Currently carving out a career in some of the hottest films this year, Allison King has her finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Allison not only appears in this Summer’s thriller “Baby Driver,” she is also appearing in this Fall’s powerful drama “Thank You For Your Service.” Allison has an instinctive ability to make her scenes count and make them memorable, and that makes her an actor to watch just to see what she does next. In an exclusive interview, Allison shares just what drew her to these two incredible films and how she pursues meaningful work to enhance her career and satisfy her soul.
What initially appealed to you about working on “Baby Driver”?
ALLISON: Edgar Wright. Simply and completely. I had been a big fan of “Shaun of the Dead” for years, it’s one of my favorite comedies because it’s so quietly insightful. So when I got the audition and saw it was an Edgar Wright creation, I knew I wanted it, real bad. But you kind of have to push those thoughts away when you’re an actor auditioning, because wanting something can really mess with the creative process. You need to stay open and risky and wanting something can make you play safe.
How would you describe the character you portray in the film?
ALLISON: I see her as someone who has decided to be happy, and that’s that. My grandmother is like that: no matter what happens in her life, you can’t ruin her mood. She has joy in her heart every day, but it’s a choice. And it’s not because she doesn’t feel sadness, it’s because she’s chosen joy as her operating system. As someone who struggles with dark thoughts and moods, I admire those people.
What was it like working alongside such a talented ensemble of actors?
ALLISON: It’s always powerful to see the behind the scenes of the actors you admire. Working on a set can be grueling, there’s naturally a lot of waiting around, and managing your energy so you’re “on” for action can be really challenging. I’ve always really loved Jamie Foxx…ever since I saw him on IN LIVING COLOR. But seeing how he kept his energy between takes, and rested when we were waiting, was really wonderful. He also kept the energy of the set joyful and fun. My admiration only grew. Everyone was very supportive and lovely. I mean it was a pure pleasure!
What was your favorite part about working on this project?
ALLISON: Without a doubt working with Edgar Wright and Bill Pope. I was already a fan and then to find out how lovely they are to be around and how they work: diligently and with simple and clear focus. It’s sort of demystifying. It’s just inspiring to see that it’s not all egos or all that Hollywood gossip stuff. That it really is purely about making something creative, fun and unique. Also meeting Joe Loya, the script consultant who worked with Edgar on the screenplay. He’s become a close friend and mentor. He’s now working as a writer on TV and to think he started out robbing banks 20 years ago. His journey in life is a constant inspiration.
What has been the one thing you as an actor haven taken away from working on “Baby Driver”?
ALLISON: So, there was this one line in my scene with Ansel that I just couldn’t get right on the day we shot. A full year later I woke up and suddenly it made so much sense and I totally got what it should have been. (Actors do this all the time.) I was so angry with myself because suddenly it felt like the most genius line on the planet. So I reached out to Edgar just to say, “Hey, I’m sorry, I totally get it now and it was amazing.” Well, the line ended up getting cut and it turns out he thought the scene was perfect without the line! I just think sometimes we actors have to trust our bodies and what we know to be honest. Sometimes it’s not your fault for not getting something. This can be so hard to do when you’re working with superstars and directors you admire. But there it is.
What do you hope viewers to take away from watching “Baby Driver”?
ALLISON: I think one of the themes of the movie is that our actions have consequences. The brilliance of Edgar is that it’s wrapped up in this big, beautiful, glossy, musical, action movie. It seems to me that the more aware we are that our actions affect everyone around us, including the rest of this beautiful interconnected world, the better our world would be.
What was the biggest challenge working on “Baby Driver”?
ALLISON: I was nervous about the action sequence I’m involved in, even though it’s pretty small and simple. I really wanted it to be authentic and not forced, and I knew that the most important part would be to stay loose and in my body and to really just react to the violence happening in front of me. In that heightened-state it can be hard to always hit your mark or worry about the technicalities of the camera. So I kind of let that worry go and opted to lean on authenticity instead. Everything turned out great. I’m lucky I was working with such a talented camera crew who kept me in focus!
What did you learn from that experience?
ALLISON: I found that all my training as an actor served me well, and ultimately all I had to do was trust that my body would do it…like choreography or dance. You know, you learn the steps really slowly, and you work it until it’s in your body. Then you just let go and feel the music and your body moves where it should. That moment of trust and freedom is so thrilling. Trust is a big theme of this interview! But it’s true. I think in acting trust is huge: of yourself, of your body, of your scene partners, of the director and cinematographer, of the crew, of the editor. It’s all one giant trust fall exercise.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
ALLISON: I always tell people this story. For the longest time, I felt shut out of the industry and all I could think was: I want to be invited to the table. I have all the tools, someone invite me! What I learned was there is no table, and if you want a table you have to make it. So I started creating my own work and really falling in love with the work for the work’s sake, without measuring it as success or failure but process and joy. Of course, then I started working. I guess I’m at some table now, but I feel it’s of my own making. Sometimes amazing people like Edgar join in and sometimes they don’t but I have an amazing community of artists around me and I can’t wait to see how this dinner party turns out.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the amazing variety of roles and projects you have worked on?
ALLISON: I feel like I’m just getting started, so can I answer that one in a couple more years? I think finding joy in the process. Not getting bogged down with bookings or no-bookings or the churn of the industry. Just focusing on the project in front of me and my little piece of the pie, and making it as fun and juicy and enjoyable as possible. That keeps my head straight and my priorities positive.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
ALLISON: Well, I’m definitely riding the “Baby Driver” wave right now. It’s really fun to be in a movie that people love. As for my career, I think I’m kind of an unknown quantity right now. Thanks to Anthony Lane and his incredible mention of my work in The New Yorker, I’m getting more interest than I was getting a year ago. It’s funny because my work hasn’t changed, but the level of interest has changed. It just goes to show that “success” as an actor is tricky. That’s why I choose to focus on the joy I get out of each day, each audition, each character.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten? What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
ALLISON: The old saying that “work begets work” really holds true. If you’re not working, you should be working in a class that makes you uncomfortable (in that growing way, not in an icky way). I wasn’t booking for a really (really) long time, and I stayed in class, I worked on plays, I did theater, I read plays, I worked on my voice, and when the opportunities came, I was ready. Suddenly, I find myself on set, or on a red carpet, and the game is different, but it’s the same. So: work. Actors need to act. So, go act.
You also co-star in the upcoming film “Thank You For Your Service.” What was the appeal of that role and working on that film?
ALLISON: I was familiar with David Finkel’s book, “The Good Soldiers” and when I saw that this was based on the follow up book to that, I was immediately in love. Then the writing was so, so, so good. The scenes I auditioned with, my god, I just loved the character, I loved what the writer was saying with her, I felt her and I loved her. I just wanted it so badly. I love films that really tackle these questions: What is moral, what is right, how do we define what is good and what is bad. Because it is always changing. And Jason Hall’s script really dives into that deeply.
Then do have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
ALLISON: Yes! I was thrilled (that’s saying it lightly) to work with Nicolai Fuglsig and Michael Shannon on “Horse Soldiers.” It’s a very different kind of war movie about a special operation into Taliban territory just after September 11th. I play Michael Shannon’s wife and was actually terrified to work with him. He’s so intimidating in his performances! I’d been such a fan for so long. Meeting your idols is a strange experience. But, turns out, he’s just another theater actor and we were both there to really play and throw down and it was such a thrill. It was one of the more magical days I’ve had on set. For the verve and simplicity of the work. God, I love this job.
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans do to lend support in that endeavor?
ALLISON: We are desperately hungry for a broader spectrum of voices. I’m not just talking about women, but also people who are LGBTQ, people of color, people with disabilities.
But here’s the truth: I DON’T KNOW. So, I’ll just tell you what I do!
Watch content that reflects what you value, see them in the theater and on opening weekend so the studios hear your monetary “vote.” (Also, vote.)
Be a fan instead of a critic. Yes, we all have an opinion. But, start as a fan and see what’s great first. Starting from an open and positive perspective can really change your life.
Engage on social media and in the world around you. Follow people you admire, join the conversation! Speak up when you see something you agree or disagree with. We’re living in a breathing democracy and your voice is part of that. I know it’s super scary and the trolls can be so upsetting, but we need to hear your perspective. Show young women the role model you wish you had. One who speaks her mind, tells her stories honestly, speaks truth to power. If you engage on social media, stay positive and stay honest (and factual) and you’ll never have to defend your point of view, because it’s your truth.
If you have not had the chance yet, go see Allison’s eye-catching performance in “Baby Driver,” which is out now in theaters. Then also be sure to keep an eye out for the release of “Thank You For Your Service,” which is due to be released October 27, 2017. To follow Allison’s career and daily adventures, you can follow her on Twitter @AllisonKing and on Instagram: @allisongking