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'China Girl' Joey King inspired by creativity in land of 'Oz the Great and Powerful'

Published On: Jun 10 2013 02:08:54 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 10 2013 03:04:16 PM CDT
'Oz the Great and Powerful' star Joey King 2

Walt Disney Pictures

Joey King (inset) stars as China Girl in "Oz the Great and Powerful"

Sure, the character of China Girl in the blockbuster movie fantasy "Oz the Great and Powerful" may appear to be a dainty and delicate, but to Joey King -- the spunky 13-year-old actress who gave voice and facial expressions to the character -- there's a lot more to the porcelain powerhouse than meets the eye.

"China Girl is very breakable and delicate, but she's not just fragile," King told me in a recent interview. "She's feisty, very strong and determined. When she's put back together, look out."

China Girl is a main characters whom Oscar Diggs (James Franco) finds broken and sad in the Land of Oz in director Sam Raimi's "Oz the Great and Powerful," which makes its debut on Blu-ray and DVD (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) Tuesday.

Based on the works of "Oz" author L. Frank Baum, "Oz the Great and Powerful" tracks the origins of Oscar, a scheming, small-time circus magician who is whisked away in a hot-air balloon from the swirling dust of Kansas and dropped in the mystical, vibrant land of Oz.

Once there, Oscar encounters sister witches Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz), as well as a flying monkey Finley (Zach Braff), China Girl and Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) -- who are all part of his mystical journey that will transform him into the all-powerful Wizard of Oz.

Among the features on the Blu-ray of "Oz the Great and Powerful" is a fascinating look into how China Girl was brought to life on film. On the set, a puppeteer used a marionette of China Girl that the actors could interact with as King appeared not far away to recite the character's lines. In addition, King would recite her lines in a booth as a frame of reference for the animators, who digitally rendered the character for the completed film.

"It was very unique and complicated process -- I never worked with that kind of technology before," said King, who also appears in the prologue of the film as a wheelchair-bound girl hoping to walk again. "I was on set for the majority of the time, sometimes in a little booth where they would film my face, and then attach my expressions and movements to China Girl, so you could really tell that it wasn't just an animated character. It was something more. It was something deeper. It really looked like she was intently listening, or really looked confused in certain scenes."

The release of "Oz the Great and Powerful" on video caps off a whirlwind year for King, who also worked for Christopher Nolan as the young, imprisoned version of Talia Al-Guhl in the 2012 blockbuster "The Dark Knight Rises."

Working with Raimi, she said, was also an amazing experience.

"He's such a brilliant director and the thing I loved about him is that he really, really cares about what you think," King said. "Even though I'm a kid, he didn't treat me like a kid at all. He treated me like one of the adults. He really wanted to know what I thought about my character or the scene I was about to do, or what I thought be changed or added."

"He was just so easygoing and a genuine, nice guy, but he also knew how to make everything flow, even when we all had different opinions about things," King added with a laugh.

A 'Great and Powerful' reunion

"Oz the Great and Powerful" marked the first time in five years that the director worked with Howard Berger -- the Oscar-winning makeup effects guru who makes up one-third of the KNB Effects Group along with fellow makeup artists Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero.

In a way, "Oz the Great and Powerful" was a sentimental journey for Berger because you can't have an "Oz" film without witches -- and Evanora at one point seems to take on the distinct characteristics of the witch at the end of the horror comedy classic "Army of Darkness" -- the second film Berger worked on with Raimi on after "Evil Dead 2."

"Sam love his hags. He calls them his 'horrible, hideous hor-hags," Berger told me with a laugh in a recent interview. "We've done them over and over again for him, be it in 'Army of Darkness' or 'Drag Me to Hell.' We tested the makeup on Rachel and took it to set. Sam looked at me and said, 'This is the best horrible, hideous hor-hag you've done so far. It's horrible.'"

Berger said KNB jumped at the chance to work on "Oz the Great and Powerful" not only for another chance to work with Raimi, but it afforded them the rare opportunity to work on an "Oz" film. The makeup and effects artist had several duties on "Oz the Great and Powerful," not the least of which turning Kunis into the Wicked Witch of the West as she transforms from the once-good witch Theodora.

Berger said getting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do the makeup for the iconic character was thrilling on one hand, but "also scary."

"We didn't want to reinvent the wheel, but pay homage to the original film and to some degree, the source material," Berger said. "Yes, we were able to be welcomed into this new world of Oz and paint this portrait of it, but Sam always held the source material with the utmost respect."

Thankfully, Berger said, Raimi "wasn't one of these filmmakers who went, 'I really hated the original and I'm going to do everything over.'"

"Filmmakers who do that are super-insulting, but Sam was never that way," Berger said. "He respected everything that we were dealing with, but in the same sense, he gave us the freedom and liberated all of us to think of new things and progress the characters."

Apart from the witches, Berger and Nicotero were responsible for the several other "Oz" characters, including the Winkies, Tinkers, Munchkins, China Girl and Finley -- a tall order, but one that came off without a hitch.

Berger said the ultimate validation of their work came from Jeff Dawn, a third-generation makeup artist whose family worked on the original "Wizard of Oz" in 1939.

"Jeff called me up after he saw the movie and said, 'I thought I'd have to come over and give you a beating if the makeup wasn't up to snuff, but after seeing the film, I know my uncles would have really been happy and proud because you captured the essence of what they created with the original film,'" Berger recalled with a laugh. "That made me really happy."

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