Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” opened last weekend to a solid #1 spot in the worldwide box office. If you’re one of those that’s flocking to the theaters to see it — as you should! — you’ve probably already been charmed by the character of China Girl.
China Girl is voiced by 13-year-old Joey King — well known for giving life to the spunky Beezus in the “Ramona and Beezus” movie starring Selena Gomez. This seemingly delicate character is full of zest and life, and turns out to become a sort of conscious for Oz, played by James Franco, in this prequel to Frank L. Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” books, as imagined by director Sam Raimi.
Oz and his flying monkey friend Finley are on their way to find Glinda, the Good Witch, when they run into a desolate China Girl that had just lost it all. China Girl is actually a porcelain doll, making her fragile from the outside, but in the inside she’s a tough girl with opinions, a cute stubbornness and even a manipulative attitude to get what she wants.
We sat down with Joey King to learn more about China Girl through her interpretation of her, and also about the fascinating process Sam Raimi created in order to match China Girl’s facial expressions to hers.
How did you get this role?
Sam Raimi always wanted to know what my opinion was about the scene or how I felt about my character.
Were you able to improvise a little bit?
Yes, I definitely did. There was just a bunch of little things that we could throw here and there. It was really nice to know that we had that and it was comfortable to know that we could do that without him getting mad. He left that window open for us.
Can you explain a bit about the process of your recording your voice for your character?
They had like three cameras in this booth that I was in and they filmed my face and they attached my facial expressions on to China Doll. That was very interesting since I had never seen that technology being used before. It was really exciting for me to be part of something like that. I was also the whole time on set with the other actors and I got to do the scenes with them for real. They just had to keep me and Zach Braff hidden behind a rock or something and we’d peg our faces there and the people would be filming us; that was really strange, but cool.
I’m trying to visualize that …
Yeah, so there’s this one scene where we’re in the Haunted Forest and there’s like a rock and Zach and I hid behind it while our characters as little puppets were sitting there where we were supposed to be and they had the cameras on the set to film our faces and our facial expressions and we’d kinda play out to James Franco and Michelle Williams. So that was very neat and different. People are like “How do you do that?”
So how did that tie in with the puppeteer and the motions that he was doing?
The puppets were sitting in our places and my puppeteer, Phillip Hubert, was standing there with his marionette puppet with all the strings and bringing her to life. He was very good.
So he gave her personality and you gave her personality?
Yes, you know what he would do? We all had earpieces on and we’d have fun with them. Zach and I would whisper to James, “Listen to your conscious, James.” The puppeteer had an earpiece too and he would match China Girl’s performance to my voice and my performance.
Wow, that’s sounds like a lot of choreography…
Oh, yes, it was difficult to master, but he’s definitely got it down.
I adored China Girl and wasn’t expecting her at all. What about her personality do you identify with the most?
Her and I share a lot of traits. She’s very sassy and manipulative. She works her way into getting herself into that adventure. We’re very similar her and I. I prank my sister, so that’s kinda like my manipulative side. I’m kinda sassy, too. That’s why I loved getting to play her because it wasn’t too far away from my personality.
When was the first time you saw China Girl and what was your reaction?
I first saw her at the screen test and they brought out this very rough version of her. I was like “That’s amazing, it looks so cool!” She was so small. It was so exciting to get to see what I might be playing. Once I got to watch the movie, I was nervous to see how my voice would match and how she would come out, but when I saw her it was perfect and great.
What tip or advice can you give kids or their parents that want to get into the movie or TV business? You’ve done so well.
Thank you. The thing that I tell everyone is that it’s hard because it took me a while to get to where I am and I’m here now. But it’s definitely a lot of rejection, going to a lot of auditions and I got disappointed a lot. Like, you get so close, but not close enough or you just don’t get it; it’s really hard to deal with and sad. But you have to know that you have to hang on and never give up because you never know when it’s going to take off. I just have to know that when one door closes, another door opens.