Anya Taylor-Joy is still processing what has happened to her over the last year. One minute, the aspiring actress was crafting a letter to her parents to explain why she was planning to drop out of school to pursue her passion and then next, she had an IMDB page filled with an array of extraordinary credits. Life has changed in every way since she made her debut as Thomasin in 2015’s The Witch. “I went to Sundance and I didn’t go home,” she joked during our recent Spotlight photo shoot. I’ve now made 7 films back to back and I have a new normal.”
Acting is something that the 20-year-old had aspired to do since she was a young child. “I’d always known I loved it because I always used to go off into the woods and make stories for myself,” she reveals. It all started with a grade school production where Anya played a boy and donned a painted-on goatee. From there, she was scouted to model while walking her dog down the street near her family home. Modeling eventually catalyzed her passion of being employed on film and television sets and things began to quickly take off. She’s since forged a bond with horror-master M. Night Shyamalan, tussled around on screen with Kate Mara, and was directed by Grant Singer in the official music video for “Red Lips” by Skrillex.
For a young starlet that is sitting on a career ready to explode, Taylor-Joy is as humble as they come. As she waits for her current batch of films to hit theaters, she admits that she’s not quite sure what life in the public eye will bring her way. “I am more of a private person for sure and I’m very frightened to lose that to be honest,” she candidly admits. But there is not turning back for the Argentine-British beauty. “I’m just going to roll with it,” she jokes. “Hopefully it will be fine!” And that’s exactly what she did the morning of our interview when she was recognized on Hollywood Blvd at the same time that she was interacting with a gentleman in a Chewbacca costume and doing a phone interview. “I told the journalist I would call her back. I said hi to the really nice Australians who were just like, ‘The Witch was great.’ And then I gave Chewy a hug,” she reveals with an innocent giggle.
Check out our Spotlight with the budding star below where she discusses how her first walk in heels was what kickstarted her career, what she loved so much about playing an artificial human being in Morgan, and how Gucci is inspiring her to leave her tomboy tendencies in the past.
Just Jared: What was the first thing that you ever acted in?
Anya Taylor-Joy: I think I was 10/11. I did something at my primary school called Perkin and the Pastry Cook and I played Perkin, so I played a boy. And I loved it. It was so much fun. I just remember having this real feeling of exhilaration and being like, “I like this a lot.” I got a painted epic goatee and I never wanted to take it off. When I went home. I was like, “Oh so manly!”
JJ: You used to be a ballet dancer. Did you want to pursue that before acting?
ATJ: I think I always wanted to be a performer. I never really saw the difference. I just trained in ballet very hard and then when I was 15, it either just became a thing of I was going to pursue it full time or I was going to do something different. I was like, “I can’t give up acting. Acting is the love of my life. And so I have to follow it.” I’m trying to get back into dance. I now haven’t exercised in like 5 years. I want to get back into it because it’s really good for the soul. I love to dance. But mostly I’ll go to a salsa club and just dance with my girlfriends.
JJ: What was your first audition?
ATJ: It was to play the young Angelina Jolie in Maleficent. I am the biggest Disney fan ever. I was blonde at the time; I’m a natural blonde. And I thought, “Angelina Jolie? Me?” My mom came with me and it was in London. When I found out I didn’t get it, I cried and cried and cried. And then that was the last time that I ever cried over an audition. I had to get through that first rejection and then ever since then, I’ve always very firmly believed in if it’s meant for you, then it’s yours and nothing will stop it from being yours. And if it’s not meant for you, no matter how hard you try, you just have to let it go.
JJ: You have a great story about how you first got started as a model, which led to acting. Is it true that you almost missed your opportunity because you thought the modeling scout was a stalker?
ATJ: Yeah. It was absolutely terrifying. It was my first time wearing heels ever. I was about to be 17 and I was going to a party and I wanted to practice. So I took my dog out for a walk in heels. So I’m walking my dog and I felt this car behind me and I was like, “Anya, you’re being ridiculous. It’s not following you.” So I turned down a side street and the car came with me and I picked up my pace and the car picked up its pace. So I picked up my dog and I started to run.
JJ: In heels?
ATJ: Yeah! I was surprisingly pretty good. I think ballet sort of trained me for that. I’m pretty good at running in heels, which is useful for movies because sometimes you’re supposed to do that. And this guy just stuck his head out the window and screamed out, “If you stop you won’t regret it,” which is basically the worst slasher flick line ever but I did. I stopped dead in my tracks. The car came up and inside was Sarah Doukas and she was like, “I’d really love you to come to the agency tomorrow.” And what was funny was the last thing she said to me before she went was, “And by the way, never stop if a car is following you and they tell you to. Never again!” And so I went in the next day with my parents and they signed me and I connected modeling to acting. But it really was something I had never considered before because I’m a real tomboy actually.
JJ: How has your life changed since The Witch?
ATJ: In every single way. I went to Sundance and I didn’t go home. I’ve now made 7 films back to back and I have a new normal. I was saying that to my mom this morning: “This is my life now.” And I don’t know when that happened because it’s all been so fast. I’m not good when I’m overwhelmed and so I don’t really stop to think about anything. And now I’m like, “OK. I’m going to go shoot this movie and meet these cool people. And hello Ridley Scott!” I can’t allow myself to get overwhelmed because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s been a real whirlwind and life changed over night for me.
JJ: Are you a fan of horror in general?
ATJ: Oh God no! The only two horror films I’ve seen are The Witch because I made a horror movie. And I thought, “Oh I have a horror movie out. I can totally do this!” so I watched The Blair Witch Project and I didn’t sleep for like 5 weeks. And that was the end of that. I don’t like being scared. But it’s fun to be in a horror film because I have way too many feelings. So if you get to do scenes where you get to push your feelings in that way, it’s so cathartic and you go home and you just feel lighter. You’re just like, “OK. I’ve expunged a couple of. I feel better.”
JJ: Are there any characters that you have played that have been super heavy for you to take on?
ATJ: I just did a movie called Thoroughbred and my characters are very real for me. They are very real people and I love them dearly. I actually get really protective over them. It’s strange. You can mess with me but don’t mess with my character because I get like mama bear protective over it. This one character, I was defending her the whole time and at the end of the movie, I was like, “She’s a pretty toxic person isn’t she?”
JJ: What are you most afraid of?
ATJ: I’m a real animal advocate and I adore them. But baboons scare the crap out of me. They are so violent and so strong and they are very aggressive. I’ve had nightmares about baboons before for sure. I saw a baboon get violent with another baboon in the zoo and from that moment on, I was like, “Oh my God. I can’t deal with it.” There is a scene in some animated movie where a whole group of baboons are chasing this person. I cannot watch it! It’s the most terrifying thing in the entire world. It’s ridiculous.
JJ: Morgan looks really cool. What attracted you to the role?
ATJ: When I first read the script, I was so riveted by the opening sequence. I was like, “Whoa. That’s how you start a movie. That’s amazing!” And with Morgan, I just felt so much empathy towards her and I could really connect with her in a sort of way. It’s interesting because in Morgan, I spent a lot of time behind a sheet of glass. And when I was little, I used to tell my mom that. I used to say, “I feel like I’m separated from people by this sheet of glass. I can’t connect to people my own age.” It was only when I started making movies that I really found my tribe. I’m so happy that I got to tell that story. I know that she’s an artificial human being but anytime you see a character that is going through something that you understand, hopefully it makes you feel a little less alone.
JJ: Morgan looks like she spends a lot of time in isolation. What did you do to get into that mindset?
ATJ: I’d like to think I’m not a method actor because I’m pretty much joking right until “action” and right after “cut.” I love the crew. I love the family feeling of making a movie. But I find myself taking on certain traits of my character without my own consent to it. I’d literally spend hours in this room that was soundproof watching everyone else on the other side being like, “OK. Hi.” And so I became very close with the crew. We shot in Belfast. We’d go out a lot. You need human contact after a while. We shot that for 3 months, 6 day weeks. I’m Latina so I’m very tactile. I’m very touchy feely. I love hugs. And so there were several occasions where I was like, “Can I just hold your hand for a second?”
JJ: What do you love about playing these empowered female characters that also have a bit of a dark edge to them?
ATJ: I think it’s honest and I love that. I’ve been incredibly lucky. I was never really sent the girlfriend role or hot girl #1. It was always very meaty real women. Women are fascinating. Women are unicorns. And I think it’s so awesome that now there seems to be a want and a need for more of these roles. One of my favorite thing about Morgan is it is two strong female leads. But also, we have a couple of action scenes and when we started choreographing them, the stunt choreographer came in and said, “There is nothing sexy about these fights. These fights are mean. They are cruel. They have a lot of crunch to them. And they are more vicious than you likely see between two men.” And we were like, “Oh hell yeah! Let’s do it.” Because it’s true. Women are super tough and it’s fun to tell these stories.
JJ: You have a role coming up in Barry. What did you learn about President Obama that you didn’t know?
ATJ: So much! Charlotte, my character, is the amalgamation of three of Obama’s white college girlfriends. So it’s great because they are real people there and real things that happened but I also got to create my own character in a sort of way. I loved reading “Dreams From My Father.” I just thought that was lovely. And more than anything, I loved inhabiting that world. 1980’s New York was something that I’d always wanted to do – the music, the clothes, the experience, the essence in the air. It was just amazing. It was a dream come true. But regarding POTUS, I learned that he wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know that before. He wanted to be a poet and I think that’s really lovely. And he had an apartment that was absolutely freezing cold. They never had the heat on in there. And so he and his girlfriends would sleep in this tiny little college dorm room in this tiny little bed and it was absolutely freezing.
JJ: Does doing this film change your opinion about the upcoming election at all?
ATJ: I think people are really going to miss him. I think that man has so much class and so much style and I think he’s done a really great job. More than that, I think his heart is in the right place. That’s tricky with politicians; you don’t always have that. But I think he genuinely just wanted the best for America.
JJ: What’s the process of watching yourself on screen like?
ATJ: I’ve now seen 3 of my movies. The Witch was different because there was so much of me as Thomasin and I had never seen myself on screen. And so Rob [Eggers] knew that and he let us watch about 4 hours before the volunteer screening in Sundance. I watched it and I was completely quiet for the next 4 hours and just crying and crying. I was like, “I can’t act. I can’t do it. Oh my God. I’m terrible. This is my dream and I can’t do it. This is awful.” I’ve seen that movie so many times now and I’ve got really bad eyesight so I just don’t wear my glasses when I’m watching it and it could be any kind of blonde pink blur up there. When watching Morgan and Split, what was weird about it was I didn’t look in mirrors very much. So when I’m in character, I’m only obviously looking out and so it’s almost like meeting your character for the first time. When I saw Morgan, I was like, “Wow. That’s Morgan. That’s so crazy.” It’s funny because I can look at the person on screen and go, “Oh I don’t like that girl’s acting and I kind of wish she would get off screen” but I don’t connect it to me. I’m just like, “Ah. She’s kind of a terrible actress. That’s very awkward (laughs).” But I also couldn’t not have watched these movies because I love the people that made it so much. I’m a small facet of that film and I loved watching the movie and being like, “Hell yeah props. That was a hard day and you nailed it. And that’s amazing.” or “Oh my God that shot! I remember waiting for the sun to change and we got it and it’s amazing.” You have to support your family. You have to support your team.
JJ: Who is your celebrity girl crush?
ATJ: I have so many (giggles)! Women are awesome. Tilda Swinton forever! Always. Winona Ryder. Angelina Jolie.
JJ: What about a celebrity crush in general?
ATJ: Bill Nighy. I think he’s amazing. Any time I’ve watched him in anything, I’ve always been like, “You are so cool. How are you so cool?”
JJ: Is there a celebrity that you’ve met that you’ve completely lost your composure in front of?
ATJ: Dan Romer who scored Beasts of the Southern Wild. That soundtrack was/is still a big part of my life. I walk around to movie soundtracks a lot because I just love scores. When I met Dan, I walked into the room and I was like, “Hi I’m Anya” and he was like, “Hi I’m Dan.” I completely froze. I couldn’t talk. I went outside to have some fresh air and he came out too. I was like, “Oh my God. Say something say something!” and eventually we did start talking. He’s such a sweet guy and it was really wonderful to meet him.
JJ: Who are your favorite designers to wear?
ATJ: I was never really into clothes when I was younger, I never really thought about them. And when I say younger, I mean the last seven months. I’ve just always been like, “Whatever. It’s fine.” Different with costumes. I really love costumes because they are so much of the character. But then I saw Gucci and that changed a lot of things. Also it’s part of my job to get to wear these incredible things. At the beginning, I felt so uncomfortable with it because I was like, “Oh my God. I’m such a tomboy and I’m wearing this really pretty dress and I feel really uncomfortable” and then it’s like, “If you’re going to do it, you might as well enjoy it!” And yesterday I had a fitting and I was squealing and jumping around and looking at everything. The closer you get to fashion, the more I just appreciate the artistry behind it. I’m just like, “Damn. What you guys do is amazing and I couldn’t do it.” And it’s incredible how clothes can really change the way that you feel. I just really appreciate it and I’m really starting to enjoy it.
JJ: What are you most comfortable wearing when you’re not in work mode?
ATJ: No shoes. Just barefoot all the time.
JJ: There are rumors that you might be starring in the New Mutants. Any truth to that?
ATJ: I would be honored to be a part of that (grins).
JJ: If you were a superhero, what would you want your power to be?
ATJ: I’d want to be able to time travel but also just travel in general. I’d love to be able to snap my fingers and be back at home and give my mom a hug and then come back to set. That would be pretty cool! Not having to take a plane again! No jet lag. That’s a super power.
JJ: If you could emulate the career of any actress, who would it be?
ATJ: I love the fact that Tilda Swinton has always done whatever she’s wanted to do. She’s never shied away from anything. Cate Blanchett is amazing. Rather than emulating, I think it’s more about I just want to make movies like the ones I’ve made now that I’m always proud of. Even if no one else likes that, I can say, “I loved it” and it made me feel something. That’s the sort of career I’d love to have.
JJ: You’ve said in the past that you’re more of a private person but with 7 movies back to back, how are you handling all this limelight?
ATJ: Well it hasn’t happened yet. That’s what’s scary about it. I am more of a private person for sure and I’m very frightened to lose that to be honest. It sounds dumb but I can be kind of ditzy sometimes and it’s like, “Oh I get to act and I get to go to summer camp and I meet all of these incredible people. And as a family we make a movie” and then I’m off to the next one and I don’t think about it. And then the other day I called one of my best friends and I was like, “Oh my fucking God. I have shot 7 movies and they are all going to come out.” And she was like, “Yeah babe. That is kind of the point of making a movie” and I was like, I’ve never seen it that way.” There sort of is no going back now in a way. But at the same time, I’m not scared enough to have it stop me from doing what I love. And the truth is, there was a very real moment when I did suddenly think, “I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think I can be this seen” and I considered giving up acting for a heartbeat. And then I was like, “I can’t do it.” And so I’m going to roll with it and hopefully it will be fine.
JJ: Do you play any instruments?
ATJ: I play the ukulele. I write my own songs. And I just bought my first electric guitar. I’m playing around with that too.
JJ: When did you become a vegan?
ATJ: I became a vegan in November when I was shooting Split. I’ve been a vegetarian for a very long time, since I was about 10. I don’t think there is a problem with eating cheese or eggs or anything like that. It’s the mass production of it and it’s the fact that there are very few laws that cater to animal cruelty.
JJ: Is it true that when you dropped out of school to act, you actually wrote a letter to your parents explaining to them why you wanted to do this?
ATJ: Yeah. Well I have been living alone since I was 16. And then I got The Witch. My parents are very lenient and they have always very much respected me and really valued my opinions and really let me do what I want to do. They’ve really trusted me but obviously when you drop out of school, that’s a bit of a shock for any parent. So I wrote this very long essay that was just like, “And this is why I am leaving school.” And I wasn’t asking permission. I just wanted them to understand that I was making an intelligent, mature, and well thought out decision. In time they have appreciated it. In the beginning, not so much. But they have always been supportive and they are so proud. And they get to enjoy it with me so it’s nice.
JJ: What was it like working with M. Night Shyamalan in Split?
ATJ: I love him. He is one of my nearest and dearest, like genuinely. I was on the phone with him this morning and yesterday morning. We’re very close and he changed my way of acting completely. He taught me about craft and how much fun that is. Being so instinctual, I don’t do a lot of prep. And that’s okay with me but the internal work that he taught me how to do, being like “just let the thought flash across your eyes. Just have the thought. Just think like them.” I’ll always remember, I was doing this really emotional scene. I was sobbing and he came up to me and he put his hand on my back and he was like, “Anya, what you’re doing is beautiful but I’ve seen you cry like this. These are your tears. These aren’t the character’s tears. Don’t be selfish with it. Give Casey her tears” and every since then I’ve realized that I cry differently in every single film and that makes me really proud.
JJ: He interviewed you for Interview Magazine. What was that like?
ATJ: I think because we’re so close, when the interview finished, there was a moment of like, “Did I just bare my soul to the entire world? What was I thinking? Am I crazy?” I’m very open and I don’t really do bullshit and so if you ask me a question, I’m more than likely going to tell you the truth, or at least my truth. But it was also really lovely because it’s something that I’ll always have and I’ll always remember. He didn’t take it easy on me and I didn’t expect him to because that’s not the Shayma way. But it was great and I’m really glad that it was the two of us. We do have a really special bond and I love that man so it was nice.