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Wunderkind Actress Joey King Talks Playing Battered Teen Bride and More

joey kingShe talks like a seasoned adult professional and has a list of credits to match — so when chatting with Joey King, it’s easy to forget she is only 14 years old.

Come June 28, the wunderkind actress will be seen as Elissa Wall, the girl who helped bring down a polygamist sect leader, in Lifetime’s “Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs.” “Scandal’s” Tony Goldwyn stars as the venerated and feared head of the rogue Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a man who had 79 wives — 24 of whom were under the age of 17 — and who wound up convicted of child sexual assault. He also performed dozens of weddings of underaged girls, including coercing Wall into marrying her abusive 19-year-old cousin when she was only 14. In that case, he was charged with accessory to rape.

King says she wasn’t aware of the FLDS case until she started researching Wall’s story. “To think that it was an actual true story is mind-boggling,” she notes.

It’s pretty revolting stuff.

“I know,” she admits. “But the thing is, Tony is so good. He’s not like that at all. He’s like the coolest person, but he plays the creepiest guy in this film. It’s incredible to see him make that transformation, because he is nothing like that. I look up to him so much. I’m a huge fan of ‘Scandal’ and I’m a huge fan of him as a person, too. He’s so sweet and such a good actor.”

Did she feel creeped out by the end of a day’s shooting? “I didn’t, because I knew Tony and I knew that he was such a nice guy and this is all just — we’re trying to tell a story that’s make believe for us. Of course, it wasn’t make believe for someone else. But it never really creeped me out,” says King.

“Outlaw Prophet” came in the midst of a string of productions for King, including her recurring role as Colin Hanks’ daughter in FX’s acclaimed “Fargo” series adaptation — and movies by Zach Braff and James Franco, each of whom got to know King while making last year’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful.”

First up is Braff’s July 18-opening “Wish I Was Here” with Braff, Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin. The dramedy has Braff as a 35-year-old actor struggling to make his dreams and family obligations coexist, and to figure out his purpose in life. It was hailed as a “Garden State” for grownups at its Sundance premiere.

King recalls that doing voice recording duty on “Oz,” she and Braff “were stuck in this little booth for six months together, so we became real close. He was so much fun and I loved working with hin as an actor. Then when he approached me for this film, I was very excited and intrigued to see how it would be working with him as an actor-director-producer and writer and it was nothing short of geniusness. I mean, I learned so much just by watching him.

“What’s so great about this film is it’s so relatable,” adds the precociously poised young woman, who started her career with a Life Cereal commercial at age four. Combining work and school has been a way of life for King through most of her life, which has seen her on sets ranging from episodic TV shows (“Entourage,” “Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “CSI,” etc.) to features (including “The Dark Knight,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love”” and “Ramona and Beezus”). She lives in Los Angeles with her parents, two older sisters, three dogs and Jay-Jay, the potbelly pig gifted to her by Jay Leno.

“Everybody has family issues no matter who you are, no matter what you do. Everyone has family problems, there’ s no denying it,” she goes on, speaking of “Wish I Was Here.” “It really shows you that when you’re in your final days, you’re going to want to spend time with your famly. You’re not going to want to go drive that fancy car that you bought, or wear those really expensive shoes. No, you’re going to want to spend time with the people that matter to you. So if relationships matter most to you at the end of days, why shouldn’t they matter most now?”

At one point in the film, King was required to shave her head — and did it. “It was incredible and really, really crazy and scary, but anything for Zach, right?” she says with a laugh. “Getting to wear a pink wig was so much fun. I didn’t want to part with it.”

She says she’s debating whether to keep her current pixie cut or let her hair grow longer again.

King plays Miss Quentin in James Franco’s forthcoming big screen adaptation of William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” a book that’s hard to follow, as she points out. She feels sympathy for Miss Quentin, who “just wants someone to understand and accept her.”

“It was very cool to see James working not just as an actor, but as a director as well,” King says.

She’s just returned from production of “Stonewall” — another film that marks a reunion with someone who wanted to work with her a second time. In this case, it’s director Roland Emmerich, with whom she made last year’s “White House Down” thriller. King points out that the drama, set against events leading to the 1969 Stonewall riot that marked a watershed moment in the gay civil rights movement, is a changeup for the filmmaker (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”) who has been called the Master of Disaster.

“Really, it’s an acceptance story about gay rights,” says King, who plays the accepting little sister of Jeremy Irvine in the film that also stars Ron Perlman and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. “A lot of people don’t like to talk about this. It’s very touchy. We’re talking about it. We’re making this film to help make the hate and non-acceptance stop. I think it’s very risky, and also very good. It’s not your typical Roland Emmerich film. I think people will really see this amazing side of him, doing something serious he really cares about.”

King will go back to complete her role in the film in a few weeks. Until then, she says, she wants to enjoy some summer time and chill.

After all, she is only 14.