Joey King Was Afraid To Fail In 'The Act.' Now, She Could Win An Emmy.

King's portrayal of Munchausen by proxy victim Gypsy Rose Blanchard was raw, unnerving and, perhaps, award-worthy.
HuffPost Illustration/Getty Images

Joey King was on her way to the set of “The Kissing Booth 2” in South Africa when the 2019 Emmy nominations were announced on Tuesday. She was eager to learn if she’d been nominated for her role as Gypsy Rose Blanchard in the Hulu limited series “The Act,” so she activated her hotspot, whipped out her “literally 100-year-old” computer and began watching the very pixelated livestream.

“At one point, my computer froze, and I was like, ‘No! No, no, no, no, no!’ But it came back just in time,” King told HuffPost over the phone shortly after she learned she’d been nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series category.

The 19-year-old actress, who has appeared in everything from cereal commercials to “Ramona and Beezus” and “The Conjuring,” caught a slew of attention for her riveting on-screen portrayal of Gypsy, whose real-life story made national headlines when a BuzzFeed article by Michelle Dean detailed the twisted relationship between her and her mother, Dee Dee, played by Patricia Arquette. Dee Dee had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental health disorder in which a caregiver causes illness or injury to a person in order to seek attention. She was seemingly drugging wheelchair user Gypsy ― who believed she was a very sick child with leukemia, epilepsy and muscular dystrophy, among other ailments ― for self-gratification and financial gain. After realizing she could walk and think for herself, however, Gypsy concocted a plan with her online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn (Calum Worthy), to kill her mother and try to live a normal life. Gypsy and Nicholas went through with the murder but were eventually caught, and sentenced to 10 years and life in prison, respectively.

Taking on a role of this magnitude was understandably nerve-wracking, King said, but also incredibly rewarding. Below, she discusses her Emmy nomination and explains how the fear of failing pushed her to deliver a career-defining performance.

Patricia Arquette and Joey King in "The Act."
Patricia Arquette and Joey King in "The Act."

Congratulations on the Emmy nomination! What awesome news.

I’m freaking elated. [Laughs] You should have heard me earlier. I was literally sobbing on the phone. It’s crazy because all of the predictions got me so excited, but you never expect your name to be called and when it was, it was the most surreal moment of my life.

Did you feel any pressure or anxiety leading up to the announcement?

Everything leading up to this moment, all the prediction posts, had me feeling a little bit anxious and quite jittery. You just have to remind yourself that it’s OK if it doesn’t happen. You put so much work into it and you have to be proud of yourself, but the fact that it happened is the cherry on top of such a great year. I’m so happy and I’m so thankful that I was given the opportunity to play this character. As a young actress, this is definitely something I’ve always dreamed of because this is the highest honor you can receive being on television.

Who was the first person you called when you found out?

My name was called and, immediately, my sister Hunter rang and then my mom. And then the first person I called after I hung up with them was Patricia [Arquette]. I’m just so proud of her — she’s nominated in the same category as me for “Escape at Dannemora” and then for supporting actress for “The Act,” as well. She’s freaking killing it! And to hear her tell me she’s proud of me and she loved working with me means the world. We created such a strong friendship on that set and we went through so much together and I admire her so much.

It’s certainly exciting to be nominated in the same category, but she is competition! Any weird vibes?

Oh my God, no! Not at all! It’s not even a little bit weird. I just kept crying and telling her I’m so honored to be nominated next to her in the same category. There’s nothing cooler than that. If I lost to Patricia Arquette, that is not a bad way to go, honestly. I can’t even believe I got nominated, you know what I mean? That is the biggest honor I could ever dream of, so I’m golden.

To not only be nominated alongside Patricia, but Michelle Williams (for “Fosse Verdon”), Amy Adams (for “Sharp Objects”), and Niecy Nash and Aunjanue Ellis (both for “When They See Us”), must be a great feeling.

Absolutely. These women are forces to be reckoned with and I cannot believe that I am in the same category as them. I’m so over the moon.

At 19, you’ve already earned something many actors dream of. What does it mean to you to reach this point in your career at such a young age?

I’ve been working for 15 years and every actress dreams of getting to play a role that pushes them to be their best self and has people recognize all the hard work they put in. So being able to have played this role, gotten the opportunity to put in the work, and then have people respect the work and have this incredible acknowledgment, I can’t even possibly explain what it means to me at this point in my career. I’m so thankful, and all you can do is hope that it continues on and you do good work for the rest of your life.

When you read the script for “The Act,” did you feel like the role of Gypsy Rose Blanchard could be something big for you?

I just remember reading the story knowing about the real situation and then watching the documentary [“Mommy Dead and Dearest”]. I was excited to sink my teeth into something so fulfilling and just to take on someone’s story and do them justice, and do right by them. I wasn’t even thinking, “Oh, this could get me an Emmy one day!” So when word started spreading and people were saying nice things about my performance, it kind of blew my mind because you never expect it to happen to you. Even if you feel like you put in a lot of work and you’re proud of yourself, you don’t expect that to happen. You don’t expect your name to be called. Honestly, that’d be a little assuming.

Of course. When you take on a role, your goal is to play the truth of your character, which in your case was Gypsy Rose and the abuse she faced as a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

I was so nervous to even play this role, even just the opportunity to dive into it. I was so scared that I would fail or people would hate it or that I wouldn’t do well. I really put in so much to try and make sure that, whatever happened, I could say that I was proud of the work. It’s about telling the truth of the story, and trying to do right by [the real people on which it’s based].

“Being afraid to fail was something that I took great pride in because it makes you realize you’re alive. Being scared, being nervous, feeling those feelings people try to push away, makes you human.”

- Joey King

You mentioned the fear of failing. Does being in a limited series on a huge platform like Hulu put the pressure on to deliver, especially when there’s so much content out there?

Absolutely. I was given the opportunity to be a lead of a show on Hulu and transform myself as an actor. So, being afraid to fail was something that I took great pride in because it makes you realize you’re alive. Being scared, being nervous, feeling those feelings people try to push away, makes you human. And I’m not going to lie, today when I woke up I was so scared and so excited and jittery and nervous and my hands were shaking when they started announcing the names, because I’m human. In that moment if they didn’t call my name I would still be proud of myself and know that I gave it my all, but the possibility that they were going to call my name and they did? There’s no way to describe it.

Does the nomination mean even more because you earned it playing someone like Gypsy Rose? This role has definitely been a career-defining moment for you.

It’s taught me so much. Everything I thought I knew about acting before, everything I thought I knew about my relationships and my friendships ― I feel like a completely different person after taking on this role. And not just because of the role, but because of the people that I worked with. I feel like I have more empathy within me and more knowledge and a deeper understanding of the disorder Munchausen by proxy. I feel sorry for Gypsy and I hope that she can live a peaceful life. I hope our story did right by her in that she is a victim, she is not a cold-blooded killer.

Playing those different sides of Gypsy mustn’t have been easy, but you did mention the cast and crew helped you along the way. I have to say, your scenes with Patricia, as well as with Calum Worthy, were fantastic.

Oh, they elevated my performance. They are such brilliant actors and I’m so thankful that I got the chance to do this with them. Patricia, obviously, is one of the most talented actors and I’m honored to have shared the screen with her for one scene, let alone eight episodes. And then with Calum, my God, what a brilliant actor he is. I feel so excited for what’s to come for him. I’ve never seen someone be kinder or more humble or more hardworking. He’s just an all-around amazing human being and, on top of that, one of the best actors I’ve ever seen in my life. We got the cream of the crop on this show. The people I worked with mean so much to me — every director, every producer, every crew member, every department. I feel so lucky. We have this PhotoCircle going that the crew and I still update and everyone’s been so sweet posting in the PhotoCircle today, like, “Oh my gosh!” I love that I keep in touch with all of them.

What are you most excited about, and who are you most excited to see at the Emmys?

Well, last year was my first time attending the awards and I went with the designer Zac Posen for his show that was nominated last year, “Project Runway.” But being able to go as a nominee, I’m going to shit my pants, I’m not even going to lie to you. I’m so excited and nervous for it. First off, I can’t believe I get to go, but then to go as a nominee and sit next to some of the greatest actors in the game? Wow.

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