By Heidi Mitchell | September 25, 2014 | People
Jaime King reprises her dual role as identical twins Goldie and Wendy in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
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Pay close attention as you watch Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the follow-up to Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 cult noir film Sin City. See that set of twins? They’re played by a single knockout blonde in Hollywood’s high-tech version of a one-woman show. “We shot in one day, nobody was cast yet, and I was basically acting against an assistant director’s hand,” says Jaime King.
If we hadn’t told you, you’d never have noticed. The Nebraska native pulled off this stunt with a veteran’s confidence. “When you have directors giving you that sort of freedom,” she explains, “you can push the boundaries further than you would have with sets and props.” Of course, if given the choice, she’d choose to work with real actors over hand puppets. “There is something transcendental about being in a scene with someone, locked into his eyes. Working with good actors is like being with a husband or lover or friend in a profound moment. It’s the soul connection we look for in every aspect of our lives.”
Making connections is what King’s life has been all about. As a hometown beauty, she was snapped up by a New York modeling agency when she was barely out of puberty. Before she could legally vote, she was on the covers of Vogue and Mademoiselle and the runways of Paris and Milan. But it was lonely at the top. Somehow, being a spokesmodel for Revlon and getting photographed by legends wasn’t as satisfying to King as it was to her peers.
“I felt like there was this pushing inside, almost like a heartache,” she says. “I was at the height of my career, making an insane amount of money, and people didn’t understand why I would want to leave the business. It’s interesting when people know you as one thing. They want to put you in a box, and as soon as you try another box, it shakes them. People don’t like change.”
But for King, change has been good. Her big break came when she played Johnny Depp’s daughter in Blow, then a nurse in Pearl Harbor. She’s made star turns in indie films like Pretty Persuasion, but she’s also had her fair share of turkeys. (Remember Two for the Money? Neither do we.) But no matter. The jungle that is Hollywood is exciting to this new mom, who hasn’t lost her Midwestern politeness and willingness to roll up her sleeves and get to work. Which is precisely why Robert Rodriguez cast King first, before any other actors, in his highly stylized black-and-white sequel—and why she jumped at the opportunity to work with the maverick director again, even if that meant sharing the green screen with a piece of tape. And she rocks it. Making lemonade out of lemons? That’s King’s specialty.
In fact, her current day job is playing a lemon—Lemon Breeland, that is, the pretty-on-the-outside socialite with the killer wardrobe on the CW dramedy Hart of Dixie. Creators Josh Schwartz and Leila Gerstein offered the role to King several times, but since the character didn’t have many scenes in the pilot and the actress was working steadily in other projects, she kept turning it down. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that no one else could play her,” she says. “I wanted to take a character that was, on paper, a very rigid classic Southern belle and turn her into someone whom you really understood. I wanted to show the root of where her fear came from—the loss of her mother, the concern about being abandoned, the idea that if she were perfect, she would be of value again.” To gain entrée to the upper echelons of Southern society, Lemon dresses in a style that could only be called a modern homage to Grace Kelly. Who else?
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In real life, King is decidedly more edgy than Lemon—although not as lady-of-the-night as Wendy and Goldie, the prostitute twins she plays in the Sin City films. “Fashion is one of the only mediums that allows you to express who you are without saying anything,” King explains. “Because my mother was a seamstress and because I grew up with Alexander Wang and Valentino, I really appreciate the artistry of fashion and why what they create is important. Clothes can make us feel beautiful; they can make us feel confident, or relaxed. Fashion is a powerful form of self-expression.”
These days, the mother of James Knight, who’s about to turn 1, has a practical uniform: high-waisted jeans from Top Shop, a denim button-down, and a big Jason Wu bag (“usually a Daphne”) filled with four pairs of sunglasses to elude the paparazzi. She gets snapped when she’s out with BFF Jessica Alba (who also stars in Sin City and its sequel), when she walks the red carpet, even when she’s dining at Benihana—her favorite restaurant in Las Vegas.
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King finds herself in our real-life Sin City quite often these days. To her, Vegas is exhilarating—and the perfect antidote to the Sin City she inhabits on screen, a gothic metropolis that draws much inspiration from its namesake. “It’s its own town, its own playing field, an escape. It’s there for your pleasure,” says the 35-year-old actress about both the actual city and Rodriguez’s imaginary one. “You can be a fancy high roller or you can play one-cent slots. There’s a special set of rules that everyone follows—and there are certain people that you don’t want to mess with. And above all, what happens there, stays there.”
But not always. A couple of years ago, King hosted a surprise birthday party for Frank Miller, creator of the Sin City books on which the films are based. She booked a room at the Four Seasons (her usual slumbering spot) and had most of the cast from the 2005 original convene at the (now closed) CatHouse at the Luxor. “I told him we were having a couples getaway and then secretly had the whole cast fly in—Robert, Rosario Dawson, Paz Vega, and Gerard Butler,” she says. “We got all the way there without him suspecting, and then Paz ran into Frank in the lobby and was like, ‘Aren’t you excited? It’s your birthday!’ She didn’t realize it was a secret.” Letting the cat out of the bag on their way to CatHouse didn’t ruin the night. “I thought Vegas was appropriate for a Sin City reunion. Everyone loved going, and it was a good parallel to the film. The night was perfect.” The photos still populating tabloid websites prove her point.
When she’s not fêting friends in Las Vegas or hitting the town with her girlfriends, King is actually sort of a homebody. Her biggest vice is binge-watching TV series on Netflix and drinking way too much coffee, and her favorite pastime is just goofing around with little James and husband Kyle Newman (who has directed his lovely plus-one in a handful of music videos, including Lana Del Rey’s smash “Summertime Sadness”—166 million YouTube views and counting). “When you have a child, you realize that he’s all that really matters.”
She claims to have an internal excellence barometer to which she’s been attuned since she was a kid and that much of her overachieving attitude comes from parents who loved her unconditionally and supported her dreams. “There is something inside me that won’t allow me to do anything less than the best. It’s an integrity thing,” King says. And it’s a quality she hopes to pass on to James. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the illusion of what this industry is all about, to get stuck on my personal hang-ups. But then I look at James and remember that tomorrow is a new day.”
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