Anya is the cover star of the May issue of ELLE magazine! Check out the stunning photoshoot and article below.
Magazines & Scans > Magazines from 2021 > ELLE (May 2021)
ELLE – The star of Emma and The Queen’s Gambit opens up about on-set friendships, childhood bullying, and riding out a panic attack in a corset.
It’s almost 5 p.m. London time, and Anya Taylor-Joy is “jet-lagged to shit.” Still groggy from an accidental afternoon snooze, she apologizes for pushing our Zoom back a bit, explaining, “When I nap, it’s (a) never intentional, and (b) my spirit leaves my body. I was lying there thinking, ‘Anya, don’t fall off the boat.’ And then I was like, ‘You’re not on a boat.’ So then I said, ‘Well, don’t fall out of the car.’ And I’m like, ‘Babe, you’re not in a car. You’re at home, in your bed. You’re fine.’
Considering the 25-year-old actress hasn’t had a permanent residence for the past six years, “traveling not just from country to country,” she says, “but from character to character, having only the plane ride to release that person and then throw myself into the next thing,” such disorientation seems natural. Take the last couple of weeks. Fourteen days ago, images of her on the Hollywood set of David O. Russell’s latest top-secret, star-studded project began popping up on celebrity news sites. She laughs while reminiscing about a visit to the makeup trailer with costar Margot Robbie. “I said, ‘Why does it feel like climbing Everest to get into this truck?’ and she was like, ‘Oh honey, you’re not in Kansas anymore.’”
Three days ago, that sentiment crystallized, when Taylor-Joy, a vision in Oz-worthy emerald-green Dior Haute Couture and Tiffany & Co. diamonds, accepted the Golden Globe for her performance as chess prodigy Beth Harmon in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit. In four days, she’ll win the Critics Choice Award for Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television in yet another exquisite Dior gown, but at the moment, she’s chilling in her bathroom in a more quarantine-style ensemble of dark top and pants. “My partner’s just come back from work, and he’s moving around all of his equipment, so this was the safe spot,” she explains, gathering her long, wavy blonde hair and pulling it over her left shoulder. Seeing her here, against a low-lit backdrop of tile, freestanding tub, and exposed plumbing, one is reminded of The Queen’s Gambit’s raw opening scene, in which Taylor-Joy’s Beth emerges from a deep copper bathtub, gasping for air. “It killed me to not take a legitimate bath in that tub,” she says with a laugh.
It’s hard to overstate the cultural impact of the series, which follows a shy but brilliant girl, orphaned at age nine, who learns chess from a janitor and goes on to master the game, all while battling an addiction to the sedatives her orphanage would dole out to keep the kids calm. Aside from the awards and mind- boggling numbers—62 million Netflix subscribers tuned into the show in its first 28 days—chess set makers saw an 87 percent jump in sales in that same time period, and even Gigi Hadid dyed her hair Beth’s coppery shade, dedicating the look to “everyone responsible for The Queen’s Gambit.” Taylor-Joy has a hard time wrapping her mind around it all. “Especially at the beginning, it was very surreal, because I was spending every day with no shoes in minus-three-degree weather on the side of a mountain,” she says of receiving word of the series’ success while filming The Northman in Northern Ireland. “So going home to an apartment and seeing texts like, ‘A lot of people have watched the show’…I’m not great at numbers. The most I can hold in my head is, like, a stadium’s worth.” But certain things made it real—like seeing The Queen’s Gambit on Barack Obama’s list of favorite TV shows of 2020, and hearing that Patti Smith was a fan. “I was reading her book Devotion when I heard that, so that was pretty cool.”
Series director and co-creator Scott Frank knew he’d found his Beth during his first lunch meeting with Taylor-Joy: “Literally, just her walking in, I got this instant vibe of, ‘Oh—this is Beth, this is Beth, this is Beth.’ It was so clear to me. And at that point, she became my first, second, and third choice.” For Taylor-Joy’s part, she’s never felt closer to a character. “So I’m selfishly glad that people seem to like her,” she says. It also feels fitting that she’d experience the transition from one-to-watch status to bona fide stardom while surrounded by folks from her first breakout role. Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, who played Taylor-Joy’s parents in The Witch, also appear in The Northman, and Robert Eggers directed both films.
Coming up are more high-profile roles in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, George Miller’s Furiosa, and Scott Frank’s Vladimir Nabokov adaptation, Laughter in the Dark. “I see her with black hair this time,” Frank says of the film, which is in preproduction. Her name has achieved household status; soon, award presenters will know how to pronounce it as well (for the record, it’s Anne-ya, not Awn-ya). If you need proof, just the other day, a fan spotted her while she was covered up in a mask, sunglasses, and a beanie. “My brain exploded. I was like, ‘You deserve an award,’” she says.
Taylor-Joy’s most vivid memory of her early childhood in Argentina, where she lived with her Scottish-Argentinian father, Zambian-Spanish-English mother, and five siblings, was “how big and blue the sky was. The colors are so vibrant—it’s like the most vibrant green, the most vibrant pink. It felt so expansive,” she says. She recalls an idyllic existence, surrounded by nature and animals. “My sister would go to school and bring home stray cats. Our neighbors had ducklings, so I had, like, 14 ducklings that followed me around. It was like, ‘Oh, there’s a stray dog. Can we keep it?’ ‘Sure.’ There was just a constant flow of different four-legged and web-footed creatures that I got to play with.”
When Taylor-Joy was six, her family moved to London. “I joke about this, but I’m kind of serious when I say that the characters in the Harry Potter books were my friends. I spent the first two years in England playing hand-clap games with plants—if you slap them hard enough, they clap back—and learning how to read. That was my existence. I didn’t hang out with other kids. I was clearly a very normal child,” she says in jest. She loved learning and had a special connection with her history teacher (shout-out to Mrs. Ditchfield), but the bullying she experienced at school was so extreme she wound up leaving at age 16.
She’s spoken before of being trapped in lockers and mocked for having wide-set eyes, but she’s not interested in going there today, “not because it’s traumatizing, but just because I don’t want to give it the airtime.” She now understands the psychology behind why kids might gang up on an easy target, and no longer feels resentful. “It just really pushed me,” she says. “Much the same way as Beth needed chess, I needed acting. I needed to believe in a place where I could be valued and appreciated, and actually have something to contribute rather than constantly feeling like, ‘What is wrong with me, and why do I not fit in?’” The kindness she experienced on the set of The Witch at age 18 “felt like taking a breath for the first time in a really, really long time.”
Taylor-Joy listens intently, with every muscle of her striking face, equal parts glamour and expressiveness. When she tells you that her Radioactive costar Rosamund Pike’s Golden Globe win for I Care a Lot was potentially more exciting than her own, you believe her. After all, as a fellow nominee in the category, her reaction was on display for all to see, and she spent a good part of Pike’s speech with her hands over her heart, eyes unblinking, absorbing every word. She felt the same way watching her Emma costar Josh O’Connor win for his work on The Crown: “The flush is so exciting, and you don’t have any of your own insecurities or back chatter—just complete joy and love.” The feeling was mutual. “I knew Anya would win—her performance in The Queen’s Gambit is essential viewing,” O’Connor says. “Such detail and subtle nuance. I love watching her, and I’m so thrilled the world is celebrating her work.”
Taylor-Joy had met another Emma castmate, Mia Goth, while shooting Marrowbone in Spain. “She was the first actress close to my age that I met, and we had a very cool conversation where I was like, ‘I love you,’ and she said, ‘I love you.’ And I said, ‘I’m always going to have your back.’ And she was like, ‘I’m always going to have your back.’ It was like, ‘Okay, cool. Let’s progress in this very wild industry, knowing that we’re going to take care of each other.’” Their friendship pact came in handy at the start of filming for Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 Jane Austen adaptation. “I had been working back to back—just before Emma, I’d done two projects at the same time, and I was going through some emotional relationship stuff,” Taylor-Joy says. “So at the beginning of 2019, I was just really broken and frightened of everything, and Mia and I were driving back from rehearsal. I turned to her and said, ‘I think I’m going to quit acting. I don’t think I can do this.’ And I’ve never seen Mia look so worried in my life. She was like, ‘But…that’s what you do. You can’t not…what are you talking about?’ I was like, ‘I think I need to back out now and just let it be and try to take care of my heart.’ And she was like, ‘No, that would be really bad. You can’t not have the thing that is your oxygen.’ I’m really glad she said that.
While experiencing a panic attack in a corset is its own circle of hell, Taylor-Joy finds that when she has one at work, it usually signifies a good thing. “I’ve learned to recognize that feeling of, like, ‘Oh, you care. You really care, and so you should probably do this,’” she says. She’s grateful that more people are starting to see mental health issues less as weaknesses, and more just as things people have and deal with. “It’s a chemical imbalance in my brain. It’s not a choice. It’s not attention-seeking. If I could not have it, I would not have it, but I do,” she says. That transparency proved useful when someone else experienced a panic attack on the set of Emma. “I was just like, ‘I’ve got you. Release the corset! Sit the fuck down. We can do this.’ It’s when you’re trying to pretend that you’re something you’re not that people get hurt.”
Taylor-Joy’s professionalism stood out to Frank while shooting the Kentucky chess tournament scenes for the second episode of The Queen’s Gambit. “On the first day of filming that sequence, Anya learned that her grandfather had passed away. It was a devastating loss, but she did her scenes like a pro, and the minute we said ‘Cut,’ she would just come apart,” he recalls. They condensed three days of shooting into two jam-packed days so she could attend the funeral. “Everybody was blown away,” Frank says. “The whole crew applauded when we finished the last match. I’ve never seen anything like it.” When it comes to Taylor-Joy’s future, Frank predicts “we’ll see Dame Anya Taylor-Joy, in her eighties, acting in some great piece of work, earning her nineteenth Oscar.”
What he doesn’t see is a second season of The Queen’s Gambit, but Taylor-Joy isn’t ready to rule it out. “It would be silly of me to go, ‘There’s never going to be a second series,’ and then I’m 40, and Scott’s like, ‘Yo, how do you feel about this? You want to go back?’” (The stage rights to the novel the series is based on were recently acquired, but Frank and Taylor-Joy are not involved with that project.) As far as what she thinks might be next for Beth: “I hope she starts doing things for her own enjoyment. I’d like Beth to pick up Benny and spend some time with him in Russia, just the two of them being snobby intellectuals together, and I hope she has a Bowie phase.”
For now, though, Taylor-Joy is settling in for a quarantine period following her return from the States, and her only plans for the evening are to log on to the streaming service that made her a star, and, you know, chill. “I have a wonderful friend named Julia Garner, and I’ve never seen Ozark. So I’m about to start that, and I cannot wait.”