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Joey King on Portraying Holocaust Survivor on ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’

Joey King on Portraying Holocaust Survivor on ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’

Since she began acting at 4, Joey King has been waiting for an opportunity to play a character that’s not only impactful but deeply personal. That dream was met with her depiction of Halina Kurc in We Were the Lucky Ones, a Holocaust survival drama based on the true story of a Jewish family determined to reunite after being separated during World War II.

When approached by director Thomas Kail about the role on the Hulu series, King said yes on the spot, before reading the script. “I had this feeling that this was going to be something I really wanted to be a part of, and I didn’t want to second-guess it,” explains the actress, who is Jewish. “I don’t know if I would consider it manifestation, but I really had hope for myself that I would be able to tell a story of this nature someday.”

King prepared for the role of the youngest daughter of the Kurc family with care, listening to Holocaust survivor stories and speaking with author Georgia Hunter, who wrote the novel of the same name that inspired the series — and gave the actress her stamp of approval. King also pushed past the pressure she put on herself for portraying a true-life figure. “You want to be gracious, you want to get it right, you want to be respectful, you want to really just showcase this person in all the heroic light they deserve,” says King, who earned an Emmy nomination in 2019 for her portrayal of the real-life Gypsy-Rose Blanchard in Hulu’s The Act. “Sometimes I felt, wow, am I really worthy enough to play somebody who has this life that she has lived? There was a great deal of responsibility that came with it, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Anything that you’re kind of scared to do, that feels like a very big undertaking, is definitely worth doing.”

The emotionally taxing nature of the project was another challenging endeavor for King. She says it particularly came to a head for her during episode seven, when her character begs her lover, Adam Eichenwald, played by Sam Woolf, not to join the war effort. “It was one of my favorite scenes to read because it’s a true, raw display from a woman who sometimes puts walls up, has this strength about her and feels her emotions are inaccessible at times. In that moment, she just takes that wall down, like, ‘This is how I feel. Please don’t leave me.’ ”

Joey King as Halina Kurc on We Were the Lucky Ones.

Vlad Cioplea/Hulu

King says she welcomed the fear and sadness she had to embrace to do the role justice and credits her castmates for making space for one another during difficult scenes. “It was an honor to be able to tackle those things,” she says. “These are depictions of people who went through something terrible; the least we can do as actors is feel the heavy emotion of it all.”

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Shooting on location in Romania last year, King was surprised at just how much of an impact the environment had on her performance: “We’re nowhere near the time that this actually happened, but I think the devastation of what this period in history was never leaves you. It brought so much to the surface.”

King now considers the part of Kurc her favorite to date and hopes to portray more real-life individuals in the future.

“It was really special to feel that kind of connection to a role,” she says. “It’s different from any other connection I’ve felt before.”

This story first appeared in a May standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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