If she wasn’t an actor, Joey King would be an elephant dentist. It’s definitely not a job you hear about everyday, but what’s perhaps even more striking about King’s secondary career choice is the confidence with which she talks about it. The actor recently went on a safari in South Africa and learned that when elephants lose their sixth set of molars, they can starve to death. “I heard that there are elephant dentists, who make prosthetic teeth for them so that they can live longer,” she tells me when we speak at Bustle HQ in New York. “And I was like, ‘Oh my god. If I’m not an actor ever in my life, which I hope that never happens, I’m gonna become an elephant dentist.'”
At 17, King’s at an age where a lot of young women don’t know what they want to do with their lives at all, but she is a talker and is self-assured when speaking about everything, whether that be elephant dentistry, the time James Franco helped her with a breakup, or playing Michael Caine’s granddaughter in her latest film, Going In Style.
King has been acting since she was four years old (her first big starring role was in Ramona and Beezus in 2010), but right now things are really taking off — she has nine movies in various stages of production. Even though she’s been doing this, basically, her entire life, and counts Franco and Zach Braff as close friends, she’s still in awe of the people she gets to meet.
“I totally get star struck,” she says. “I think it’s really neat because I look up to so many different people.”
Those people include the stars of Going In Style: Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and her on-screen grandfather, Caine.
“Being around those guys, as much as it was exciting, I was like, ‘Oh my god. What if they don’t like me?’ And they just put those thoughts at ease the minute I met them,” she says. “They’re such legends and they’re so successful, and I just love the fact that they just stayed so humble and nice.”
King has also stayed “so humble and nice” for someone who has had James Franco help her breakup with someone. The actor — who King describes as “one of those people who you don’t quite understand the minute you meet them but then when you understand them you’re like, ‘Oh my god. I get it now’” — was there when she was ending a relationship via text.
“He was actually with me when I was writing the message out,” she says. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know what to say. This is terrible,’ and he’s like, ‘Calm down.’”
King says she, Franco, and Braff all grew close when working on 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. “If I want advice on either something about my work or anything to do with my regular life, those two will always be there for me,” she says. In the time since Oz, King has gone on to work with Braff on two more films, including Going In Style, which he directed, and with Franco on several projects, including the upcoming Zeroville.
While King is used to hanging out with celebrities who are much older than her, she, somehow, still seems like such a 17-year-old — and she relates to characters who are normal teens, too. In the upcoming The Kissing Booth she says, “I play this character named Elle Evans and she’s kind of awkward and funny and doesn’t really realize that she’s gone through puberty yet. And when I read the script I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is so me. She’s so awkward. I love it.’”
King hopes she never has to put her plan B with the elephants into play, simply because she loves acting so much. “I love working, it’s my favorite thing to do is to act. And to do what I love, nothing about that makes me nervous,” she says. “I’m just nervous about hoping that people like everything.”
And with her many upcoming projects and a little help from her industry friends, she can probably keep “making elephant dentures” pretty low on her to-do list for now.
The chance to appear in a film alongside three of the greats—Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman—has to top the bucket list for every young actor. Such is the dream fulfilled for Joey King, 17, who plays Michael Caine’s whip-smart granddaughter, Brooklyn, in Going in Style, the Warner Brothers remake of the ‘70s caper flick, directed by Zach Braff, in theaters Friday. King’s had a very exciting career already, including starring last year in Independence Day and starring in Wish Upon, a thriller slated for release on June 30. We were happy to catch up with King to talk about her career plans, her family and why it’s really cool to be Zach Braff’s muse.
There had to be so many things, but what was the best part of being in the Going in Style cast?
I think the best part was getting to work with people who I so greatly look up to in New York City. What more could I ask for? Legendary people, great food, unreal movie—the list goes on.
Pretty amazing to join this venerable cast, too.
Shooting with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin is almost indescribable. I’ve always looked up to these men and one can only dream of working with a cast like that. It was so amazing because not only were they obviously insanely talented, but they confirmed all my hopes and dreams because they are the nicest men in the world. Alan would often play ukulele in the hair and makeup trailer, Morgan is just so lively and would always dance with me on set and Michael is so sharp and witty so our banter felt so natural and he became like a real grandfather to me.
I read that this is the third film you’ve worked on with Zach Braff.
Working with Zach Braff is something I will never get enough of. This is my third film with him and I hope there will be many more. He’s so sweet and calls me his muse, but I don’t think he realizes how much he inspires me. I feel everything he touches is magic, he can provoke such a range of emotion from audiences as an actor, writer and director. Going in Style is so funny I couldn’t stop my eyes from watering in the theater I was laughing so much and the soundtrack is fire, which Zach always knows how to do so well. I’m so proud of him and I’m proud and grateful to call him my director and friend.
What’s next for you?
Next up I have a film coming out that’s a psychological thriller called Wish Upon starring myself, Ryan Phillippe and Ki Hong Lee. It’s going to be so rad! And I was just in South Africa filming a Netflix movie called The Kissing Booth starring myself and Molly Ringwald. It’s a really sweet and hysterical teen rom-com that has a Pretty in Pink, She’s the Man and Mean Girls vibe to it all in one. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Do you have a mantra when it comes to picking projects?
I pick my projects based on if I like the script and if I think I’ll have fun doing it. But my favorite thing to look for is a challenge—something I’ve never done before or something I want to try that’s been incorporated into a script. I have huge dreams and making career choices can be very scary, but I have so many great people in my life, especially my mom and my sisters, and I always look out for myself. For me, it’s about having as much fun as possible and being kind to everyone.