The European stone chat, a member of the Robin family, tends to build its nest on or near the ground. Youngsters tumble out into the world as soon as they can, before they can even fly. Apparently, the prospect of flapping without flight amidst the dangers away from the nest pales in comparison to being grounded—a sitting duck, so to speak, for the numerous predators afoot. It is tempting to imagine what the world will be like when the masks come off and gates reopen, where the future has ambition and promise again. Instead, we spend countless hours a day trying to convince ourselves that the same bird who flew out into the world with ease and not a tendril of hesitation is the same one that, at present, doesn’t leave the comfort of their sheets. As we are learning, we must try to keep the heads, in which we spend most of our time, a suitable place to live, regardless of exterior influences. Actor Joey King inspires such force with a simple repeating of her morning hymn,“I am above ground.”
As the first months of 2021 transition to memory, King speaks from a newly found perspective after surviving the seemingly never-ending and ever-changing year of 2020. But while time continues to prove itself to be a construct, King has not wasted a single second. Her fresh and bright demeanor fills her Los Angeles home as she shares an appreciation for the constants that have grounded her in place, when the urge to float away becomes too overwhelming. She speaks kindly of Angel, her fourteen-year-old dog, who is “spunky and bright as ever,” cooking as a form of healing, and self-discovery through introspection and autonomy, encapsulating what it truly means to be young and learning through a pandemic.
King’s standout role as Elle Evans in Netflix’s The Kissing Booth — based on the book of the same title by Beth Reekles — is where she reached a new level of presence. The trilogy follows a spirited high schooler as she navigates her way through the wormhole that is young adulthood, with friendship an evergreen guiding light. And viewers ate it up. The 2018 debut shattered viewership records with 66 million-member views in its first month’s release, launching King to newfound heights. In the first installment, Elle’s turbulent relationship with high school bad boy Noah, played by Jacob Elordi (also of Euphoria fame), sees a wrench thrown into her friendship with Noah’s younger brother. The Kissing Booth 2 sees Noah now off to Harvard, andElle back for her senior year, with all new problems arising.
Closing out the trilogy, King is faced with the decision of where to go to college (and we might assume some push and pull from long time darling Noah). Both installments two and three were filmed in South Africa, the latter to release this summer, and King shows nothing but staggering humility and gratitude for the closing of this five-year run of romantic turbulence and emotional inquiry.
When it seemed like King could not soar any higher, she landed her Emmy-nominated role as Gypsy Rose Blanchard, opposite Patricia Arquette’s overbearing Dee Dee Blanchard, in the critically-acclaimed Hulu true-crime limited series, The Act, about the toxic mother-daughter relationship turned criminal. She also finds herself opposite Brad Pitt in the upcoming action-thriller Bullet Train, a no doubt gripping tale of five assassins on a bullet train who find their missions to be not so unrelated. With her impressive curriculum vitae of thoughtfully crafted roles, King has honed her talent of elegantly evoking an audience, chiefly with her warm countenance and distinct authenticity. She states, “I think that being able to be an everyday person who is able to transform into someone like Elle Evans, to just be like every girl and able to be a lead of a movie, is meaningful. And also to become someone like Gypsy and completely strip away my vanity. I think people resonate with that, that vanity is not my top focus.”
King has also found her way to the producer’s chair, where she has discovered new autonomy in her creativity. Perching herself on the other side of the casting table, she is able to not only develop a deeper understanding of the industry she has dedicated her life to, but advocate for narratives and stories in a different way than she has before. King is set to executive produce and star in Netflix’s Uglies, a film adaptation of Scott Westerfeld’s international best-selling dystopian fantasy novel of the same name, set 300 years in the future when everyone must undergo plastic surgery at 16 years old to meet globally dictated beauty standards. Passionately, she says, “I feel so frickin’ grateful to have reached such a certain amount of success where I am now able to decide what I want to produce, and create opportunities for myself that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have presented themselves to me.”
As the recently turned twenty-one-year-old makes her graceful ascent from childhood actor into international stardom, she is no stranger to the glamour and grit of the industry. After the success of The Kissing Booth, she found herself under a different kind of microscope. King confesses, “Being an actor is so tough, because you have this image of who you are and what kind of image you want to present to other people, when in reality you have no control of what people think of you.”
Amassing over 18 million followers on Instagram alone, King finds herself under a spotlight unfathomable by most.With its constant axiom of connection and community only being fulfilled through notifications and likes, social media has achieved a place in our psyche unequivocal to anything before. King confesses, “I started to see the downside of people having so much information about you or to your personality or personal information.” As a result, she has been more hesitant in what she allows for the public to see. She acknowledges the true weight we carry on account of our addictive cyber connections, and she hopes that “this new generation is taking the signs that are being thrown at them and why it is taking a downhill direction.” She urges her peers to “acknowledge it and not participate in the dark side of it.” She then adds, “I have had to remind myself more now of reasons to be confident than I used to.”
Our early twenties are a time of self-discovery. But maybe they’re less about finding ourselves and more about cultivating understanding of others and our world. While it is tempting to hide from our own furies, King instead finds a way to cohabit them, to simply acknowledge that they are there. She says that “being able to pay attention to why you feel a certain way and being able to be okay with that” is one of the most crucial steps you can take for your wellbeing. King hopes to normalize feelings of anxiety and doubt, especially during this time of unwavering confusion. With occasional days spent alone and the distractions of the outside world kept to a dull hum, she has sharpened her intuition, listening to her thoughts with the urgency and intention as if she was listening to a close friend.“I try not put too much pressure on myself,” she says, “because I always feel like I have, so being able to be like, ‘Hey, it’s okay that you’re anxious’, or ‘It’s okay you’re overwhelmed and only answer one email.’ Just being able to say that, I feel better.”
King has become cathectic towards herself, something she acknowledges we don’t do enough. “I have done a lot of work for myself this year,” she shares. “I started therapy this year, which is something I have never done before. I started it to be the best version of myself that I am trying to be.” She speaks hopefully, with the curiosity and positivity of one day knowing more of the course she is on and who she is becoming. In so doing, she sends a sweet reminder to be gentle with ourselves, to speak with soft words, and allow us the space to be patient. “I think that is something that I am really working on and something that I carry through to my life,” she remarks. “I don’t think I am the most patient person. I think that is something I have to work on.”
As the world begins to show some signs of healing, or at least forward momentum, a new perspective is calling from every corner, on so many layers. King reminds us, when considering distance and reflection, to consider the ideology of a bird’s eye view, only seeing what will stand the test of time. “If I lost everything I had right now,” she contemplates, “would I still be happy? If the answer I feel at this moment is yes, then I am doing the work and succeeding at the work hopefully.”
Joey King’s aide-memoire reminds us of the present. With acting comes the need for a presence from mind and body, an awareness of the abundance in each and every moment we breathe in and out. King proclaims, in closing, on the pinball thoughts that grace our everyday, “You kind of have to be in the moment with them. Be intuitive. Be present. Be risky.” From now on, as every morning unfolds with its unique banter of bird chirrup, paired with our current inability to see beyond the edges of the present day, we can only hope to remind ourselves to go into the world, soar, and save the moment.
Written by Bree Castillo
Set Design by James Lear
Produced by Amy Ground
Digital Tech by Damon Loble
Stylist Assistant: Caitlin Harvey
Makeup Assistant: Ruby
Production Assistant: Chris Butler
Covid Officer/Medic: Kalin Thompson
Location: Hubble Studio