For someone who never anticipated being in front of the camera, Scotland’s own Georgia King has certainly carved out an impressive career in short order. With a grounded approach to show business inherited from her parents, King’s work ethic, talent and newly-discovered comedic sensibilities have earned her roles on TV and in films from Europe to the US. First known stateside for her starring role in The New Normal, she’s currently playing with the big boys on HBO’s Vice Principals. We chatted with King about her approach to fame, improvising during auditions and looking for different types of roles, in front of and behind the camera.
Paste Magazine: Your parents were both performers—your mom, an opera singer, while your dad was an in-demand actor. Did you always know that you wanted to work in this world, or did you have other plans at any point?
Georgia King: That’s a good question. I actually never had plans on acting. I never anticipated I would be. I never thought I would be here in L.A., driving past billboards of this show that I get to be in. It’s nuts. That was a surprise for me. I loved acting, I just had no aspirations to do it.
When I was a kid I was really interested in making lots of stuff, always. I grew up in the countryside, so I think the massive influence for me, in terms of my parents being performers, is they were so curious about everything and were constantly encouraging and supporting my making of things. I would write little stories all the time. I remember my dad and I found a piece of wood that looked like a crocodile, and I cherished this so-called crocodile for like a year. He built me and my sister a tree house—there was a lot of nails and a lot of swearing, but I had a tree house. It was so cool.
My dad discouraged me and my older sister watching too much TV. I don’t want to portray them as crazy hippies, but I definitely feel like I was influenced by their creativity. But did I want to have an acting career myself? I didn’t think so. I think my goal really was to direct. I really wanted to make stories in that capacity.
Paste: With your parents being in the public eye, you likely had a much deeper insight than most about the trials and tribulations of being a celebrity. Did that affect your desire to become a big star in your own right?
King: The first thing I should mention is the fact that both of my parents are the most grounded, funny, affectionate, nice people. I actually didn’t have a grasp on how truly famous and big time my mom was in the opera world until maybe a few years ago. I found all of these videos of her, and had them transferred onto my laptop, and I was like, “Jesus Christ.” She was so famous, but she focused on being a mom when I came into the picture. I grew up not knowing the magnitude of my mom’s career, and only knew this incredible mom—this awesome woman.
I actually don’t know how much I grew up in a super-famous environment. I grew up in the countryside, in literally the middle of nowhere. We had one neighbor and a lot of sheep. My dad was in these pretty big films that were relevant to my age group. I remember him doing Richie Rich when I was eight-years-old, and then Jumanji. I remember going to these sets, and I loved being on film sets. I just found it fascinating watching how stories were made. That kind of thing, I am so lucky to have had. I did get a lot from my parents being performers.
Fame is a weird thing. I think maybe I learned to never get too big for your boots. Keep your feet on the ground and keep your head down, and work hard—that’s probably what I learned from my parents more than anything. Remain generous and kind, and have humility.
Paste: So when did the switch happen—your deciding to act instead of direct?
King: The directing thing is still very much alive. I actually just came for a meeting where I pitched a script to direct. The directing thing is still going, it’s just catching up with the acting side of things. The acting, however, came before I had a chance to study directing or figure out how I was going to get involved in that side of the industry. I started acting in—we call them gap years in the UK. When I was 18, I had a little break before I went to college, and within that time I worked in a cheese shop. I ate a ton of cheese. I went to London to meet with an acting agency and a model agency at the same time. I weirdly booked the first thing I auditioned for, and very naively thought, “How funny and easy” (laughs). Little did I know. The acting kind of came about by accident, but the biggest revelation for me was doing comedy.
I did some period dramas—I wore a lot of bonnets, and sat on some really nice horses. That was cool, but I felt like I did a 180 when I got the role of the villain in this film called Wild Child. I had never really thought of myself as doing comedy. It felt like a really fun discovery, that I loved doing comedy so much.
Paste: I read a story about how you actually fell out of a role because you had a ruptured appendix—which you later fought through in order to come back in time to fulfill the responsibilities for that role. That’s an amazing testament to your passion for your work.
King: Thank you. I’m a very determined young lady. I will say that. I’m not young anymore, but I was a young lady at the time. That was my first job. That was the one I auditioned for and I was like “Yay I got it, everything’s like a dream.”
I remember crying to this young doctor and telling him it was my first acting job, and please would he sign the release forms to let me leave, and he did. I still had bandages on and couldn’t put the corset on, my costume. I’d lost so much weight after the experience and surgery that I didn’t need the corset. I’m very, very much like Casper the ghost in that project. I’ve seen it. I’m barely alive in that.
Paste: Unbelievable. It’s funny to think about the respect earned by athletes in pro sports for coming back early from injuries and illnesses to play. Did you earn any street cred with your peers for toughing that one out?
King: Oh my gosh! Unfortunately, they have so many insurance issues on films and TV, I’m not kidding, I guarantee so many actors pretend everything is fine when they’re so, so ill. And any medical exam you have you’re like, “No, everything’s fine.”
Paste: When did you make the leap and move to the US?
King: I came here in 2012. I moved out here for The New Normal, an NBC series. We just did one season in the end, but it was a 22-episode order so it was quite a long experience and life-changing. I was so green when I moved here. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know what network even meant. I just remember saying, “No, I’m not doing a network show. It’s NB-something.” Just so clueless.
Paste: Beyond the work, how much of a culture shock was it for you to move to L.A.?
King: Oh my gosh! It was surreal. I actually didn’t quite grasp the culture shock until after I finished doing big chunks of filming, because I was so busy filming that it felt like the most surreal leap. I went from working in the UK to this.
I was honored to be the female lead of the show. I had never done press junkets and radio tours. I had never been a part of a show that was prolifically so forward thinking. It was about gay rights, and a gay couple wanting a baby, and creating a family. I was privileged to be a part of this whole other world I’d never been in. There was a whole gay rights movement which I got to be much more aware of. I felt like I was educated, because you can care about something, but then you can really start to hear a lot more stories and get much more involved.
Paste: Now, of course, there’s Vice Principals. How did you come to be a part of this show?
King: I was in the UK working, and I was actually wondering whether I should move back to the UK. I came back to LA. I was going to direct my first music video, and possibly pack up my things and go back to the UK. The morning after I got back, I remember I had almost no sleep and was very jet-lagged, I went and met with Jody Hill. Danny McBride was ill, and was not there. I met with them, and the casting director—I loved the casting director—Sherry Thomas, said to me before I went through that they love improv. I had not really dabbled too much in improv with an American accent. Maybe the jet-lag made me reckless, but I just had fun with it. I don’t know. They must have seen something [they liked]. They have particular ideas of who these people are. They’re very well-realized characters that they create, so there must have been something. I’m slightly too scared to ask what it was about me that hit the right chord.
That led me to get to read with Danny the following day. I remember immediately thinking he hated me because he’s like, “I don’t want to do this scene. We’ve written so much good stuff for this character, let’s just go straight into this scene,” and I was like, ”Oh my god, he’s trying to cut down the audition time already, he doesn’t approve.” He started improv-ing at the end of that second scene, and we just improv-ed for quite a while. It was really fun! They were all so cool, and so nice and so generous, which brings out good things in people. Sometimes a casting room and audition is very oppressive, and they make you feel very edgy, and that doesn’t bring out the best in me. I was very lucky for who I was reading for.
Paste: The hype for Vice Principals really positioned it as a testosterone-fueled monster-truck rally of a comedy, but there’s definitely a lot of heart and characterization behind all of the conflict on the show.
King: What’s really cool about Vice Principals is that there are some extraordinary characters within it, and the show keeps jumping to all of the different characters to see what kind of mini-dramas they’re all dealing with. It’s a very balanced, interesting, and smartly observed story.
At the surface of it are these two guys vying for power, but it speaks volumes about the human condition. I think a lot of women and men will recognize things in those two characters: relate to things, be appalled by things, be amused by things, be hurt by things that they experience. Every single character is full of so many qualities, and so many ugly traits, and so many vulnerabilities. I don’t want to give too much away, but Snodgrass at the beginning is this very new teacher with probably the purist idea of what that school should be like, and is very much out of her depth. Then as the show progresses, you start seeing other elements to my character. I’m pretty confident it’ll appeal to a lot of different types of people.
Paste: You’ve done drama, comedy and everything in between. Beyond directing, what’s something you’d like to pursue next in your career, that you haven’t done before?
King: I just did this play here in L.A., and it was a political play—where I inhabited a character with an opposite political stance from my own. It’s interesting. I’ve played crazy people and stalkers, and obviously I’m far from being like those characters, but we all have an element of madness. I wasn’t expecting to find the political character the most different to me. I always assumed that it would be, like a psychopath, or a stalker or an American surrogate. I feel like other things on paper seemed like pretty far reaches for me, when actually they weren’t, and I found ways to really connect to those characters. But this last one took a lot of research, because I think I underestimated how important politics really is in terms of how it drives you and the way that you see the world. That was a great challenge, and one that gave me a lot more understanding, and a lot more patience, and reminded me to listen to the other side.
Since Vice Principals and the play, I’ve just been focusing on writing a lot more. I wrote short films and a music video, as I think I mentioned it to you, and then the idea being that I wanted to keep going, but I didn’t know if I was capable of really, properly writing. Luckily, with the encouragement of a couple of people from the show, including some writers from Vice Principals and Danny, it kind of gave me the courage to give it a shot and give it time. So I’ve been able to explore some really different characters because I’m not only writing for a woman. I’m writing men, characters of all different ages and all different beliefs. I don’t know if this is quite answering the question, but I’m excited to direct more and write more.
In terms of acting, I always look for the next extreme, and the next really big challenge for me personally. I just played a very strong, determined crusader, so maybe someone who’s introverted. I have no idea. I love finding new challenges and new experiences.