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There’s Nothing Joey King Wouldn’t Do to Her Hair for a Role

Courtesy of Hulu; Sony Pictures

When Joey King and I get to chatting, we find we have a few things in common: our natural hair texture (wavy), its condition (bleached and damaged), and our dogs (apt to interrupt an important conversation). We’re here to discuss King’s biggest hair and makeup transformations throughout her career.

And there have been many such transformations. King had racked up a number of credits before she even hit her teens (as the beloved Ramona Quimby opposite Selena Gomez in Ramona and Beezus plus small but pivotal roles in Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Dark Knight Rises). However, it was her portrayal of Gypsy Rose Blanchard in Hulu’s 2019 miniseries The Act that caught King her first critical acclaim at the age of 20; she earned an Emmy nomination for the role, for which she shaved her head.

Clearly, the actor isn’t scared of making big changes to her appearance when they’re right for her projects. “In my personal life, outside of my work, my hair and makeup is such an exciting thing for me to play around with. I don't really know how to do my hair at all, but I still … love trying to do things and failing,” she tells Allure. “When it comes to being on set, what's great is that it takes many different steps and many different people for a character to fully form.”

Ahead, King revisits some of her most notable onscreen looks, including the time she battled three feet of hair extensions.

Halina Kurc in We Were the Lucky Ones

Joey King wore retro, ‘40s-inspired hairstyles and deep red lips to play a Polish Jewish woman during WWII.

Joey King We Were the Lucky Ones '40s Hair

Joey King wore retro, ‘40s-inspired hairstyles and deep red lips to play a Polish Jewish woman during WWII.
HULU

In We Were the Lucky Ones, the 2024 Hulu series based on the Georgia Hunter book of the same name, King plays Halina Kurc, a Jewish woman in wartime Poland trying to survive the Holocaust and keep her family together. Though it is a fictionalized account, Kurc was a real person. King wasn’t able to meet her because she died in 1998, but instead worked closely with Kurc’s family to provide a realistic depiction.

“What I realized about Halina is that she was really funny, really optimistic, really bubbly, and had a big personality,” the actor says. “Staying true to who she is and finding ways to incorporate what I know about her personality… was super important to me. I really fell in love with Halina while playing her.”

Onscreen, Halina is able to “pass” as gentile and avoid persecution due to her blonde hair, which is worn in popular 1940s styles like victory rolls and pin curls during the first half of the series. These styles might seem too polished for daily wear to the modern eye, but their trendiness among women during that time period is exactly what helps Halina fly under the radar. “For that time period, doing your hair in these elaborate hairstyles was extremely common,“ King explains. “And when you're trying to pass… you have to present yourself as if you are just one of the people around you.”

Upon wearing them, King was an immediate fan. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I think I was meant to have ‘40s hair,’’' she says. The red lipstick Halina often wears, however, took some getting used to. King says she doesn’t think bold lip colors suit her, so it’s rare that she wears them offscreen. “I've done it on carpets before and I've always regretted it,” she explains. But she wound up “loving it” while filming We Were the Lucky Ones because the color suited the time period and helped her settle into the role.

Halina becomes less perfectly coiffed as she and her family must work to survive — and reunite — over time. “The beauty was so important in terms of telling the story,” King says. “Not only can the audience always keep track of where we are based on what Halina's looks are going through, but … it always helps you get more into character when you feel that you are representing [someone] accurately,” King says.

Prince in Bullet Train

Joey King’s Bullet Train character Prince looks a hell of a lot sweeter than she is.

Joey King Bullet Train Bob

Joey King’s Bullet Train character Prince looks a hell of a lot sweeter than she is.
Scott Garfield

Don’t let that bob and sweater vest fool you; King’s Bullet Train character Prince might look like a sweet British schoolgirl on the surface, but that’s all part of her scheme. According to King, the film’s production teams considered numerous hairstyling options for the character, including but not limited to a pixie and long braids, before landing on the dark brunette bob. “[Bullet Train] director David Leitch really liked it because he felt like it had this innocence to it.”

As is often goes for King, not a single strand of fake hair was used to achieve the look. Her naturally wavy hair was cut to collarbone-length, straightened, and dyed a deep, inky brunette, a striking contrast against her pale skin. “That perfect angularness gave this fun vibe of how chaotic she is.”

Just like Prince herself, there’s more to the character’s look than meets the eye. Look closely at her hairpin — it’s actually a teeny sword. King points out that Prince may be "presenting one way," but if you "really Zoom into the details," like that hair pin, the book she's reading, or her calculated stare, you can see right past the facade/can tell she's more dangerous than she wants you to know.

Prince’s entire vibe is deceptively sweet, including her eyeliner. For the role, King wore a smoked-out dark eyeliner on both her upper and lower lash lines, making her light blue eyes stand out. “People don't associate a lot of eyeliner with an innocent look, but it really worked because my eyes are round, and [the smoky eye] just made them look even rounder.”

The Princess in The Princess

Both Bullet Train and The Princess are action movies, but King did way, way more stunt work for her role as the titular Princess in the 2022 film; she underwent intense combat training for three months before filming began, an additional month once she arrived on set in Bulgaria, plus every weekend throughout filming. To play the Princess, who must defend her family and kingdom from the man she refused to marry, King learned how to wield a sword and engage in hand-to-hand combat. “It was the most grueling thing I've ever done in terms of my body,” she says. “But I also loved the way it felt to be so strong.”

King wore nearly three feet of red hair extensions for the role and had to learn to adapt to said hair while doing battle. That’s not a small amount of hair to carry around all day, but King found it was less of a pain than she anticipated. “Fighting with it and training with it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be because I was so focused on the movements that my hair flowing around didn't really bother me,” she recalls.

Instead, the hardest part was maintaining the hair once the cameras turned off each day; typically, stylists advise against too-frequent hair washing with extensions, as that can cause them to loosen or fall out. “Every day on set, I was getting so sweaty and I was working out like six hours a day,” King says. “Only washing your hair twice a week wasn't my favorite thing, but it was necessary.” The film’s hair team braided it every night so she could sleep without creating a tangled mess.

And it was all worth it; hair played a pivotal role in how powerful the Princess appears on screen. “There's so many shots of me whipping my head around, and this fiery red hair flying through the frame just felt so special and unique and cool,” King says. “Of course we could have had her hair up in a bun [for combat], but we wanted the hair to be like a character of its own.”

King also wore prosthetic injuries like deep slash wounds while filming “I didn't realize how much sweat can interact with [prosthetics]... I was so hot all the time,” she explains. “I was moving around like crazy doing all these sequences. All of a sudden I'd be like, ‘Oh my God, this is falling off, this one's falling off.’”

Gypsy Rose Blanchard in The Act

Joey King completely shaved her head to play Gypsy Rose Blanchard.

The Act Gypsy Rose Blanchard Joey King

Joey King completely shaved her head to play Gypsy Rose Blanchard.
Brownie Harris

The Act wasn't King’s first time taking a razor to her scalp; King shaved her head for roles when she was 11 and 14. In fact, King viewed her third time with the clippers as something of a fresh start. “My hair has been through so much over the years that when I shaved it for The Act, it was a nice reset for it to grow back and not have any color or breakage,” she recalls.

In 2022, King told Allure she would definitely shave her head again for a role, and she feels the same way today. “If the right thing comes along, there's really not much I wouldn't do,” she says now. “It’s this absolute fulfillment that comes from doing something you're so proud of.”

Covering her hair with a bald cap for the role wasn’t ever on the table. Given that Gypsy was not actually losing her hair from sickness but instead being forced to shave her head by her mother, who has a mental illness called Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another [formerly known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy], the short tufts of natural regrowth you see on her was a realistic detail that made sense with the story, one that never would have been possible to achieve with a bald cap. Besides, “It's really hard to make [bald caps] look realistic when you have a lot of hair underneath,” King explains.

The Act has been experiencing something of a revival now that the real-life Gypsy Rose Blanchard (who pleaded guilty to second degree murder of her mother) has been released from prison and, after making some appearances on TV and online, has said she’s going pursue a more private life. King still looks back at the project with pride. “I’m really grateful that I worked on it and that I got to meet the people that I did throughout the process,” King says of the experience several years later. “It felt like we were being really considerate of the situation, how delicate it was. I think that's such a wonderful thing [that Gypsy is free] and people are more interested in her story. I'm really proud of it.”

After wrapping The Act, which King says is her favorite onscreen transformation thus far in her career, she had to deal with the grow-out process — and certain stages were much easier than others. “I loved my pixie cut, it had some cute texture to it,” she says. “And then it just got weird. It just looks like you've got a mullet.” The minute her hair was long enough, King got bob-length extensions. “People would say the craziest stuff to me in person and online. So I was like, ‘I'm just going to make myself feel better here and get a little bob situation going.’”

Elle Evans in The Kissing Booth trilogy

In the first Kissing Booth movie, Joey King plays Elle Evans, a high schooler navigating friendship and first love with Jacob Elordi’s Noah.

joey king kissing booth 1

In the first Kissing Booth movie, Joey King plays Elle Evans, a high schooler navigating friendship and first love with Jacob Elordi’s Noah.
Marcos Cruz
King wore a wig for the second Kissing Booth film, and her hair was typically styled in loose curls. Here, she’s pictured with Joel Courtney, who plays her bestie Lee.

joey king kissing booth 2 hair

King wore a wig for the second Kissing Booth film, and her hair was typically styled in loose curls. Here, she’s pictured with Joel Courtney, who plays her bestie Lee.
Marcos Cruz/Netflix
In the third film, we see Elle move into adulthood and reuniting with Noah, and her hairstyles undergo a similar transformation.

joey king kissing booth 3 hair

In the third film, we see Elle move into adulthood and reuniting with Noah, and her hairstyles undergo a similar transformation.
Marcos Cruz

The Netflix franchise that launched both King and Jacob Elordi onto the world — the three installments of which aired in 2018, 2020, and 2021, respectively — continues to be a fan favorite today; King says her nieces and nephews are currently watching it. In the movies, she plays high schooler Elle Evans, who falls for her best friend’s brother Noah (played by Elordi), endangering two lifelong friendships.

The story begins when Elle is in high school, and viewers watch her grow into young adulthood throughout the franchise. That growth is reflected in the subtle but effective changes made to her hair from movie to movie. “When we meet Elle in movie one, she’s a sporty girl, always has her hair in a bun,” King says. “Throughout the movies, we see Elle embrace her girliness a little bit more.” She begins wearing her hair down in beach waves in the second movie, then transitions to loose, bouncy blowout curls and occasional updos in the third.

King wore a wig for the second and third movie given that she’d just shaved her head for The Act, but we do see her real hair in the final scene of The Kissing Booth 3 when Elle and Noah meet up after a six-year time jump. That pixie cut is all King, who says she was going through the “most difficult” part of the growing-out process while filming the final two installments.

“It was covered by a wig, and that was fine. But the last scene, our director was like, ‘What if we just did your real hair?’” King says. “So we did.” Today, King isn’t sure the decision “fully feels like Elle,” but after filming two movies in a row, she was just excited to ditch the wig. “At the time, it felt like it signified time passing, a bit of maturity, showing the audience that there has been a significant amount of time that has gone by.”


More onscreen transformations:


Now, watch Lindsay Lohan break down some of her movie looks:

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Originally Appeared on Allure