Actress says she spent school years ‘crying in bathrooms’ after moving from Argentina
Model and actress Anya Taylor-Joy says she was so badly bullied at her west London school that she fled to New York as a teenager to escape.
The rising star, now 20, was born in Miami then lived in Argentina until she was six. She said she struggled to be accepted after moving to Britain.
“When I was younger I didn’t really feel like I fit in anywhere,” she said.
“I was too English to be Argentine, too Argentine to be English, too American to be anything.”
The star said she had “a tough time” in the classroom.
“The kids just didn’t understand me in any shape or form, and I was really badly bullied,” she said. “I used to get locked in lockers, you know, barred from classrooms, not invited to things. It wasn’t pleasant.”
Taylor-Joy said she spent a lot of her time in school “crying in bathrooms”.
“We’re social creatures and we don’t do well when we’re not accepted, or when we feel like we don’t belong anywhere,” she said.
She said her decision to move to New York at 14 — then give up school two years later to act — “terrified” her family.
But at 17 she got her big break, when she was spotted by a modelling scout as she walked her dog outside Harrods, and she is now in the running for the EE Bafta Rising Star Award.
She faces competition from other up-and-coming talent including Ruth Negga and Tom Holland.
Past winners include James McAvoy, with whom Taylor-Joy is starring in her latest project, M Night Shyamalan’s Split.
She plays an abused woman in the film, a role which she found emotionally difficult.
She said: “My characters are incredibly real for me and I was just in so much pain for her.
“No one should ever have to endure that, and I don’t know where people get off thinking that they own other women’s bodies, because you are the only owner of your body and no one is allowed to touch you without your consent.”
She terrified audiences in The Witch and played Barack Obama’s girlfriend in Barry. Now Anya Taylor-Joy is starring in M Night Shyamalan’s new thriller and competing for a Bafta. She talks to Samuel Fishwick about overcoming the school bullies and ‘pranking’ James McAvoy
For someone on the cusp of Hollywood superstardom, with its fans, foes and endless requests for selfies, Anya Taylor-Joy is refreshingly off-duty around strangers. She stoops to stroke someone’s puppy outside The Ivy Kensington Brasserie where we meet, cheerfully asks for a cigarette lighter from a passerby and gives me a massive hug as a greeting.
The Bafta Rising Star nominee, 20, is in the middle of a full-on press tour for M Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller, Split, and only arrived in London on a flight from New York an hour before we meet. Wearing a short leather miniskirt with bare legs despite the cold, her blonde hair pulled back in a jaunty high ponytail, she’s quick with smiles and laughter and her mood seems high-octane and excitable — but isn’t she tired?
The 20-year-old actress discusses her latest projects
The following feature appears in the December/January 2017 issue of NYLON.
The first thing Anya Taylor-Joy wants to talk about is her dog. She brings up Kala, a big ball of black fluff, with puppyish enthusiasm herself, describing her as “the most ridiculous thing in the entire world” and “a teddy bear brought to life.” It’s a drizzly morning in West London, but inside this particular neighborhood café—with its bleached walls, mellow background music, and juice bar—the atmosphere is considerably sunnier. She barely sits down before pulling out her iPhone to show me a video. “You are going to have to deal with my cooing noises,” she says.
Fresh-faced and makeup-free, the incredibly busy 20-year-old actress looks reinvigorated after six days at home here in London. Born in Miami to a Spanish-English mother and an Argentinian-Scottish father, she is the youngest of six children, “the baby by a long way,” says Taylor-Joy, whose youngest sister is seven years older than her. Though her accent is as British as mine, her first language is Spanish, and she’s in the process of learning French. Growing up between England and Argentina, she’s been living “pretty much alone” in her childhood home in West London since dropping out of school at age 16 to pursue acting.
“When I say the past two years have been mad, it’s, like, legitimately mad,” she says of a schedule that includes six movies shot back-to-back following her breakout in Robert Eggers’s indie horror The Witch, which terrified and delighted audiences at Sundance earlier this year. Since then, she appeared as the titular character in the sci-fi thriller Morgan, and can be seen as Barack Obama’s sharp-witted college girlfriend in the Netflix biopic Barry, which premieres on December 16. But Taylor-Joy’s most visible role to date will come in January, as part of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest horror experiment, Split. In it, she stars alongside James McAvoy as Casey, a smart, steely heroine who, when abducted by McAvoy’s character Kevin—a sociopath with 23 competing personalities—must work with her two friends to outwit him. When asked what it is about the horror genre that draws her in, Taylor-Joy insists that neither Split nor The Witch nor Morgan are actually horror movies. They’re thrillers, she says, films that allow her to “really scream” and “exorcise a lot of feelings without becoming a psycho.”
There’s being dedicated and there’s being dedicated. Anya Taylor-Joy is dedicated. Such is the staunchly committed work ethic of the 20-year-old actress that she’s not averse to filming “intense” scenes – involving hysteria, tears and tunnels – amid a rather serious bout of food poisoning. “I would be there doing the scene, fighting the urge to be so violently ill and then they would cut and I’d just go to the side and throw up a couple of times in a bucket,” she says, of a recent experience. But for her it’s all part of the job. “By the end of that day I went home and I was like, ‘What did I just do? That was insane’.” And she wouldn’t have it any other way: “But we got the shot.”
That work ethic is also the reason why the past two years have seen her fast-tracked to breakthrough actress status with the success of her role as Thomasin in The Witch, the supernatural horror that is both harrowing and beautifully bleak, directed by Robert Eggers. The eldest daughter in a devout Christian family who move to New England in the 1630s, Thomasin is blamed for the disappearance of her baby brother and the bewitching of her other younger brother. The Guardian praised Anya’s performance as Oscar-nominee-worthy, Vanity Fair described her as being “destined for big things”, and Variety singled her out as pretty much owning the whole film.
“MY FIRST LOVE IS NOT A BOY; IT’S ACTING,”