The actress had to tap into her "primal" maternal instincts for Black Summer, a new take on the zombie apocalypse. 

Jaime King
Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Whether Jaime King is hugging her sons — James Knight, 5, and Leo Thames, 3 — goodnight before heading out to a red carpet event, or capturing their latest fashion obsessions from her closet, we're used to see her in full-on parenting mode on social media. (As for those closet finds, Miu Miu necklaces and Roger Vivier shoes are some recent favorites.)

Now, the model-turned-actress is taking on the role of a mom onscreen, too. She stars in Netflix’s new apocalyptic series Black Summer, portraying a mother who’s torn apart from her daughter in the early days of a zombie outbreak. Her character, Rose, quickly finds herself in a dire situation, fighting for her life and desperately searching for her child as chaos unfolds around her.

It’s a role unlike anything we’ve seen King, 39, play before, but it deeply resonated with her from the moment she laid eyes on the script. “I was immediately drawn to the humanness of it,” she tells InStyle. “It didn't feel like something that was genre; it felt like a refugee story about a woman who was ripped from her child. It’s not a story of what would you do for love, but what wouldn't you do for love?”

Jaime King Black Summer
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

The eight-episode first season — which premieres April 11 — follows the harrowing experiences of a group of strangers who band together for survival as they begin to find themselves outnumbered. “To me, this story is about our country,” says King. “It’s a love letter to women and human beings and our strength as we go through difficult times. The people who are getting sick in the show, they weren't written as zombies, [necessarily]. Their sickness is symbolic of the fact that no one is immune to the division and hatred and overall effect of what happens when we are unkind toward each other. So much of what we talk about in the show is this idea of what our country’s future will look like if we continue at this current pace and with these decisions that we're making.”

If Black Summer has the answers to that, then we’re all in trouble. The show opens without offering any backstory, thrusting viewers into this alternate — and downright alarming — universe right off the bat. That shock to the system is intentional. “Imagine if suddenly the government was shut down and you hear about this catastrophe but you don't know what it is or what caused it,” King says. “There's no internet, nothing. No one knows why they’re evacuating other than people are getting sick. You don’t know what to expect, and because of that, a lot of the show can be left up to your own interpretation.”

Jaime King Black Summer
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

After long days of filming emotionally draining scenes, all King wanted to do was go home and hug her kids, whom she shares with husband Kyle Newman (the boys also have A-list godmothers looking out for them, with Jessica Alba serving as James Knight’s and Taylor Swift filling the role for Leo Thames). So, that’s exactly what she did. “I always travel with my children — they’re raised on set,” she says. “I don't think I could have survived filming this without my children being there. I was so anchored in this part that, at times, it was very difficult to separate living in my world from Rose’s world, where she was experiencing losing her child. Getting to go home and play with my children and just be with them really gave me the strength to go back each day.”

Some days were easier than others, King recalls. “When I went to bring my kids back to start preschool, I was away from them for 10 days,” she says. “That was the first time I've ever been away from them for that long, and I thought I was gonna lose it. Truly. I had to be like, ‘Okay, I'm Jaime. I'm not Rose. It's not this apocalyptic world; everything is good. Everyone is here.’”

While this role may have rocked her to her core, it’s a symbol of the fact that King’s acting focus has shifted toward more meaningful projects since becoming a parent. “I couldn’t have done this show before I was a mother,” she says. “My children are everything, and everything I do is for my children. There is nothing that I wouldn't sacrifice to protect them, and it is a primal thing inside of me as a mother that allowed me to do this.”

The first time she experienced that primal maternal instinct was before she even met her oldest child. “The minute that I found out I was pregnant, there was something that indefinitely changed inside of me,” she says. “It was miraculous and powerful and deep.”

Since becoming a mom, King has surprised herself when it comes to her parenting technique. “Sometimes I'm like, ‘Wow! I'm a lot more like my mom than I thought,’” she says. “So many things will come out of my mouth where I’m like, ‘What? My mother used to say something like that!’ Or I’ll say, ‘We don't speak to each other like that!’ And I’m like, ‘Whoa, I'm a parent.’ There's nothing that can prepare you for it, and so when it happens you're really just trying to do the best that you can.”

For King, that includes a gender-neutral approach to parenting — something that she’s been outspoken about over the years (in 2016, she even collaborated on a gender-fluid kids’ clothing line with Gardner and the Gang). So, naturally, she couldn’t be more thrilled that the topic has recently become a larger cultural conversation. “I think it's amazing,” she says. “Everybody should have the opportunity to add to that conversation and be a part of the change if they want to, and the more I can do so that kids can move freely through this world, and human beings can safely be who they are, the better.”

“It’s deeply important to me, and that's how I'm trying to contribute,” she continues. “I can't just see the world as just for boys and just for girls and just this and just that. To me, it doesn’t matter however people identify or express themselves as long as it's done with truth, loving, kindness, and respect. It’s very important to start that from a young age.”

How well that works depends on the day, King says, but she's got a larger goal when it comes to her hopes for her kids. “I’m just doing my best to raise children that are loving and empathetic and strong and curious. It’s important to me that they have respect and integrity, and that they want to explore. Ultimately, I'm trying to raise human beings with the qualities that I think will equip them to, hopefully, have the most wonderful life possible.”