Even though she claims not to be a horror movie geek, Anya Taylor-Joy, at all of 20, is quickly become the genre’s leading heroine. The latest indie star to emerge out of Sundance in her critically adored horror film The Witch in 2015, which became a surprise hit last year, the young Argentine-British model-turned-actress has gone on to star in the underrated sci-fi horror film Morgan as well as M. Night Shyamalan’s latest fright, Split, in which Taylor-Joy’s actor falls prey to a terrifying schizophrenic. (In between, she also managed to feature in the Barack Obama biopic Barry, as his collegiate girlfriend.) Here, she reveals her strangest fears, and why making horror movies is kind of therapy—even if she is a “scaredy cat.”
Since you’re a natural blonde, what is it like going to brunette [in your screen career]? Does the world treat you differently as a blonde?
Well, I like being a brunette because it actually makes me feel more Spanish—I look more like my mom. My hair was always so white, and my skin was so white that I kind of felt like I washed out a little bit. The dark hair grounds me a lot more, and it actually makes me look older, which is good, because I can go for older roles and stuff like that.
But do you miss being blond, just in general?
I mean, I didn’t until we did this shoot. All of a sudden, I was looking at like my really blond hair, like, “Damn, this is what I used to look like. I might wanna do this again one day.”
When do you think you’ll be blonde again, just out of curiosity?
Probably for my next role. I mean, hair—anything that is of my body—is always, you know, because of a film. I don’t really do anything for my own pleasure.
Well, there’s been no time recently, and it’s actually so much fun to change into your characters because it just means that when you do look in the mirror you’re, you know, that person. I change the way I dress according to how I look, and it just allows me to get into character better.
So how did Split come to you?
Well, actually, M. Night Shyamalan actually offered me the role on the phone, which was crazy. I was pacing up and down, and I was kind of freaking out that he was talking to me on the phone, anyway. And then he just offered it to me. Just stopped completely dead in my tracks and started hyperventilating. I was like, “Yes, I wanna make this movie with you,” and then I started panicking because I realized that I would be playing a kidnapped girl with an actor who at the time was a method actor. I was like, “Ooh, three months of this might be a little bit tricky.” But [James McAvoy] ended up doing the part, and we had a really, really great time on set.
Oh, it was somebody else initially?
I see. Did you find yourself confused about who he was going to be during different scenes? You do a wonderful job of seeming both confounded and trying to navigate it at the same time.
Yeah. I mean, my favorite thing about Casey is that she really believes in all of his personalities, and she treats each of them differently. For me, just being in the room, being able to watch James do all of the characters, it was an absolute pleasure. It’s like watching a one-man show every day. I definitely have favorites in the personalities that I enjoyed spending time with more.
Who were they?
Hedwig. I loved him. He’s so sweet. They have a really interesting relationship, Casey and Hedwig. And then Miss Patricia—even though she’s terrifying she was really, really interesting to play with. That’s the incredible thing about the movie, it’s kind of like acting with a whole bunch of different people.
Have you ever felt schizophrenic?
I don’t wanna say schizophrenic, just in terms of the mental health disorder. But I definitely lose who I am a lot of the time in going from movie to movie and character to character, because they are so real for me. Sometimes I’ll feel like little traits of one character coming through that are definitely not mine, and that can creep me out a little bit. All of a sudden, I’ll do something, and I’m just like, “That was not me.” But it’s also kind of cool, because you end up with all of these friends that you know very intimately, you know?
And then you’re sad when they go.
So sad. I get so depressed. It’s really, really difficult. Actually, when The Witch ended, I lost it. I hadn’t realized the characters were real for me yet, and so I was mourning her. I knew I would see everyone else again, and I knew that I’d made a movie that I was proud of, but I really, really miss Thomason.
So how many nights have you slept in your bed in the last year? Where would you call home if you had to pick a place?
Oh, God. Well, this goes back to the schizophrenic question. When I’m in Argentina, I feel too English to be Argentine, and other people see me as too English to be Argentine. When I’m in America, I’m too Argentine or English, so I never really feel like I have a home. I’m always just like a little bit, um, exotic. But the bed that I spent the most amount of time in was the bed in London, and this year I’ve probably slept there collectively maybe 10 days. [Laughs] Crazy.
So what’s the key to that kind of travel? Do you have any travel tips to share with the world? Don’t stress out. Just chill. It’s really not that bad. You go through security; yes, you have to stand in a line for a while. It’s like, “Meh.” Have a killer playlist. And try and sleep. It’s hard, but try and sleep.
Do you watch movies on planes?
Well, this is the thing: I say try and sleep. I never sleep. I watch all of the movies, and actually that can get a bit difficult, because if you’re on planes kind of consistently, they don’t change up the movies, so you end up watching them again and again and again.
What have you watched again and again and again?
Brooklyn. I loved Brooklyn. Um, what else? Love & Mercy, I watched that movie so many times. Now A Bigger Splash is on British Airways, so I watched that a couple of times. The performances are just astonishing.
Do you think it’s interesting that you’ve been cast in so many movies with so many supernatural people with, shall we say, anger issues?
Yes, I don’t think my 12-year-old self would have associated that with the career that I was going to have. But actually now, in hindsight, it’s exactly what I would wanna be doing. Just because I don’t enjoy watching horror movies doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy [making them].
No, not at all. I’m a real scaredy cat. I’m not good at being scared. But actually acting in a horror movie, you get to feel so much more intensely. Your brackets of acceptable emotion are so much wider, and so you get to really, you know, purge yourself of any emotions that you have. It wears me out. It also releases some of my emotions, so it chills me out a lot more. So after a big emotional scene I get to go home and get a good night’s sleep. I’m a lot more stable now that I’m making horror movies, for sure.
I think you have to do a romantic comedy. Yeah, a whole bunch of my friends are like, “I don’t wanna watch any of your movies. They’re really scary. Like, I love you, but no.” They’re all waiting for the rom-com.
And have you looked at a single rom-com?
I’ve read a couple of the scripts, but to be honest there’s nothing about the genre that makes me not wanna do a movie or wanna do a movie. It’s all about the character, so if I read a rom-com that read something along the lines of… would you call 500 Days of Summer a rom-com?
Yeah? Like something along those lines, a really witty script that’s very interestingly shot and tells a real story of relationships. Because real stories are so much more interesting, because real people are so much more multifaceted.
But you’re not a horror movie kind of girl.
No, not really. People are gonna kill me. I mean, maybe I need to watch more horror movies. Maybe I need to find my niche.
So what is your biggest irrational fear?
My biggest irrational fear? Revolving doors.
Revolving doors have always freaked me out, and I’m not even claustrophobic. It’s just the speed that it’s going around, and I’m consistently worried that I’m not gonna make it out, it’s gonna cut me in half or something. I mean, people around me will literally see me just tense up and hold my hands and be like, “It’s fine, it’s fine, I’m going through the door, I’m going through the door… and I’m out!”
What’s your biggest pet peeve? Um… when, like, you have a water bottle and it has condensation on the outside. That pisses me off. I don’t know why, but that ticks me off quite a bit. Yeah, I’d say that.
A water bottle with condensation?
Yeah. It’s like water bottles sweat, and you don’t wanna touch anyone else’s sweat, so why would you wanna touch like a water bottle that’s all, like, ugh?
Which I think is just water.
[Laughs] Well, maybe that’s my irrational fear.
Do you have a new girl crush, or is it still Saoirse [Ronan]?
I will always have an incredible amount of respect for her. I’m on my real Tilda [Swinton] kick right now. I know I talk about her a lot, but I think she’s phenomenal.
Have you seen Doctor Strange?
No, not yet, but Benedict Cumberbatch is in that, isn’t he? He’s amazing, too. But man crush, I’d say like Ben Whishaw and Bill Nighy, always.
You’ve gotten off of Eddie Redmayne?
No, no, no. I will never be off of Eddie, but Ben Wishaw has this sensitivity to him in everything that he does. Like, when you’re watching him, you just feel for him so much. That’s fabulous to watch on screen.
And Bill Nighy, who’s about 100 years older than you?
I love him. His the only podcast I’ve ever listened to, and he is genuinely the coolest individual ever. I haven’t even met him, but he just exudes cool and being comfortable in his own skin.
Do you have a favorite birthday?
My actual birthday happened on the set of Barry [in which she played Barack Obama’s college girlfriend]. At midnight, you know, I turned 20 or whatever. But I had just done my first sex scene, so it felt sort of amazing to have crossed that bridge. To be like, “I slept with the president on my birthday.”