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Your first online source for all things ANYA TAYLOR-JOY. She is an American-born Argentine-British actress and model. She is best known for her role as Casey Cooke in "Split" (2017), her lead role as Thomasin in "The Witch" (2015) and more recently in "The Queen's Gambit" (2020) playing Beth Harmon. Enjoy your stay!
Written by admin on May 24, 2024

GQ – Naturally, the setting is supernatural. Rain is streaking from a sky cloaked in darkness, our meeting point a bronze statue of Diana the Huntress firing an arrow. Of course, she really does seem to come out of thin air, dressed in all black and flanked by sheets of white-blonde hair that in the grey light have the glow of a planetary eclipse. And, needless to say, she has no umbrella, no hat, no raincoat – not even a protective cloud-for-one drifting above her – but still seems both weirdly dry and glacially unperturbed.

Anya Taylor-Joy – whose career of playing satanic witches and demigods from dusty planets has apparently armed her against the elements – touches down on earth in the spectral gloom of Hyde Park’s rose garden. It is a miserable March afternoon. Even the ducks are exhibiting symptoms of late-onset seasonal affective disorder. We leave in search of shelter, my umbrella contorting inside out. Emerging through the mist are two bedraggled children, clinging onto their ponies in a scene spun from the bizarre hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch. Taylor-Joy had originally wanted us to go horse riding today, something she learned to do as a child living in Buenos Aires, even before she could walk. She spots the children, who look even more miserable than the ducks, and says wistfully, “That could be us.”

Anya Taylor-Joy thrives in this kind of situation. Or, verbatim: “I feckin’ love this shit.” When she was 18 and on the set of her first film, Robert Eggers’ 2015 pilgrim horror The Witch, she enjoyed helping to drag camera gear out of the mud and wrangle one of her troublesome scene partners (a badly behaved goat named Charlie). Making that film with such a small budget taught her how good it felt to be useful, something she still holds onto now. Taylor-Joy never complains. Actually, that’s not true. She did complain once making Eggers’ Gladiator-with-vikings epic The Northman, but she was in freezing mud up to her knees, and she’d been in a field for an hour, and so could they please start rolling? At which point everyone realised, Shit, she must be really cold.
Early on in her career, Taylor-Joy acted in a project – which she declines to name – where some departments “maybe weren’t as legit as they should have been”. There was a scene in which her co-star had to repeatedly slam her head into the floor, but instead of being pulled back from making contact, her head really was hitting the ground. She did two takes and then, dazed, said she could probably only do one more. “I can put my body through so much that it becomes a bit frightening when you don’t crash,” she says. “I’m interested in that.”

Not crashing has had its benefits: at 28, Taylor-Joy is one of the most in-demand leading actors working today. She has appeared in two of the biggest blockbusters of the year: a secret cameo in Dune: Part Two (which sets her up for a significant role in the recently confirmed third film), and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, George Miller’s follow-up to the 120-minute full-tilt action epic that was Mad Max: Fury Road. She rode into the latter with guns blazing and bionic arm screwed on tight, fronting a car-chase movie with no driving licence to her name, but nonetheless pushy about doing as many stunts as she was permitted.

Director George Miller recalls a time while making Furiosa when Taylor-Joy’s character had to dive from the bonnet of a war rig into its front seat through a smashed windscreen: “I was watching it and I saw her stunt double, Hayley, and thought, Gee, she looks a lot like Anya. I spoke to [second unit director and stunt coordinator] Guy [Norris] and he said, ‘That wasn’t Hayley, that was Anya.’ That happened a lot.”

There is an ultrahuman tenacity to the characters that Taylor-Joy plays, but it is the very human sense of fragility under the surface that really has you rooting for her. On the crest of her biggest leading role yet, Taylor-Joy realised that Furiosa as a character was in conversation with all the other roles she had played, and with elements of herself. “She just refuses to go down,” she says. “I find that defiant hope really beautiful.”

Anya Taylor-Joy is not quite of this world. Perhaps that is because she really does look celestial. Her eyes are the huge, expressive puddles of Pixar characters’; emotions ripple across their surface. “In so many famous horror movies, the reaction of an actor is as seared into your synapses as what they’re scared of, ” says director Edgar Wright, who compares Taylor-Joy’s ability to telegraph emotion with her face to that of a ’20s silent film star. “Anya has an incredibly expressive face. Hypnotic would be the other word.”

Or maybe it’s the fact that there are very few times in her career that she has played an earthbound, present-day character. When she does (Split, Thoroughbreds, The Menu), the stories are so macabre that they feel more like parables playing out in liminal spaces. Miller cast her in the “allegory” of Furiosa partly for that reason: “You can’t have a sense that [the actor playing Furiosa is] completely contemporary, and I’m certain that’s the case with Anya. There’s a really timeless quality about her.”

Taylor-Joy has learned that dramatising other eras or fantastical battles in distant lands can be useful for allowing us to see our earthly issues with fresh eyes. “I’ve always been very attracted to magic,” she says. “I think sometimes when stories are too close to home, it exists within a space where people aren’t willing to question it. If it’s set in a galaxy far, far away and the themes are slightly removed, it forces you to confront something.”

The Witch is a horror film about dark magic, religious paranoia and the madness of grief, in which a Puritan family in 17th-century New England is banished to the woods and picked off one by one by a looming outside force. It is also the story of a teenage girl’s revenge, and as the cherub-faced Thomasin, Taylor-Joy is both darkness and light. She remembers walking in for the callback audition in such a state that she announced: “I can’t breathe, but I’m going to give it a go.” The impression she made changed director Robert Eggers’ initial conception of the role. “Anya had a kind of explosive energy that made me realise that Thomasin needs to be played by someone who wouldn’t have fitted in with Puritan society,” he tells me. “Her interpretation of Thomasin struggled more with sin, being subservient, being meek.”

Eggers offered the part to Taylor-Joy on the same day that she landed a role for a Disney TV series, but her gut told her which part to accept; the script for The Witch had disturbed her with a feeling that she would later come to recognise as knowing a part was for her. Then 18, she travelled to Northern Ontario, Canada, to shoot the film, alone and with no phone signal to call home. She was never afraid. It made complete sense. There in the woods, she came alive.

Anya Taylor-Joy dabbles in superstition. She met her husband, musician Malcolm McRae, by chance, when they happened to be in the same recording studio. He asked her when her birthday was, and when she replied, “April 16th,” he said, “I know; me too.” She says his name with the upturned smile of someone spilling a secret, calling him her “absolute best friend.”

They married in secret in 2022 at a ceremony in New Orleans, where they fed each other anatomically correct heart cakes (because “I love you so much I will eat your raw and bloody heart”). At their joint birthday this April, Taylor-Joy posted footage of them at a wreck room together – launching junk at the wall and then sharing a long, dramatic kiss.

Taylor-Joy tells me her home in Los Angeles leans similarly moody, with gothic touches like the eerie puppets from her 2019 fantasy TV series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. There’s also a raven-pecked breastplate from The Witch, an object she kept from set and turned into a Jackson Pollock–inspired art piece by splattering it with paint. “My dream is to have people come into my home and be like, ‘Who fucking lives here?’”

Magic and Taylor-Joy go way back. Between them, her parents are of Argentinian, Spanish, English, Scottish and Zambian heritage. Having been born in Miami, Taylor-Joy grew up in Buenos Aires surrounded by animals, and learned English by reading the Harry Potter books. She is the youngest of six, three of whom are from her father’s previous marriage. “I was so, so loud, my siblings would kind of pick me up and be like ‘Where the fuck is the off button?’” she says.

From a young age she felt she was different and didn’t care, but after moving to London at eight, she soon found those differences made her a target. At school, Taylor-Joy was bullied so badly that she dropped out at 16, begging her parents to allow her to pursue acting instead. It felt like she was speaking another language to people – literally; she didn’t speak English until after she moved – but even after she learned, the disconnect persisted. Her mother recalls that even when she was very small, people would be strange around her.

We have made it to a café on the edge of the Serpentine, looking out as the water sloshes like a brimming bath. She tells me about the garden near here that she broke into as a teenager, and the Peter Pan statue that was the site of her first kiss. After some confusion, I realise she means the statue itself was her first kiss: when she was seven, her brother brought her here on a snow day and she hopped up and kissed between the pipe and Peter’s lips.

Taylor-Joy points behind us in the direction of a tree she used to sit underneath during the summer holidays. Hyde Park was near her home, and she would bring the family dog here and devote hours to reading or climbing trees, in retreat from how frustrating life felt elsewhere. “The messaging I was getting at school was that everything about me was wrong. I think the way that I looked played into it, and then the extremes of my personality definitely played into it,” she says. “If I loved something, I loved something. I have no chill in any regard, and that can be frightening for people, I guess.”

Acting, too, was a refuge, and she went looking for it as a place “where I made more sense and where my differences wouldn’t feel as alien to others.” When she arrived on the set of The Witch, she was so high from the moment of finally arriving at that place that it really did feel like magic. After filming her last scene as Thomasin during reshoots, Taylor-Joy went for a walk alone in the woods and had a premonition: this film was going to do well.

A word that Anya Taylor-Joy has started to connect with her characters is “defiance”. Her response to those difficult childhood experiences was to vow to herself never to make anyone else feel that way. “As a survival mechanism you learn to be self-effacing and self-deprecating. You bury yourself before anybody else does,” she says. “What I’m coming to understand is: as long as you’re not causing anyone else harm, you have to stand your ground.”

So Taylor-Joy has made a habit of standing her ground. “How do I say this?” she says as we wind around the edge of the lake, side by side. “I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for fighting for feminine rage, which is a strange thing, because I’m not promoting violence – but I am promoting women being seen as people. We have reactions that are not always dainty or unmessy.”

(If she has seen the couple who have definitely recognised her and are gripped at the scene playing out – Taylor-Joy rounding the corner of the lake and announcing, out of context, “I’m not promoting violence” – she is doing an excellent job of hiding it.)

Taylor-Joy first fought for female rage on The Witch, filming a scene in which Thomasin is dragged in from the farmyard and accused of being the evil inside the house. The direction was that she would cry – but despite her usually being able to cry on cue, the tears would not come. “Eventually I said, ‘She’s angry; she’s fucking pissed. She’s been blamed time and time again, and she’s not doing anything. We have to stop with the crying.’”

That beat of defiance made the energy of the scene shift suddenly from a slog to feeling electric. That anger sets the stage for the rest of the story, which ends with Thomasin flouting her religion and her family to sign a pact with the devil. She walks into the woods naked, then lifts up into the sky, finally free. “I feel so happy for her. Girl, fly, do your thing. Live deliciously, you’ve earned it. This world is not for you,” says Taylor-Joy, holding back from breaking into laughter, in a way that she often does. “I love the ending of that film.”

Had she not been listened to while filming that farmyard scene, she might not have had the confidence to speak up for her characters and herself going forward. Because she was, it’s a muscle she’s continued to flex throughout her career. In The Menu, the 2022 dark comedy that skewers the pretensions of wealthy gourmands, Taylor-Joy’s character discovers that her date has intentionally brought her to the film’s restaurant setting to die. It was scripted that her character would respond with a single tear rolling down her cheek. “What planet are we living on? I was like, ‘Let me explain to you: I am going to leap across the table and try and literally kill him with my bare hands,’” she says, adding that director Mark Mylod and co-star Nicholas Hoult were thankfully very game.

Reunited with Eggers on The Northman, she added another flourish of visceral fury to a scene in which her character is about to be forced into sleeping with a man against her will. Taylor-Joy remembers racking her brain for everything a woman might do to discourage someone from touching them. Then it came to her. “It was Anya’s idea for Olga to douse her hand with her own menstrual blood before slapping Fjölnir in the face,” Eggers says, recalling it as a “very strong, defiant and memorable choice.”

Several times during the making of Furiosa, Miller witnessed Taylor-Joy fight to try things out that she felt made sense for her character. “She’s one of those great actors who’s resolute [and] incredibly protective of her character,” he tells me. “Several times in the cutting room I said, ‘God, I’m so glad she did that.’”

When Anya Taylor-Joy was making The Queen’s Gambit, the 2020 Netflix series about a prodigious chess player, she realised her character, Beth Harmon, would require her to give more of herself than she had before. Taylor-Joy had always felt like an older sister to her characters; she was protective over them, but maintained some distance. “My characters walk differently and hold themselves differently and cry differently,” she says. “With Beth I was like, ‘Oh, you need my tears, you need my mannerisms, you need my walk.’”

In Beth, Taylor-Joy saw – as she did in Thomasin and would later see in Furiosa – someone looking to bloom in an environment that is not for them; an underdog that refuses to go down. The series was shot in Berlin, and Taylor-Joy fell in love with the upside-down rhythms and pleasures of the city. On Sunday afternoons she took mass at the techno dungeon Berghain, discovering a meditative sanctuary in dancing on her own that she has struggled to find since. Nightlife in the UK is so much about watching other people, but this was a place where facing inwards was OK. At 8pm she would return home for a bath and bowl of spaghetti before bed, waking up at 4am to go to work.

The Queen’s Gambit playing in 62 million households – it was, for a time, the most-watched show in Netflix’s history – waived Taylor-Joy’s anonymity. That she had poured so much of herself into Beth hit her when she landed in New York City in 2020 to find that, even with sunglasses and a Covid face mask, people could still spot the way she walked. The clamour around her persisted for so long that almost a year later, when Last Night in Soho premiered at Venice Film Festival, Edgar Wright recalls the cast having to drive for what would have been a 10-minute walk; the car could barely move through the throngs of people pressed up against the windows to see her.

To be famous in public is to “ripple the pond”. At least, that is the lyrical spin that Taylor-Joy puts on the experience. I keep noticing those ripples long before she does: people trailing after us to ask for a photo, dropped jaws as she passes – because really, it could only be her. Taylor-Joy herself doesn’t see the eyes seeing her, because she almost never wears her contact lenses; the slight fuzzing of her vision allows her to zone out from the intensity of being watched. The other weekend she went to Borough Market to visit a crystal shop with a friend, trying to ignore the huge splash she was causing in the crowd. This, she is keenly aware, will likely only get worse after Furiosa. “At some point that won’t be as possible, and so I’m just enjoying it right now.”

There is one scene in The Queen’s Gambit that Taylor-Joy vividly remembers filming, but never made it into the series. “That’s the first time I’ve ever cried for myself on camera,” she says. “It was directly after Beth basically fucks up a huge opportunity. She’s hungover and it’s a real moment of self-sabotage. I’m reticent to talk about some of these things because I don’t want it to be the thing that marks me, but self-loathing really gets me.”

She has a long-running recurring dream in which she wakes up to find the world razed to the ground and has to get to work rebuilding, a daisy pushing through the concrete. “I keep finding myself in very difficult situations where I have to bloom, where the opposite would be disappearing,” she says, not ready yet to put a finer point on what those experiences are. Then she starts laughing. “Sorry, huge, random, opaque things; oooh, so mysterious.”

While Taylor-Joy was working with the director M Night Shyamalan on Split, he asked whether she was running away from something or towards it. She said the latter, and still believes that to be true. I ask what it is that she is running towards. “Growth. Again, it comes back to being uncomfortable,” she says. “There’s something really magical about looking at something and thinking ‘How the fuck am I going to do this?’ My reaction to fear has always been to confront it immediately and head-on. I don’t want it to have the opportunity to grow fangs.”

She has paused to light a cigarette by a fountain; the sun has burned through the clouds. She wonders aloud if the conversation got so intense as a result of the dramatic weather.

Anya Taylor-Joy ripples the pond, diving in headfirst with her blonde hair fanning out behind her in the murky green. The water is a little above nine degrees; the crowd of women at the edge of the pond a mixture of adrenaline-induced hysteria (“My blood is warm!”; “I can feel my heart!”) and the silent frowns of those that haven’t made it in yet.

The Kenwood Ladies’ Pond is a utopian matriarchal society: on the noticeboard are flyers for energy healing sessions, flower-arranging workshops and yoga classes in a local library. On the grass, an older woman pauses to bask nude in the sunlight as she changes, inspiring a quiet but enthusiastic “Yes!” from Taylor-Joy as we enter this female oasis.

It’s a Sunday morning, about a week after we first met. Still, in a mark of respect to Taylor-Joy’s love of miserable settings, gale-force winds have closed part of Hampstead Heath. In a bright red Dior swimsuit, Taylor-Joy slips into the water before anyone can get to her, enjoying a rare moment of solace. In a few hours she’ll be running towards the next thing, getting on a plane to attend CinemaCon in Las Vegas. But for now she grins in the freezing cold pond, upturning her body to dip below the surface.

George Miller wrote the story of Furiosa as background for the actors working on Mad Max: Fury Road. The 2015 film, starring Tom Hardy as Max and Charlize Theron as Furiosa, made around £250 million globally at the box office and is widely considered one of, if not the, greatest action movies of the 21st century. The follow-up focuses on young Furiosa – beginning in another matriarchal society, the Green Place of Many Mothers – as she is snatched and taken to the Wasteland warlord Dementus (a livewire Chris Hemsworth). Furiosa dedicates her life to finding her way back home, in another gas-guzzling ride that ends with its bumper right up against where Fury Road begins.

Miller saw the same resilience in Taylor-Joy that he had seen in Theron. “[Furiosa] needed somebody who had a ferocity to them,” he says. “She trained from an early age in ballet. I find [ballet dancers] have a very strong discipline about them; they can handle all the physicality of the role, but more importantly, what’s intrinsic to them is that resolute quality. She proved my instincts to be right.”

Miller likes to narrow films down to a single sentence that the cast and crew agree on as their mission statement. For Furiosa, it was survival in extremis, which also became an apt way to describe shooting the physically punishing film during the winter months in Australia. But what was more draining than the stunts was how isolated it felt to be inhabiting such a strange world: not seeing anyone who looked normal for months, going to work at 3am when the streets were empty.

The film felt like a huge trust fall, with Miller instructing Taylor-Joy to fix her face into a metaphorical “war mask” and giving her relatively little dialogue. Miller, she says, felt that she looked too cherubic when her mouth was open, and so really, her eyes were all she had to play with. “They are the thing that takes up the majority of the real estate on my face,” she says dryly. “So I’m hoping they did the thing.”

For the film’s climactic battle scene, shot over three days, Taylor-Joy fought once again for feminine rage. “It was really important to me that the confrontation between Furiosa and Dementus be a physical one, and that it was hard-won,” she says. “It needed it; she needed it. I think there is something in seeing this person turn to something more carnal within herself, where you feel a little conflicted because you are complicit in it… There was a relief when it was done.”

Furiosa unlocked something in her. “For all my championing of female rage, I’ve never been an angry person,” she says. “For a long time the only time I ever got angry was on other people’s behalfs. I’ve always internalised this thing of ‘I’ve done something wrong. If you treat me badly, it’s because I am the problem.’ And I’m so grateful for Furiosa, because there was a real moment where I started getting angry for myself. My husband was like ‘I’ve never heard you be like this.’ I was like, ‘I’m glad! I’m glad that I’m angry!’ If someone steps on me now I’m like, ‘Hey, fuck you!’ That makes me feel good.”

One battle she lost, however, was keeping a scene where Furiosa cuts out Dementus’ tongue, something she came up with and convinced Miller to film in a moment of trying to out-crazy the director. Fortunately the prop department made Taylor-Joy a spare. Now she has Dementus’ tongue sitting in a little plastic box at home.

We climb out of the water, Taylor-Joy balancing on one leg to force her woolly-socked feet into the cloven toes of her mud-caked tabi mules. She arrived earlier method-dressing The Matrix in a shiny plum-coloured faux-leather coat and black micro sunglasses. (I, eternally blue-pilled, wore my swimming costume under my leggings.)

Today feels like that faint first beam of spring. Taylor-Joy has a renewed appreciation for the change of season. “I saw a tree essentially bloom in a day and it made me so excited,” she says. “For Furiosa I did a full year of just winter. I like the hibernation; I like the cold, but a full year of watching things wither and die devastates you.”

This morning she put on Fred Again and started to get excited about Glastonbury, now visibly twinkling on the horizon. As much as defiance sits well with her, there’s another word that she’s been thinking about lately, one she’s keeping close over the coming months. “I want to be delighted by things,” she says. “I want to revel in delight.” We walk out of the Green Place, the bunny ears of the mustard knitted hat she has pulled on bouncing up and down behind her head as we go. With a cigarette hanging off her bottom lip, she says, “We’re so healthy.”

Last summer, not long before the actors’ strike, Taylor-Joy’s husband told her that if she took another job without taking a break, she could no longer complain about feeling burned out. “I hadn’t noticed the pressure I was putting myself under,” she says. When she talks about thresholds, she brings up the playground game Mercy, where two people interlock fingers and twist until their opponent cries surrender from the pain: “I struggle to say mercy.”

She promised to take a break after filming The Gorge, in which she and Miles Teller play two soldiers charged with guarding a vast canyon without knowing exactly what they are protecting. The film, shot last spring, reminded Taylor-Joy of the isolation that we all felt during the pandemic. But for her, much of lockdown was a period of intense work – she was part of one of the first crews in the UK working again on Last Night in Soho, then went to Northern Ireland to film The Northman. Fortunately she didn’t have to break her promise: the strike that began in the summer forced her to take a pause.

But she may not stay still for very long. A few weeks after our swim, Taylor-Joy is reported to have joined Chris Evans and Brendan Fraser in the cast of Romain Gavras’ first English-language film, Sacrifice. There is also the possibility of her rejoining Queen’s Gambit writer-director Scott Frank on Laughter in the Dark, an adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel of the same name about a teenage girl drawn into a twisted relationship with an older art critic. “The character is so different from anything that I’ve played,” she says. “She really works her sexuality and gets the better of the whole ‘it’s a man’s world’ situation.” She wants to work with Frank and the Queen’s Gambit crew again back in Berlin, but the film is currently on hold; according to Frank, Netflix passed on it, despite the megahit that the show became.

Of course, what everyone really wants to know is if Taylor-Joy will return for the third chapter of Dune, which was reported to be in development between our two meetings, but which she remains cagey about. “I’ll know when you do,” she says. “I think we’re all really hopeful.” Still, she hopes that her big year of sand – first with Furiosa and then Dune: Part Two – might not be over yet. “Listen, I’m ready now, I’ve done the training,” she says. “I think you kind of need to do the movie in order to be ready for it.”

That training came in the last gasps of her year-long winter. For months she had been “white-knuckling” it, wrapping Furiosa and immediately doing a press tour for The Menu. She got home to Los Angeles and Dune director Denis Villeneuve rang to tell her to get on a plane.

When Taylor-Joy arrived in Namibia she was met by a skeleton crew, all sworn to secrecy. Nobody could know about her cameo in Dune: Part Two – a roughly minute-long scene that introduces her as Alia, the telepathic, as-yet-unborn sister to Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, who has spent most of the movie trying to conquer the planet Arrakis with the help of its native warriors, the sand-walking Fremen.

“Have you ever walked on a dune?” Taylor-Joy asks me. She spins back through her phone’s camera roll to find the photos she took when they were filming. Like her, the Dune crew were similarly spent from revving their own metaphorical motorbikes for months of shooting. In the pictures, they’re struggling with camera equipment as they climb the sand like a trail of ants marching up a mound of golden sugar.

“It was a fucking mountain made of sand. Every step you take, you fall,” she says. “There was a very real moment halfway through where, I can guarantee you, every single one of us was like ‘I can’t fucking make it; bury me here.’”

Chasing down the next thing is a habit that has been hard for Taylor-Joy to break: “I like living on that edge; I think there’s a magic to it,” she says. But there, at the summit of a dune in a desert, there was a sense of release, something between defiance and delight. The sand holds you, she realised, as she stood still on what felt like the edge of a cliff. “By the time we climbed that dune,” she says. “I think all of us had let go.”

Then came Villeneuve’s rallying cry: “Remember, you’re a fucking Fremen!” And she leapt forwards.