“Do you want to share a bottle of wine?”
I’ve just sat down to dinner with the actor Joey King and, based on her question, I already know we’re going to get along just fine. I like her even more when she proclaims she’s not picky. “I don’t know shit about wine,” she says, studying a long list of Italian whites with names like Etna Bianco Superiore. “Should we just point?” (Our server eventually helps us select a not-too-dry Gavi di Gavi.)
While King has had but a couple of years’ experience navigating wine lists (she’ll turn 23 on July 30), she has almost two decades of on-camera work under her belt. She got her first credit at the tender age of four, when she starred in a commercial for Life cereal. Her big break came six years later, when — at 10 years old — she starred opposite Selena Gomez in Ramona and Beezus, a screen adaptation of the children’s book series written by Beverly Cleary.
In one particularly memorable scene, King’s Ramona accidentally cracks a raw egg on her head (it was, in fact, not hard-boiled), ruining her hair just in time for school picture day. It was perhaps the first time King’s hair was part of a character’s plot, but definitely not the last: In the years since, she made headlines for shaving her head for roles not once, not twice, but three times.
“And I would absolutely do it again,” says King. “I think every woman should [shave their head] at least once in their life. I’ve never felt more free or more in tune with my beauty. I couldn’t hide behind my hair.” Of course, nothing upsets the internet more than a woman exercising her freedom. “A lot of people made fun of me when I had my head shaved. A lot of people said really mean things. But when I had short hair, I actually felt more confident; I felt very powerful. [Their words] slid off my back. People like to insert themselves in other people’s business when it doesn’t actually matter. Me having a shaved head for a project really upsets you that much? I’m doing fine.”
King was — and is — actually doing a lot more than “fine.” One of those projects was Hulu’s limited-series The Act, in which King portrayed Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a real-life woman who sought revenge on her mother following years of abuse in the form of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. King’s performance earned her Primetime Emmy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations in 2019.
King perfected her character’s voice — a squeaky, babyish tone that mirrored that of the real-life Gypsy Rose, and alluded to the childlike state in which she’d been frozen by her mother — on her own, without a dialect coach. But she did rely on one recently, as she prepared to film Bullet Train, a thriller hitting theaters this summer.
In it, King plays single-moniker Prince (who is British), one of five assassins onboard a high-speed train in Japan who come to realize there may be a common thread between their missions. The all-star cast also includes Sandra Bullock, Bad Bunny, Zazie Beetz, and an up-and-coming actor named Brad Pitt.
“When you think about the romance of Hollywood, it’s an action movie with David Leitch as a director, it’s a Sony picture shooting in Los Angeles [with] assassins, Brad Pitt…” says King. “I still get this giddy feeling whenever I drive by the Hollywood sign in L.A., and starring in this movie was like having that giddy feeling for months straight.”
Miu Miu top. Nina Ricci bandeau. Oscar de la Renta skirt. Heaven by Marc Jacobs boots.
She found out she got the gig on the evening of her 21st birthday, when, let’s just say she was already celebrating with something a little bit stronger than Gavi di Gavi: “My manager was like, ‘Listen, I know you’re drunk and I know it’s your birthday, but Bullet Train came through.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God!'”
That was just about two years ago, during which time King has not only filmed said movie, but put out the final two chapters of The Kissing Booth trilogy on Netflix, starred in films including The In-Between and The Princess, and signed on to produce and star in no less than three more projects.
And yet…This stacked lineup is King’s version of scaling back. “A couple of years ago, I was more addicted to being busy. I feel like I burnt myself out sometimes,” she says. “Now I’m being a little bit more picky, which I’m really lucky to be able to do.”
Saint Laurent coat. To create a similar makeup look: Colour Riche Monos Eyeshadow in Paris Beach, Infallible The Super Slim Liquid Eyeliner in Black, and True Match Super-Blendable Blush in Apricot Kiss by L’Oréal Paris.
The roles she does select are those that offer a personal challenge — like doing most of her own sword-wielding stunts as The Princess — or that challenge the public perception about her range as an actor. “I like to keep myself on my toes. I don’t want to keep doing what people are expecting of me. If you want it out of me, it makes me wonder if I should go a different route,” she says.
During the rare stretches when King isn’t filming, she prefers the comforts of home. “It sounds like such a cheesy, typical thing to say, but even though life feels faster lately, more than ever I actually am taking more time to slow down and appreciate it,” she says. “I find a lot of peace in sunshine and being outside. I really love spending time with my foxhound, Jesse, and, obviously, my fiancé.”
That would be Steven Piet, a producer and director King is said to have met on the set of The Act. “We work really well together. We also just really love spending time together. So getting to do something where we’re both doing what we love and we get to hang out with each other, [that’s] the best,” says King. “I think he’s so talented. He thinks the same about me. We really love just being able to put our minds together.”
At the start of their relationship, they were long distance for four months, says King. Was it an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” sort of situation? “I mean, we’re engaged now,” she says. He popped the question on 2/2/22, with a custom-made ring from Brooklyn-based designer Mociun. It was not entirely a surprise to King. “I was like, ‘If you pick it out, I’ll love it.’ And then he started asking me questions. And then I realized I had an opinion.”
The same thing happened when it came to wedding planning: “Before we got engaged, when I kind of knew what might happen, one of my best friends was like, ‘Do you have a wedding Pinterest board?’ I said, ‘No.’ And she was like, ‘Are you fucking nuts?'” says King. “I guess when I dreamed about my wedding, all this shit was in place already. I wasn’t picking [it] out, it was just there.” After logging some time on Pinterest, the wedding vibe she’s settled upon is, in her words, “just really pretty.”
One thing’s for sure, though: Her longtime makeup artist Allan Avendaño will be doing her glam on the big day. “Allan has been my makeup artist since my Ramona and Beezus press tour. When you’re 10 years old, what you need to do is [have someone] take a flatiron to your bangs and put on some ChapStick,” says King. “He and I grew together and he has become this unbelievably talented artist who is just a wizard with makeup. He taught me everything I know.”
And she knows a lot: “Makeup is the love of my life. All the makeup that I use on a daily basis is so worn in. My Lorac [eye shadow] palette looks like it’s been through some sort of shit.”
King is still mastering hairstyling (she’s been known to ask one of her two older sisters to come over to braid her hair, she says) and the art of skin care. “I have to tell you, people are going to audibly gasp when they read this part,” says King, as I prepare for her to admit that she goes tanning or doesn’t take her makeup off before bed. “My go-to face wash that I’ve been using since I was 13 is Morning Burst by Clean & Clear. I used to use Sea Breeze [astringent] on my skin, so we’ve come a long way.” I let out a sigh of relief.
Last Christmas, Piet got her a product that “changed her life”: a SolaWave light-therapy tool. “I use that with my Sunday Riley C.E.O. Glow oil and it has changed my skin,” says King. “I’m telling you, he’s the greatest.”
Her gift to Piet was a cooking experience with Stephanie Izard, whom they’d watched together on Top Chef. That said, King has become something of an expert herself: She took up cooking a few years ago and hasn’t looked back since. “The first thing I tried to do was make octopus,” says King. “It was so bad. The instructions said to season it generously with salt. I took that a little too far.”
But cooking, they say, is a metaphor for life, so it’s no wonder King persisted: “The other day I made a delicious pork chop with a crazy sauce,” she says with a grin. “I really love trying something that scares me a little bit.”
Photographed by: Jens Ingvarsson
Fashion stylist: Akari Endo Gaut
Hair: Kevin Ryan
Makeup: Benjamin Puckey
Manicure: Yuri Osuka.
BTS video: Louis Obioha
A version of this story originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.