Joey King Talks Wish I Was Here

Joey discusses Zach Braff, James Franco and her first kiss ever.

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Joey King’s goal in life is to win an Academy Award. After spending an afternoon with her, I have no doubt she will. She is one stellar chick. You may recognize her as Greta Grimly on FX’s Fargo, or from White House Down, or from The Conjuring. She’s pretty much everywhere. But it’s her latest performance as Grace in Zach Braff’s new film Wish I Was Here that will most certainly solidify her as an actress to watch.

The 15-year-old, adorable, and incredibly brilliant King and I had a chance to chat in L.A. last weekend, just days before Braff’s film opens. She’s just wrapped her Lifetime film Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs where she stars alongside Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn. She’s got projects in post with James Franco and Roland Emmerich, and there’s little doubt her momentum will continue full speed.

Over an iced tea, bowls of grapes and chocolate, and the backdrop of the L.A. skyline, Joey King revealed insight on her character in Wish I Was Here, working with Braff, Hudson and her own acting process. I also got the juice on her first kiss, which of course, was on the set of Franco’s latest film, The Sound and the Fury. And no, it wasn’t with Danny McBride. (Whew.)

Paste: You first worked with Zach Braff on Oz the Great and Powerful. I hear you had some pranks on set?
Joey King: We shared this booth together where we recorded all our lines. When we were stuck in these little booths we went a little stir crazy, but we had each other to hang out with. He put a headshot of himself on my booth door that said: Thanks for being such a great fan, Joey. Love, Zach Braff. It was so sarcastically amazing! I took it to the next level, and I tee-peed his booth and put my headshot on top and said: Thanks for being such a great supporter, Zach! Follow your dreams! I put so much toilet paper! I came to work the next day, and it was cleaned up… but he cleaned it up! He was like, “I hate you so much!”

Paste: How cool is that, working with Zach as an actor and then he casts you in his movie! When you read the script, what was your reaction?
King: Before I even signed onto the project, I was a [Kickstarter] backer. I read everything, and I was like, “Aw, that’d be awesome to be in that.” He texted me, So you wanna read for this with me? When I saw my character I thought, ‘This is perfect!’ There are a lot of similarities between her and me, a lot of differences. It’d be a challenge, but I knew it would be really fun to play her.

Paste: What are those similarities and differences? She’s a really conservative girl. She brings up shaving her head for her husband. She’s already thinking about that stuff!
King: I’m Jewish, but I’m not really, really religious. Grace is. Getting to go deeper into that was really cool. Getting to see life through her eyes is really fascinating. Like you said, at 12 years old, she’s already thinking about shaving her head for her husband. She’s very misunderstood in the beginning of the film. Her family doesn’t understand her. As the movie progresses, you see her become less uptight. People start to accept her more when she becomes less uptight. Her character really develops, which is cool for me.

Paste: Shaving your head. I would cry! Did you cry?
King: I didn’t cry. I felt like I was going to throw up, though! My sister was pep talking me, saying, “Calm down. It’s okay.” I went out there, and I did it, and it was … I really don’t know what was going through my mind. It was mostly, “Don’t mess up. Don’t mess up. You’ve got one take!” Everyone on set was super supportive. Everyone wore a wig that day for me! I had friends come, and they all brought wigs. It was great.

Paste: What’s your process? How do you tap into those vulnerable parts, especially the scene when you’re on the phone with Josh Gad begging him to come to his father’s deathbed?
King: It helped that I became really close to the cast. Josh and I are buddies. Getting to talk to him on the phone and getting to go there emotionally with him was really nice. He was there when I filmed that part of my phone scene, and I was there when he filmed his. I was hiding in the corner feeding him his lines. We had a really close bond, almost like an uncle and a niece. I pictured myself in the character’s shoes.

Paste: Was that Zach’s process? Did he want everyone to get to know each other like family, or did that happen organically?
King: It really just happened. When I met Josh, we became buddies. I already knew Zach. We were besties. Kate was awesome. She was super sweet, so [Beyonce voice] flawless. Mandy Patinkin was friendly and wonderful and such a great actor. Everyone just got along from the start.

Paste: What was it like working with Kate Hudson?
King: I can’t handle it! She’s so gorgeous on the inside and the out. I’m such a big fan of hers. She’s so good in the movie.

Paste: I love the scene where she brings in this outfit for you to wear to school. You say it looks like the Disney Channel!
King: What that scene really symbolizes for me is that her family is kind of embarrassed by the way she acts and dresses and how religious she is. It’s a nice turning point for both of our characters. It’s showing her mom that it’s okay that your kid isn’t like everyone else. My character realizes. ‘Well, my family is not quite accepting of me … I don’t need to change for them, but I can become a little less uptight.’

Paste: You, as Joey, what do you do for fun? I know that sounds cheesy but after these intense, hard-working shoots, what do you like to do?
King: After an intense, hard-working day I like to go home … maybe go out to dinner with my sisters and watch a movie with them. I like to go to the beach. I like to read a lot. I like to play piano. I do have other things I do besides this, but also this is fun for me. Getting to travel the world, getting to make new friends, it’s my fun. People are like, “What about being a normal kid?” I’m like, “Well, I’m not normal! Even if I wasn’t an actress, I’m still not a normal person. I’m kind of weird.”

Paste: You worked with James Franco on Oz, and now you’re in his next movie… speaking of fun.
King: I’ve known James for almost four years, but I feel like I’ve never met him in a way. He’s so brilliant and so friendly and wonderful. Getting to film was awesome. He’s a great director.

Paste: What’s his style like?
King: He knows what he wants, but he’s open to change. He likes to laugh a lot on set. The director always sets the tone. If the director is fun then the crew is, and the cast is, and everyone is going to be happy and friendly. Sound of the Fury was interesting, because I had my very first kiss on that shoot.

Paste: First kiss in life?
King: Uh … yeah.

Paste: Tell me all about it! Was it with Seth Rogen?
King: No! Oh my god, ew.

Paste: Dave Franco?
King: That would’ve been awesome. Come on girl. It was with Keegan Allen. It was really nerve-wracking. I told James not to tell anyone because he already knew. He’s like the embarrassing dad, I swear! We’re in the middle of blocking on set in rehearsal, and he goes, “Hey everyone, guess what? Today is Joey King’s first kiss, so everyone give her a round of applause. Keegan, don’t screw it up!” It was really embarrassing. It wound up being okay, and James comes up to me afterwards like, “So… it was a fun shoot.”

Paste: You’re also working with Roland Emmerich on Stonewall.
King: I love Roland. I worked with him on White House Down. We’re old buddies. It’s not your typical Roland Emmerich film. Most of the time, he blows up a lot of political buildings and a lot of things, but there are no explosions in this one. It’s a very heartfelt story based on the Stonewall riots in 1969. It’s going to be amazing.

Paste: What are your aspirations? You’ve got the world at your fingertips.
King: My goal in life is to win an Academy Award. That would be a dream come true. Hopefully one day, near future, late future.

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