“It’s Going to Be Mad”: Anya Taylor-Joy Gets Back to Work
Early in her career, Anya Taylor-Joy was quick to get labeled a “scream queen,” the cliché used to describe a female actor whose profession is peril. And while it’s true that the 24-year-old performer’s 2015 debut, The Witch, was a bloodcurdling nightmare—ditto for her follow-ups Morgan and Split—Taylor-Joy, with her ferocious intensity and spell-binding vulnerability, has elevated herself above the trappings of any single genre. This year alone, Taylor-Joy has appeared as the title character in Autumn de Wilde’s modernized adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, will play a Russian mystic in the comic-book-inspired The New Mutants, and was set to make her return to horror in Edgar Wright’s pandemic-delayed Last Night in Soho. Next month, she’ll carry The Queen’s Gambit, a seven-episode miniseries based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel about Beth Harmon, an orphan who rises to become a chess grandmaster while struggling with addiction. Just before she was set to film her next role in the Viking saga The Northman (a reunion with The Witch director Robert Eggers), Taylor-Joy connected with her friend, the actor George MacKay, to discuss, among other things, growing up, playing chess, and battling demons.
GEORGE MACKAY: How are you doing?
ANYA TAYLOR-JOY: I’ve just moved into an isolation house to get back to work. There are growing pains for everybody, but we’re all figuring out how to keep each other safe. It’s going to be an adventure.
MACKAY: I got a sneak peek of The Queen’s Gambit, and when I say sneak peek, I watched the whole series, which I absolutely loved. What are some of the things you learned from doing that show?
TAYLOR-JOY: I’m usually very instinctive. I don’t like to prepare too much. You, however, really prepare, and the first time we worked together, that intimidated me a bit. Playing Beth, I had to do a lot more of that, because when you’re charting somebody from the ages of 15 to 21, you have to be really aware of what she experienced: “Has she ever liked a boy? Does that change the way she interacts with men now? Has she experienced a maternal figure in her life?” And we were jumping around a lot, too. We’d shoot parts of episodes three, five, and two, all in one day, and I’d be changing my wig and trying to play being 15, and then jump forward to being 21, and then being 19, so I had to keep a bit more of a tally of where I was at in this character’s life story.
MACKAY: There is something so evocative about the time period it’s set in.
TAYLOR-JOY: The first music I fell in love with was from the ’60s. I’ve always been very drawn to that time period. It was a seismic moment. People were really shaking things up. And I think what’s interesting about Beth is that she’s weirdly out of it in this strange way. She’s not necessarily modern. Women are still not yet equal, which is ridiculous, but in the ’60s we certainly weren’t. Beth doesn’t see that. She is so deeply understanding of her own genius that she doesn’t understand why anybody would ever think that her being a girl makes her less than, which is a wonderful way to interact with the world, but I had to step back from the idea that I had of the ’60s and let her be this odd little space creature.
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Photoshoots & Portraits > Photoshoots from 2019 > The Laterals
Anya Taylor-Joy’s acting career is the embodiment of a meteoric rise in the making; the English-Argentine actor has been busy furrowing her own path in Hollywood. Most of her work has involved critically acclaimed films—whether as a virginal Puritan teen (The Witch) , or a frigid popular girl from Connecticut (Thoroughbreds), or, most recently, a soul-sword carrying mutant (The New Mutants). At only 24-years-old, Anya has quickly become one of the most recognizable faces in young Hollywood.
However, this impressive acting resume comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked with her. On-screen, her acting is gripping; she has a hauntingly beautiful, wide-eyed gaze that draws you in as she manifests her character with a powerful, but respectful, finesse. It also helps that she is whip-smart but endearingly self-deprecating, deeply curious and fiercely committed to her craft, all the while carrying the gravitas and self-awareness of a woman almost twice her age.
Here, we chat with Anya about her transnational upbringing in a large family, her newfound thoughts on self-care and its essential role in her creativity, and how she conquers the fears surrounding her inevitable rise in fame.
You were born in Miami, moved to Argentina until you were six, and then moved to London. How do you think your transnational upbringing has shaped your identity as an adult and as an actor?
As a child, I found it very unsettling because I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere, but I do think that that kind of brought about the intense desire to find a place where I did fit in. So when I stepped onto the set of The Witch the first day, I got this feeling of, “Oh my god. I made it. This is where I fit in, and this is the country kind of that I belong to. I belong to film sets. That’s where I’m supposed to be.”
I also think it’s kind of helpful because I’m used to being transient. I don’t have a set dictation of home. Home can be anywhere. It’s wherever the people that I love are, and also wherever I’m laying my head for the evening. That just feels quite comforting. It’s the fact that I’m carrying home around with me rather than it being a set place.
That being said, I feel that whenever I go home to Argentina, or I come back to London, or go to where I’ve made my adult spiritual home in New York. But I can also feel that in Barcelona. It’s just a feeling that you’re surrounded by people that love you, and know you, and understand you as an individual, and that to me is home, rather than a cultural identity.
I read that you’re the youngest of six kids. What was that like? What was that like growing up in such a big family, and what were you like growing up?
I was still as much of a psycho as I am now! It’s wonderful. I feel very lucky that I got to experience the way that I was brought up in a big family, while also having the attention of an only child at the same time, because my siblings are so much older than me.
Growing up they always called me the “Duracell Bunny” and my two younger siblings would joke around and be like, “Where the hell is the off button? How do we shut you up? How do we stop the singing and acting all the time?”
At the beginning of my acting career I think it was a bit weird, because none of my siblings are in an artistic field, so I don’t think they really knew what I was doing. But now they’re all starting to and it’s really cute. We have a big family WhatsApp group, and it’s just really sweet to get a picture message of all of your family in three different countries going to watch your film. It’s nice to have a five-person strong army behind you, and then they have all of their kids so our clan is huge. I think we buy up a decent amount of box office seats.
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Stepping into the shoes of Jane Austen’s timeless antiheroine Emma in a new screen adaptation, the actor speaks to us about why she’s never compromised for less.
Oscillating effortlessly between twisted gothic thrillers and refined period dramas, Anya Taylor-Joy has mapped out an unconventional career rooted in escapism. Now stepping into the shoes of Jane Austen’s timeless antiheroine Emma in a new screen adaptation, the actor speaks to us about why she’ s never compromised for less.
Within the first five minutes of meeting, Anya Taylor-Joy is excitedly telling me about the best first date she’s ever been on. “Our lunch turned into six, seven hours of us wandering around antique shops and just telling each other our entire life story.” She recalls the story animatedly, her stupendously large eyes trained on mine. “We fell in love! It was basically the best first date I’ve ever had.” I’m currently sat with the actress in the practically sub-zero temperatures of a studio’s storage room in the depths of south London. An eerie array of prop oddities including mannequin torsos and comically jumbo-sized clocks loom ominously in the shadows, as well as one boisterously orange vintage sofa – where eventually all her lithe, deer-like limbs fold into when we sit down for a chat. The “date” in question was her first ever work meeting with Autumn de Wilde, an esteemed fashion photographer and director who has just helmed the latest screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s iconic 19th-century set novel, Emma – in which Taylor-Joy stars in the titular role. It is a sprightly, humorous wedge of a film, offering up sheer screen escapism and swoon-worthy shows of romance — think strawberries and champagne, beguiling glances over group picnics, and petticoats abound — and boasting a number of fantastic performances from an ensemble cast made up of the crème de la crème of British talent, or as Taylor-Joy calls them, the “merry little gang” of Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart. What you see on screen is essentially what you get: the on-screen chemistry between everyone is real. Mia Goth is one of Taylor-Joy’s IRL best friends. And she snickers gleefully “it was so much fun to argue with Johnny Flynn,” the singer and actor who plays her bickering love interest. They’re all active on a group chat called ‘MA’ whose avatar is an emoji of the head exploding, where they “continually tell each other jokes and write poetry.” At its crux, Emma is about a spoilt “anti-heroine” who meddles in the lives of others around her, and plays matchmaker to less than favourable results for all those involved. “Emma is acting from a place of fear a lot of the time,” Taylor-Joy surmises. “A lot of her comments that come out are because she’s deeply lonely and bored, and she also doesn’t know any better. She’s grown up in a place of privilege where she believes that she’s truly being kind in trying to improve people, but I wanted people to understand where she was coming from when she does say something mean. I think that in a world that’s very big on cancel culture at the minute, it’s really nice to have a story on redemption, and by the end of the film Emma understands that morally she prefers to be around good people that treat each other kindly, rather than the people that are deceitful and happen to be of the right class.”
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Quick question that Anya Taylor-Joy and I are dying to know the answer to: Who, in their perverted wisdom, was the first person to wear red lipstick? Which God-fearing person thought, You know what would be cool? If we painted our mouths bright red — really dialed up the pigment 5,000 percent so that you could see our lips from a great distance!
Cursory Internet searches tell me that it could have been the ancient Sumerians, or the Egyptians, or the Romans, but none of this is satisfying enough. Was it for glamour? Intrigue? Sex? A really good going-out look?
“Dude, I think about that stuff all the time!” Taylor-Joy says breathlessly. We are just wrapping up our interview when we stumble upon the topic we both want to talk about forever. “The ‘first people’ question gets me. Who was the first person to decide that pasta would be fun if it was tubular? And coated in butter? That person’s a genius. Who cut up an avocado and was like, I’m going to eat this green stuff on the inside?”
I wonder aloud: Who decided eyelids should be blue? She laughs. “I think we should bring blue eye shadow back.” She is kidding — and the beauty director of this magazine later informs me that it is already back, so her point is actually moot.
But Taylor-Joy suggests it in a kind of conspiratorial way that is partly whimsical and partly illicit, and in that moment I think, Absolutely, let’s do this new thing you just thought of. This is a woman who only started acting in movies four years ago (at age 18), whose second film was a critical hit (The Witch), whose fifth was a financial success and a critical hit (M. Night Shyamalan’s Split), and whose Marvel movie debuts next year (it’s X-Men, The New Mutants, and she gets top billing). That last one just might catapult her into the celebrity stratosphere, which is both exhilarating and anxiety-inducing for her. Now, in the period before her star crystallizes, she can do anything she wants.