Joey King will tell you that when it came to preparing for her role as Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the young woman whose twisted upbringing would make headlines after her involvement in the death of her mother, that it was as much a mental journey as it was a physical transformation.
Hulu’s “The Act” is a dramatization of the real-life horror story of Blanchard and her mother, Dee Dee. For years, Dee Dee made her daughter believe that she suffered from a number of serious health maladies, earning the pair public sympathy and help from charity organizations. Experts would later deem it to be a case of Munchausen by proxy syndrome, a mental disorder in which a caregiver makes up or induces illnesses for sympathy or attention. After figuring out she hadn’t really been sick, Gypsy helped to plot her mother’s death in 2015. (Gypsy is currently serving a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to her role in her mother’s killing.)
The case gained national attention following the release of a 2016 Buzzfeed article and an HBO documentary, “Mommy Dead and Dearest.” King, 19, relied on interview footage to help capture Gypsy’s demeanor and childlike voice. She also wore prosthetic teeth and shaved her head to better resemble Gypsy. But then came the internal navigation.
“I had to imagine what Gypsy was like in her more quiet moments by herself,” King said when she recently stopped by the L.A. Times video studio. “There’s this way that she is around her mom — and you can see a lot of that in the footage that’s been put out there. But when she’s alone, I imagined, what I put out there, would just be a little bit different — especially as time goes on.”
“The Act,” which is nearing the end of its first season, spends most of its time exploring the mother-daughter dynamic over a seven-year stretch, after the two moved to a home built by Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, Mo., in 2008. It chronicles how Gypsy comes of age — or at least tries to in secret — and slowly realizes the deception at play.
“The bottom line is, she and her mom both had the same desire: to love and be loved,” King said. “But Dee Dee’s love for Gypsy was so toxic and so unhealthy that even though Gypsy loved her, she just wasn’t getting what a young girl needs from a mother or from anyone. So doing these things in secret, eating the sugar, I wanted to play that. There is a sense of guilt from Gypsy when she does all these things because she does love her mom. You should never get the sense, throughout the series, that Gypsy hates her mom. … I think when Gypsy is experiencing these new things on her own, it’s exciting, it’s freeing, it’s her little secret, but there is a sense of guilt that comes with that because she doesn’t want to hurt the person that is closest to her even though she wants to break away from that closeness.”
For all the intensity that the series demands, King said it helped to be working opposite Patricia Arquette, who plays Dee Dee.
“We really had a very lovely and special connection,” King said. “Her and I had so many hard scenes together. Just to be able to have each other, emotionally, for support and also, while we were doing those scenes, to just step onto the set with her and we would just start rehearsing, but then we would come up with ideas together.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, King talked about the joys of playing a role where vanity wasn’t a factor, some of the more challenging scenes she had to act out (hint, the ones involving a laptop and a boy), and she spills about the “Kissing Booth” sequel too.
For the full conversation, check out the video below: