Until the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, no one in Hollywood had heard of Anya Taylor-Joy, a wide-eyed teenager from Miami, Florida starring in the low-budget horror movie The Witch. But that was just the beginning of things for the young model-turned-actress. “Everything changed really, really quickly after that movie and it’s continuing to change,” she says. “I went to Sundance and didn’t really go home.”
Now, Taylor-Joy is starring Morgan, a sci-fi film produced by Ridley Scott, and Barry, the Barack Obama biopic that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and regularly wears brands like Chanel and Gucci. For these reasons, we crowned her the new indie queen in W‘s Royals portfolio, and paired her with actress Elle Fanning, an equally stylish teenage actress who, too, I poised beyond her years.
You have those beautiful eyes and they’re so far apart. When you were a kid, did they make you self conscious?
I can definitely remember when Facebook was a thing and I was never aware that my eyes were far apart and then someone tagged me in a picture with a fish and they were like, “This is you ’cause your eyes are like here.” And I was really upset about it and I didn’t enjoy it and I kind of stopped looking in mirrors for a very long time. I still don’t really spend a lot of time in front of mirrors because I don’t really have to deal with my face. Unfortunately, y’all do.
I will say though that it’s interesting in sports because I became very aware that when I was smaller, my head was a lot more compact and so my eyes really were on both sides of my face. It became common knowledge in the playground that if you wanted me to catch a ball, you had to throw it at the side of my head ’cause if you just threw it straight here, I’d just be like, “Oh, my God. What? What happened? What’s going on?” And now it’s like my face has grown a bit more. I’m kind of growing into myself. I’m a bit less awkward. Though I’m still growing a lot. I’m still getting taller – I grew like two inches last year. I don’t really know what to do with all of my limbs.
How old were you when you were scouted?
I got scouted when I was 16, almost 17, and it was something that had never entered my thoughts. I never thought I could be a model. I was such a tomboy growing up and I’ve never really been into makeup or anything like that, so it was really surprising, but I definitely saw it as an in for acting.
Did you start out wanting to be an actress when you were young?
Yeah. I know it sounds really precious and pretentious, but I can’t actually remember deciding to want to be an actor. I just knew that I had too many feelings and I had to kind of get them out in some way.
Were you in school plays?
Yeah. My first school play was Perkin and the Pastry Cook that my primary school put on and I played a boy, and it was so much fun, and I’d love to play a boy again. I think that would be great.
Tell me about the audition for The Witch.
I actually had about three auditions. In the original script, [the character] Thomasin was described as very plain-faced and very normal looking. I know look weird, so I walked into the audition and I saw this girl and she was perfect. I walked out and was like, “No, it’s not for me. I’m not gonna get it. That girl’s gonna get it instantly.” And then I met with Rob [Eggers, the director] and I was really emotional and kind of hysterical because the script had really gotten to me. I marched straight up to him and was like, “I don’t really know my lines and I’m really overwhelmed, but do you still want me to read?” And he was like, “Yeah, I do.” And then I did a chemistry test and it just it felt right.
Did you feel yourself getting any particular supernatural qualities while you were making the film? Did it start to affect you personally?
We all definitely took it home with us because we had done something so intimate, and quiet, and close. When we left, we didn’t really talk about it with anybody. We didn’t talk about it with our family or with our friends. We just kept it within the coven, I guess. But I think making the entirety of the film was kind of supernatural because it was so difficult to make. We had very little budget. Everything in nature was going against us. The dolly was sinking so deep into the mud and getting through that shoot was tough and kind of supernatural.
So, tell me about The Witch premiere at Sundance.
The Witch premiered at Sundance in the Eccles Theater, which was bizarre. It’s such a big movie theater, and especially, it being the first time you kind of see your face that big on screen. You could say that’s a bit self-centered, to see it that way, but it’s true. I had no idea how many close-ups there were in the movie because I was kind of unaware of the camera and so I grabbed Rob when we finished the movie and I was just like, “Dude, why didn’t you tell me? Like it’s right here all the time?”
What was it like after that screening? Did you just get mobbed after that?
I did legitimately get mobbed after the first screening, but not in a good way. I was pushed up against the wall by these two women that were like they were infuriated by the fact that we had abused the children and I didn’t really know how to react.They were yelling at me and so close to my face, so I guess it’s good that the film had a visceral reaction – I was like, “It’s play pretend. We would never hurt the kids.” Everything changed really, really quickly after that movie and it’s continuing to change. I went to Sundance and didn’t really go home. It’s been an insane ride, really wonderful.
Who’s your cinematic crush?
Katherine Moennig. She’s just the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. I watched The L Word and she’s just stunning, but I actually I knew her from this show that my sister was really into, Dawson’s Creek. After Dawson’s Creek, they did this show that only ran for a season called Young Americans, and in it she has really short hair and she dresses like she’s pretending to be a boy and I was like, “Whoa, who is that chick? She’s so cool and she has a motor bike.” And so I always kind of had a big girl crush on her, and Eddie Redmayne, you know, tall, skinny, ginger, English. Winning, freckles, all of the freckles.
Were you an early Eddie convert?
Yeah, I was, actually. I can’t remember when Hick came out, or The Yellow Handkerchief.
You saw Hick? You’re hardcore.
Yeah. I love films. It’s really funny, actually. Like I see a lot of smaller movies. But a lot of these big, epic films that everyone’s like, “You have to see.” I haven’t watched yet. Like I only watched The Godfather a couple of months ago and I watched all three while getting my hair and makeup done for Morgan every morning and it was a really great ride. It was a good way to watch those movies.
But I can’t believe you have a crush on Eddie from Hick. He plays a psycho meth addict.
Crazy people are kind of my thing. I really like crazy people, or people that just I guess have a different way of coping with life that’s not considered normal and so even though his character is obviously insane and not a very good person, you can definitely see where a lot of that anger, and pain, and everything comes from, and I think that’s the interesting story.
I love Yellow Handkerchief, too. It’s so good. Kristen Stewart, another beautiful, incredibly talented woman that just I admire her career so much.
What’s your favorite love scene in a movie?
My Girl, when they kiss for the first time and they pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. That’s the best. It’s so cute, and it’s so pure, and I love Thomas J.
The first place I was ever allowed to go to alone was the Blockbuster on the same street as my grandparents’ house in Florida, and I’d go on my little scooter every day and like pick out the movies and like take them home and it was my responsibility and my job, and I couldn’t really read, and so I’d just pick the boxes based on what they looked like and I was not prepared for what My Girl was going to do to me. I was just not – I was like sweet, fun story about like young kids falling in love and then, boom, just like didn’t – I couldn’t eat, cried for days, it – it really grabbed my heart very, very intensely.
What was your favorite birthday?
I turned 20 a couple of weeks ago, and my parents flew in and I don’t get to see them very often and so it was really, really nice and they took me to see The Crucible and I’d said several times that the only two people I’d ever be star struck to me were Saoirse Ronan and Dan Romer, who scored Beasts of the Southern Wilds, and Saoirse was there and she was so nice and she like walked me across the, you know, the theater floor and we were talking about our movies and witches and I was just like, “I’m not okay. I’m so not chill. Like I will be chill in like a month, but until then –” and I actually said that to her. I was like, “Look, you’re so nice. I really want to be your friend, but I need some time.” She’s so nice and she’s so talented, it’s just I mean there are all these incredible women doing these very ballsy and fearless roles, and I just think it’s so wonderful to watch and it’s so inspiring.
Who, to you, is a royal? Not somebody who’s born into aristocracy – but somebody who has greatness in them.
Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, always. Tilda’s my queen. She literally is and it’s because she completely and utterly fearless, and so is Cate actually. They both are such artists and they really bring so much to each of their characters and they don’t shy away from any of the ugly parts or anything that you maybe wouldn’t see that much in movies. Though I will say that the movies that I’ve seen recently are becoming a lot ballsier. It’s an interesting time for cinema right now. A lot of scripts that I don’t think would have been made like 15 years ago are like popping up and it’s really exciting, so it’s good.