“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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