Allison King is a stage and film actress and can currently be seen in the hit movie “Baby Driver” with Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Hamm. Born in LA, Allison was bitten by the acting bug at a young age; she went to college in San Francisco, studied abroad in Paris for a year and then ended up in New York where she lived for several years before moving back to L.A. Allison also loves dance, many different sports including surfing, swimming, baseball, and racquetball. She is a certified SCUBA diver, proficient in hula, and dance of various kinds. She is bilingual in French, and she can do many different accents, including British, Irish, French, New York, and Southern. A big Harry Potter fan, she has had the Sorting Hat placed upon her head and declared Slytherin. She would also like you to know she is an excellent fake sneezer and is great with dogs (although I could have sworn I heard a cat meowing throughout our interview).
Allison is absolutely delightful to talk to, with a warm personality that comes through even on her website and on her social media. She designed her website herself, and offers many words of wisdom for those expressing an interest, especially women, in breaking into film and theater. Allison talked nerdy with us about Baby Driver, TV roles, acting, and what it means to be a Slytherin!
Hi, Allison! I’ve checked out your IMDB, your personal web page, and of course I’ve seen Baby Driver. It’s one of my favorite films of 2017 so far. Have you seen the completed film?
Oh yes, I’ve seen it many times!
What was it like working on that set? From seeing the film, it seems like such a high adrenaline type of experience.
I think you hit the nail on the head! Everyone was really happy to be there, it was really exciting to be on the set with so many famous people, I have to say. I’ve worked with some big names before, but not that many in one place. It was a little bit intimidating, but also most were so generous and nice. Edgar (Wright, director) is just the sweetest, sweetest human being. He welcomed me with open arms onto this really high pressure, high intensity set. It was very exciting to be there. I had to keep pinching myself and keep focusing on the work to keep myself from getting caught up and being a fangirl, I was a fan of so many people on the set, it was like oh my god! But I just wanted to be an actor, so I played it cool.
When you went into the film, when everyone went into the film, did anyone think it was going to be such a huge hit?
I don’t know but I think that there is so much that goes into filmmaking, there’s so many variables. A movie can come out that’s kind of similar, and then yours gets lost. I don’t think it’s ever possible to know if something is going to be a hit. There’s also so many crazy things that can happen, it’s just impossible to know. What you can know going into [Baby Driver] is that Edgar Wright has a clear vision, and you can trust that. He’s such a genius that you can trust that he’s going to do something fresh and new and hysterical; genre melding, different ideas – it’s like walking into his mind and that’s what you can trust and bank on.
One of the things I liked about your character (“nice teller lady”) is that she’s savvy. There’s that really tense moment when you see her getting ready to walk into the post office, and we know what’s going on inside, and Baby catches her eye. The audience is holding its breath, oh – is she going to pick up on it – and I really like that she did. How did that fit into the vision of who your character is?
That’s a great question. I knew walking in that she was going to be nice – “nice lady teller” – the most important thing about this character is that she’s nice, and I think that niceness can sometimes be seen as stupidity, but I was determined to show that she she was smart, that she’s choosing to be nice, she’s choosing to believe in the best in people and that is what is so interesting in that scene is that she sees that Baby is a good man once she meets him, and the child next to him, and she says, “Is that your boy?” and he lies, it’s clear he’s lying, or joking, she doesn’t really know, she believes in the best, she automatically assumes that he’s a good man. She doesn’t see anything untoward happening. I think in that moment that you’re pointing out is another great moment where she’s nice but she’s not stupid; I understood that his face lost its openness, so I took it to mean something bad was happening. But you’re absolutely right, she is savvy.
You’re so right about niceness – it’s perceived to be such a weakness in this day and age, but she’s anything but weak.
Absolutely. And I think particularly for women from childhood we’re taught to be polite and sweet. But just because I’m polite and sweet, it doesn’t mean I don’t have boundaries, it doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, it doesn’t mean I won’t go get help when I need it to back me up. I think that’s a great character moment.
It also showed a lot of respect for the viewers!
Yeah, because they know what’s going on, so let’s move this right along, let’s not play this out. I want to add onto to that too; I’m kind of like a true crime crazy person and I think that’s interesting, because you never know how you’re going to react in that kind of a high stress situation until you are faced with it, and what you’re point to is so interesting…. I think how you react in that moment shows what kind of person you are and I think that she doesn’t cower down and fall apart. She goes and gets help and goes back to the situation. There are many things she could do, she could freeze, she could just run away, not be able to speak, but she’s smart and brave enough to go and get help and comes back with that help. I think that shows a real depth of character. She couldn’t just run away.
It’s also a tribute to your acting, what you can do without words. There weren’t a lot of words spoken in that sequence. So kudos to you!
I’ve seen some rumors online that there are already plans for a Baby Driver 2. Have you heard anything about that?
I know, I’ve seen that; how awesome would that be! I wouldn’t say for sure I would get to be in Baby Driver 2, because now all of Hollywood is lining up to work with Edgar and I’m sure he’ll find some big A list star to be in that movie, but I would give my left foot to work with Edgar again. I like stepping into his mind, as I said earlier; it’s such a fun place to be. If I’m not in it, which I probably won’t be, I’ll definitely be there opening weekend to see it.
You have such an amazing list to television credits: Flashback, Drop Dead Diva, Revenge, Secrets and Lies, and Turn: Washington’s Spies to name a few. Do you have a favorite show you’ve been in, and/or a favorite part that you have played?
I think my favorite was actually Turn. It was really interesting, I love the show, the costumes are just gorgeous, and it was fun to be in a situation where I got to wear a corset and stockings that most actors dream of wearing. Mostly the part was nonverbal, and it was really challenging. I still wonder, on that day, the director got what he wanted. It was a fun scene but really challenging physically. I’m a sex worker having sex with a British general and someone comes in and wants to steal his uniform and we’re bartering without speaking. They set up a whole little town with a bison and a sheep, it was in Virginia, and it was amazing being on set and seeing the whole thing. There are so many great actors on that show, and it’s a great show. It seems like not a lot of people watch though, whenever I tell people I was on the show, they say, “what, what?” I don’t know how they are missing out on this show, it’s so great. And it’s great to binge, because there are a lot of twists and turns.
I also saw on Pretty Dead (a rather unusual horror movie, 2013) that you worked as an associate producer and as art director. How did that come about?
That was a friend of mine, he’s now left the business and he’s writing novels now, which is awesome. He had a movie that he was working on and self-financing, and I was the beginning of my career and determined to learn as much as I could, and we created as much as we could with as little money as possible and that was how I was able to get an art director credit. I was able to act in it a bit, but my part ended up getting cut out in the final product, but it was fun – it’s always fun to work with your friends. It was creative; like how do you create a concrete cell – with styrofoam sheets. We carved it to look like stone; it was incredible. The collaboration taught me about the magic of camera. There are so many ways you can “cheat” and the viewer will just go along with it. It looks real, so it’s real to you, and that’s magic.
Would you like to do more of that in the future – produce, write, direct?
Yes! I’m writing and working on a screenplay that will star me, hopefully (in a perfect world)! I realized about a year and a half ago that I can keep acting, keep getting roles, but I realized I have some stories to tell myself. I think it’s also really important for women to start writing stories for themselves. I think we have realized that we’re 51% of the population we’re really under-represented as far as movies and TV goes. And also on stage, honestly. We’ve seen so many iterations of a boy’s journey into becoming a man and I think it would be really great for women to make their own stories. So I’m working on a couple of ideas and stories myself, but you know it is such a tough business…
How did you get into the business?
Sheer tenacity! It was a series of problems that you find solutions for. I needed my SAG card so I produced and acted in a short film so that I was able to get my SAG card. I got my first job on a show called “Your Kid Ate What?” (2009) one of those shows that does re-creations of true stories. By hook or by crook! I think when I was younger I thought I’d be discovered, I’d be invited to a party, or to a table, but then I realized you need to make your own table and have your own party. Then people will eventually start joining your table and your party. So that’s how I kind of got into it. By hook or by crook!
Are you originally from Los Angeles?
I grew up in Southern California, and my first memories are of walking on the Venice Beach Strand. My father worked there on the Strand, in an architectural firm. I went to high school about 40 minutes east of LA. When I graduated, I went to San Francisco for college, and then studied in Paris for a bit, spent several years in New York before returning to LA after my mom got sick. And I decided to stay. I stayed for the weather, I couldn’t go back to those New York winters!
It seems that there’s two different acting vibes, a California vibe and a New York vibe. Did you find that to be true?
I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I think that there is a sort of an ego around a New York actor but I think the lines have now blurred so much. There are movie stars on Broadway now and there are Broadway stars, like (Tony award winning actress) Cherry Jones now in “Transparent”, doing TV. So I think in New York there is a push for more training, more conservatory style work, but I don’t believe there is that much difference anymore. There are just actors. You can play up where you’re from if you like, but we can always be a little bit kinder with each other when it comes to that ego driven stuff.
You’ve said so much motivational stuff, especially for women just getting started. Your analogy about “make your own table” – that’s great! To have that kind of attitude is profound, especially in the crazy world we live in!
Thank you. It took a long time for me to get there, maybe because I had to face it all myself. I couldn’t start working until I started learning to love the process and part of it was coming to terms with how hard it is, coming to terms with rejection. How much business there is, how you sometimes have to give in to the business and its many demands, and you sort of have to fall in love with it and be okay with it. And then all of a sudden I started working. I think if I could support anyone on this very hard journey I would say, “just fall in love with the process.”
Besides acting in films and television, are there any other forms of entertainment that you’d like to try your hand at? Maybe singing, dancing?
Yeahhh wellll… I like to sing. In my car, alone! I’m not great, but I did grow up dancing. I was a dance class kid, not an acting class kid. I do love to dance, but I don’t think I would consider it to be paid for, like a “La La Land” situation unless I had a lot of coaching ahead of time. But l love using my body, moving my body. I think acting is a body art form. I just think it would take a lot for me to do that. It’s like skydiving; you could talk me into it, but it would take a lot of talking!
What kind of vision, what kind of goal are you aiming for? I know you said you are working on a screenplay; do you have a goal du jour? Because on any journey we have goals, and those goals change, we accomplish one and move onto another. At this moment do you have a particular acting goal?
For the short term, I certainly do. I want to book a TV show in a recurring role situation where I could explore a character over many episodes. That would be my next small goal. But as a long term goal, I love Andrea Arnold, a director, who just did “ American Honey,” I thought that was such a gorgeous film. Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), I’m just madly in love with his work. I think there’s a style of film being done that’s very cinematic and emotional and that is the kind of work I want to do. The kind that feels like a moving poem. Terrence Malick did a lot of that stuff, does a lot of that stuff. I love these kinds of filmmakers who are coming up, that are kind of on the edges; they’re not the usual kind of story, or have unusual story structure, kind of bending the rules; again, like making your own party. I want to go to those parties! That would be a long term bucket list kind of goal. But right now I’m loving having been in Baby Driver, and I have two other projects coming out in the next six months. I feel very lucky and very blessed to be where I’m at.
This leads me into Thank You For Your Service. I read on your webpage that this project is very dear to you. Can you talk about this? I know this film is set to be released later in this year (October); how much can you talk about this project at this time?
Well, I can say this is generally about PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and how veterans are not getting the support they need, coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq and other places. I think war has changed, I think the wounds people are coming back with are not always visible on the outside. Something that I mean when I say this film is dear to me – I think mental health is really important. It can make your life happy, or it can make your life unhappy. I think these men have sacrificed themselves in body, spirit and mind. I think it’s a shame that they don’t get the support that they need. I think unfortunately too many people are caught in the bureaucracy of the VA system. So that’s what I mean by near and dear to me, these deserve more
I saw a trailer for Thank You For Your Service recently, and I think – in all of the right ways – it’s going to be very painful to watch.
I think it’s the kind of thing where – and I don’t want to give it away – but it’s like any great movie in that it’s painful but also uplifting because we believe in the human spirit. What Jason Hall has been able to do with that movie – he wrote and directed it (based on a book by David Finkel) – and he was able to dip into that dark corner of PTSD and traumatic brain injury and turn and wants us to experience that and it shows that experience, but it also shows the brother love and brotherhood for those compatriots in the tanks together, and also the love between husband and wife when they come home, and the love in the community. It’s really a story about love, which I think is – I’m getting choked up talking about it – I think Jason Hall is brilliant. I’m looking forward to a lot more from this director in the future.
I can say I play a VA counselor, that I work in a VA hospital that tries to make the vets get the help they need. I think that’s all I’ll say.
On a happier note, again I was looking at your website and you mentioned that you are “Slytherin.” Do I detect a bit of a nerd there?
Yeah, a little bit. I’m not a nerd about a lot of things but there’s a part of me that really really needs to have Harry Potter be real! I really wish I could have gone to school at Hogwarts! I think J.K. hit upon something we needed at just the right time. I return to those books every year and I really look forward to it every year, I read all of those books every year! They’re joyful and they’re continually joyful and solid, with everything terrible that’s going on in the world right now. There is a great podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts, which I just love, I love what they’re doing with the books. They go through each book chapter by chapter and read it as though it were a sacred text. It’s really taking what they [the books] are saying at face value. I just think it’s just wonderful. Book nerd!
I’m not a brainiac, but I solve problems first by intellectualizing. I don’t mind breaking the rules when it suits me and when it doesn’t hurt anyone else. I did the test, and it’s right, I think I’m a Slytherin. I also want to really be able to talk to animals, and that may have been why. I think Slytherin to me is someone who sly, and someone who isn’t afraid to break some rules.
Thank you, Allison, for a great discussion, and for your time and patience! If you have yet to see Baby Driver, hurry to theaters now! As of this month, the film has grossed more than $97 million dollars in the US alone, putting it within the top twenty of the highest grossing movies of the year thus far. Look for Allison this fall in “Thank You for Your Service” and in next January’s “Horse Soldiers” which tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11. You can also watch the final season of “Turn: Washington’s Spies” on AMC and catch earlier episodes on Netflix.