If you are one of the few people who have yet to be captivated by the stranger-than-fiction story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, here are the Cliff’s Notes: Living in a small town in Missouri, Gypsy was confined to a wheelchair from the young age of 8, having survived what her mother told others was Leukemia, but sometimes said was a requirement due to her daughter’s supposed cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, and deadly sugar allergy. One day, Gypsy discovered that she was not as sick as her mother said she was, and there were major holes in her medical records. Her age, for one, was not 15 years old, but 19. So, Gypsy arranged for her boyfriend Nicholas Godejohn, whom she met online, to kill her mother in 2015, and eventually pled guilty to second-degree murder.
Michelle Dean reported the story to BuzzFeed, and HBO spun it into a documentary, titled Mommy Dead and Dearest in 2017. Now, Hulu has turned the true crime series that is your next major binge watch, starring Patricia Arquette as Dee Dee and a nearly unrecognizable Joey King as Gypsy Rose.
It’s a major transformation for King, who was most recently seen in the wholesome teen comedy film The Kissing Booth on Netflix. And there’s the physical transformation, as well: King shaved her entire head to play the role of Gypsy Rose, though not before having a little fun with it. “Before I did it, I wanted to have fun with my hair so about a month before I shaved it, I dyed it blonde,” King said. “Then, about two days before I shaved it, I dyed my hair blue and cut my bangs.” Then came the final shave, much to the shock of her eight million Instagram followers.
King didn’t exactly have a choice, either; her acceptance of the role was contingent upon Hulu’s plan for the actress to shave her head for visual accuracy. “When we were on set, I had to shave it every three to four days to keep it super short,” she said. After her own initial shock, King also grew to love the look. “A lot of the time we find ourselves hiding behind our hair, covering ourselves up. It becomes part of our identity,”she said. “So you’re losing part of that, and it’s definitely an adjustment for sure, but I’ve learned to love my hair when it was completely gone,” she continued, before adding, “Now that it’s growing back, I’m really enjoying that process. I kind of want to keep it short for a bit.” (Her relationship to Netflix was not hindered either: the streaming giant was “very supportive” of her choice to shave her head just after the massive success of her first Netflix film, The Kissing Booth, and right before the studio announced that a sequel would begin production within the next year.)
But the role is much more than just a haircut. “It was such a challenge but it was so exhilarating,” King said. When she auditioned for the role, she was familiar with the story, but decided to do more of a deep dive by watching the HBO documentary. The actress watched Mommy Dead and Dearest “no less than ten times” to prepare to inhabit Gypsy, often getting so lost in the story that she would forget to take notes and have to rewind over and over again. Matching Gypsy’s affect and posture was serious for King when she accepted the role, and she dedicated her waking—and sometimes sleeping—moments to perfecting the mimicry. “A lot of times I would watch her interviews and throw my headphones on, even if I was going to bed, and I would fall asleep listening to her voice,” she said. “Before we started shooting, I really listened to every bit of material I could find of her speaking, when she was younger and when she was older, because I wanted it to be clear throughout the series—which takes place over seven years—I wanted to portray the fact that her voice did change over seven years, even if it was just slightly. Making sure I did everything as accurately as possible was really important to me.”
When playing Gypsy became emotionally draining, King found solace in working as a team with Arquette. She revealed that while on set the two would sometimes need to hug each other for really long periods of time after filming some of the more emotionally draining scenes between the ill-fated mother-daughter duo. “I’ve never had such an amazing time working with another actor,” King said. “We didn’t stay in character when we weren’t in a scene, but if we had intense scenes together, we would help each other get into character beforehand and afterwards, because it was so draining, we would sit there and hug for a really long time.”
Due to legal reasons, King was unable to get in touch with the real Gypsy (who has been sentenced to prison, and won’t be eligible for parole for at least another six years). “I don’t know if Gypsy will watch this,” she admitted. “But if anyone who doesn’t have sympathy for Gypsy watches our show, I think that will change completely. I think the show sheds a light on how her decisions and her logic, albeit of course very wrong and illegal, were also understandable.”
“I do feel, though, if Gypsy watches the show, it will be really hard for her to watch, you know? First of all, watching someone else tell your story is difficult, and then having to relive those moments of your life, I think it would be really hard for her to watch,” King continued. “I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like for someone who lived through that, to see it through a TV show.”