Photography by Danny Lowe
Fashion by Roberto Johnson
First, there’s the sound of an electric razor, then Joey King lets out a blood-curdling scream and clumps of hair fall to the floor.
Joey King, the 18-year old Kissing Booth actress, is preparing for her next role in French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s The Act, an anthology series that will be released on Hulu. Shaving her head has become almost second nature for the young actress, who’s already sacrificed her hair for three different projects since the start of her career. “They tell me I’m brave,” she says defiantly, “but I’m not, I’m just shaving my head.”
“Joey is the new Jessica Chastain, she ’s amazing,” says de Clermont-Tonnerre. “Yesterday, she spent the day trying out her wheelchair in a parking lot—she’s a professional.”
The Act is based on a story that captivated America: that of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the young woman who murdered her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard (played here by Patricia Arquette), after mother made daughter (and everyone around them) believe that she was years younger than her actual age and that she was afflicted with a number of incurable diseases. Psychiatrists describe Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome as a mental illness in which a caregiver makes up or causes an illness or injury in a person under his or her care. Some believe that it’s less of a mental illness and more of a way to attract sympathy and attention from others.
King ’s first acting gig was in a cereal commercial (yes, it’s on YouTube) when she was only three years old. This was followed by more horror movies than you can count—not that her delicate features predispose her for movies about serial killers.
At only 18, and with such a full career behind her, the experience of growing up in the harsh film industry is clear. It also allows her to give advice to younger actors from the perspective of someone much older: “If I have any advice for child actors, it’s to not take yourself so seriously. It has to stay a joke even if it’s a job and a serious one at that.” Seeing her laugh while getting her head shaved shows that King takes her own advice.
The 5-foot-4 actress from LA met her 6-foot-3 boyfriend, Jacob Elordi, on the set of their Netflix film The Kissing Booth, where they play one another ’s love interests. “Finding a boyfriend on set is pretty practical. You can try it out for 17 hours a day, every day, before deciding.” Let’s be clear: It was King who chose Elordi, not the opposite. Watch them on any talk show and it’s easy to see who was the initiator.
So, how do you go from a sweet role in a film like The Kissing Booth to playing a matricidal young woman who skips town with her boyfriend? Preparation? Training? Visiting prison or studying psychiatric dossiers? When I pose the question to de Clermont-Tonnerre, her hands are tied: Production won’t allow her to talk about her methods. Although Joey can’t exactly share her process, she can talk about her hair or lack thereof. “When I heard that I was going to have to shave my head for the third time in 10 years, I decided to go blonde. I’m not too attached to my hair anyway. I couldn’t care less.”
Before landing herself in a wheelchair for the role of Gypsy Rose, King starred in the horror movie Slenderman. When asked by the press if the film left her traumatized, she admitted to a sudden and strange health problem that developed while filming: “I got an unexplainable illness, I started losing platelets in my blood and they wanted to give me a transfusion, but I refused. It finally went back to normal when we started filming The Act.” If you think Joey has no fear, think again. “There ’s a bee following me!” she screams during our phone interview. This emotivity is all a part of her talent. “She catches on to things extraordinarily fast,” says de Clermont-Tonnerre. “She’s extremely attentive.”
The role of Gypsy Rose Blanchard is violent, brutal even, but it’s a chance for a vivacious actor like King to do something truly spectacular. Blanchard, now 26, was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of her mother. In an interview with ABC in January, she said, “I feel like I’m freer in prison.” It’s an understandable sentiment once you know that, when Gypsy Rose was only 8 years old, her mother Dee Dee began claiming that her daughter had leukemia, muscular dystrophy and that she was going both deaf and blind. She made her daughter participate in telethons, meet celebrities, and used Gypsy Rose’s illness to help them find a new home when they lost everything to Hurricane Katrina in 2004. Gypsy Rose finally rebelled as a teenager, when her mother started to assert that she was younger than her actual age. “She physically chained me to the bed, and put bells on the doors,” Gypsy Rose said in that same interview, “and told anybody that I probably would have trusted that I was going through a phase, and to tell her if I was doing anything behind her back.” Gypsy Rose was 23 years old when she made her boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn, whom she met online, stab her mother to death. He has pled not guilty. After their June 2015 arrest, the police established that Gypsy Rose had none of the illnesses that her mother had claimed. “I didn’t do it because I hated her,” she told ABC. “I did it because I wanted to escape.”
King will undoubtedly shine in her latest role, especially appearing with Patricia Arquette by her side. The only as-yet-unanswered question is how her sweet boyfriend and former costar will react to her metamorphosis from adorable high schooler to murderer.
Clothing (throughout) Miu Miu
Photographs Danny Lowe
Fashion Roberto Johnson
Makeup Jo Strettell (Tracey Mattingly)
Hair Tommy Buckett (Tracey Mattingly)
Production Mariana Cantú (MC Colectiva)
Photo Assistants Andrew Espinal and Wesley Carter
Stylist Assistants Gabriela Rosario and Alexis Nelson