’m now 19, I’ve gotten a lot more into politics than I had been before. That’s because I was not yet of age and I found it really hard to educate myself on politics. I even had a hard time figuring out how to register to vote. And that’s OK to be able to say that it’s confusing to figure out. And it’s confusing and hard to figure out what issues you need to know about. So this year, I really dove into that and tried to educate myself as best as possible. Lately, I’ve been speaking out about human trafficking, the importance of voting, and I went on a march recently [while] shooting in Savannah, Georgia. My costar AnnaSophia Robb [and I] went on a march to end human trafficking. It was just so inspirational to see all the people that came out to do that. When you have a platform like mine, and I’m lucky enough to have a vast amount of followers, I think I’m really proud to be able to say something that means something to me.
TV: The public is always scrutinizing, especially young women’s images. So how does it feel having shaved your head three times now? What have you learned about beauty and identity through the process of letting all your hair go?
JK: When I first shaved my head, when I was 11, I was so excited to do it. And then I got so sad because people were so mean about it online, and it just got so disheartening. Then the second time I did it, when I was 14, I was like, “Screw it. I learned from last time. I’m not gonna let anyone bother me.” And then it kind of happened again. I got a little sad because people were so mean about it. They were saying just awful things on Instagram. And then I had this awakening. I was like, “Why am I caring? I’m 14 years old. I have no hair. I look really freaking cool. And guess what? It’s gonna grow back.” So when this time came around for a role, I was ready to jump all in. And I can say that I haven’t felt more feminine in such a long time. I feel so feminine with my head shaved. I feel great, and I feel pretty, and I feel confident, and it takes me not even five minutes to shower anymore [laughing]. It’s so freaking nice.
TV: With The Act, you’re telling the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, which is really dark. What have you done to make sure you’re doing her story justice, as opposed to kind of sensationalizing it?
JK: It’s something that I’m actually quite aware of. I just want to make sure that if she ever sees the show one day, I want her to know that we wanted to do right by her. The story is so messed up and there are so many layers, and it’s so, so heavy. I never want it to feel like we’re making fun of the story or we’re doing anything to romanticize it. It’s nitty-gritty; it’s really disturbing. And it’s uncomfortable because the story is really uncomfortable. What happened is so uncomfortable. And I’m really hyperaware of just trying to dive into Gypsy’s role as much as I can. I feel really proud of the work I’m doing.
With that being said, of course, I’m an actor, I’m very nervous about it, and I just want people to love it. And be immersed in the story, as immersed in the story as I am. So I’m hoping that the reaction to it is really cool because we put so much work into it, especially me and Patricia [Arquette]. Our relationship off-camera now has become so intense. We care about each other so much because we go through so much together onscreen. And Calum Worthy, who plays Nicholas Godejohn, is so phenomenal. I think all of us are trying our hardest to make sure we do right by these people.