Anya for Vogue Australia

Anya for Vogue Australia

Shining star: Anya Taylor-Joy’s future couldn’t be brighter

VOGUE AUSTRALIA – In Sydney to headline the biggest Australian movie ever made, and with two star-studded films about to hit cinemas, Anya Taylor-Joy is on the unstoppable ride of her life, and she’s doing it all her own way.

After sunset, Anya Taylor-Joy slips beneath the surface of Bronte rockpool. It’s the middle of August and the water is a bracing 16°C. Taylor-Joy, who spent a good chunk of the pandemic in Ireland filming the Viking epic The Northman, submerged in a sea so deep it looked almost black from the surface, is used to such temperatures. Cold doesn’t bother her. But she isn’t used to the current, the way that our Australian oceans rise to meet you, engulfing you in their embrace, at once both fearsome and totally alive.

“The swell today is crazy, because of the full moon,” explains Taylor-Joy, now sitting at home in her Sydney base, two sheaths of silvery blonde hair hanging wet over her shoulders. She speaks with complete conviction on every subject and that, along with the intensity of her piercing, otherworldly gaze, is a mesmerising combination; an evening in her company passes like the tide. “There’s no distinction between the ocean and the pool,” Taylor-Joy continues. “And I’ve never been in a pool that has a current before, so it was rather enlightening.” A serene smile crosses her face. “I definitely feel more awake than I did an hour ago.”

This has become a ritual of sorts for the actor in the past few weeks. She first landed in Australia in May, out of the frying pan of Los Angeles and into the fire of Furiosa, a prequel to the tour-de- force action film Mad Max: Fury Road, in which Taylor-Joy stars as a younger version of the character first played by Charlize Theron. For months, Taylor-Joy has been caked in mud and grime and engine oil but now there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Night shoots are complete. The 3.00 am wake-up calls are over. On a good day, if she’s lucky, Taylor-Joy might finish work on time and she can slink off to the coast and dive straight into the ocean. Secret beaches are her favourite, the kind where a tiny staircase at the bottom of a residential cul-de-sac leads you into a whole other world. “If you see people in neighbouring houses, they just smile and wave at you, and semi-applaud you for getting in the water when it’s that cold,” Taylor-Joy says. “There’s no, ‘You’re not supposed to be there!’ Which I really like.”

Just as well, because Taylor-Joy isn’t much one for rules. Or rather, if an accepted way of doing something exists, she wants to upend it. In just seven short years, the actor has risen through the ranks of Hollywood, breaking out at 18 in indie horror The Witch, before notching up an already vast catalogue of films and television shows. She has played a Jane Austen heroine, a teenage killer, and a mobster’s scheming wife, shapeshifting around her characters until, all of a sudden, she was everywhere. In October 2020, Taylor-Joy starred in The Queen’s Gambit, the miniseries about a chess prodigy who breaks the system, which was streamed by 62 million households within its first month of release and was single-handedly responsible for boosting sales of chess boards across the world. Taylor-Joy collected a Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG Award for her performance and went from jobbing actor to global star in just under seven hours, the time it took most people to binge the series on Netflix.

Fame is weird, but Taylor-Joy is trying not to let it make an impact. “I’m really bad,” she admits, “because I don’t see myself that way, and my friends don’t see me that way, I forget … I’m just trying to live my life where I am, rather than on my phone, because the phone or the computer can be a really scary place if you let it be that. Whereas if you focus on what you have directly in front of you or around you, that seems more manageable, and it feels like it’s actually more ‘you’ than whatever image of ‘you’ is out there that people interact with.”

It’s for this reason that Taylor-Joy won’t talk about the rumours she secretly married her partner, the musician Malcolm McRae, in July. “I think when people want to say something, they say something,” she sums up, politely but firmly. “What trips me up is I’m usually the last person to know about anything,” she adds. “At the beginning of this career, I gave myself a rough time for not being supremely on top of everything that was going on with a certain variety of people, but now that I’m technically one of them, I’m still not up to date—especially with myself! So apparently, I’m really busy,” she says, laughing at the absurdity of it all. “Apparently, I’m all over the place!”

Since The Queen’s Gambit, Taylor-Joy has starred in two more films—swinging ’60s thriller Last Night In Soho and The Northman—and, over the next few months, unveils two more. One is The Menu, a biting satire of foodie culture from the makers of Succession, and the other is Amsterdam, a crime caper in which she appears alongside Margot Robbie, Christian Bale, Robert DeNiro and … Taylor Swift. (“There were definitely moments in Amsterdam where I just looked around and thought, ‘This is the most insane group of people in one room ever.’”) Taylor-Joy is also now Dior’s global ambassador for women’s fashion and make-up, as well as an ambassador for Tiffany & Co. Her salary for Furiosa landed her on a ranking of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. She is 26 years old.

“It took me a second to realise that my peers were not working in the fashion that I was,” Taylor-Joy admits. “It was only in acquiring more friends within the industry, they were like, ‘We take breaks in between these films!’ And I just never did that. I didn’t think that was what the life of an actor was.” Taylor-Joy has had to learn the art of “lane jumping really quickly”, she continues. “Because what will happen is [Furiosa] will wrap, and I will have gone from being covered in mud in a really private experience, to sloughing off all of this stuff I’ve had on me, suddenly being really clean, wearing a pair of high heels that I haven’t worn in more than half a year,” she muses. “But I think it keeps it interesting. And to be honest, I have so much energy. I’m so grateful to have things that make me tired and that make me feel like I’m giving everything that I can give.”

Taylor-Joy has a bowl of cheesy pasta—“vegan, but cheesy”—in front of her while she talks. “Shall we have dinner together?” she suggests, tucking in. Taylor-Joy is a vegan for animal-rights reasons, though every once in a while, she cracks and has a four-cheese pizza. Her veganism is assisting with training for the high-octane Furiosa, which has made her feel “stronger than I think I’ve ever been”. “I’ve never had guns before,” she grins. “They are guns of a woman my size,” she quickly notes, “but they are still guns, so I’ll take it.”

Prowling around her ankles is Kitsune, an ivory kitten she adopted when she first moved to Australia and who is, it must be said, gorgeous. “Play nice for Vogue,” Taylor-Joy tells him, gazing adoringly at her “son”. “He is the love of my life … and an Aussie!”

It isn’t just that Taylor-Joy is a cat person; she’s an animal person. “I grew up between a farm and the city in Argentina,” she recalls, surrounded by cats, dogs, chickens and ducks, riding bareback in the country outside Buenos Aires. Taylor-Joy’s family moved to London when she was six, and she remembers feeling adrift in a sprawling city where she didn’t speak the language; her native tongue is Spanish, and she waited two years to learn English.

In Argentina, she cherished her library of movies—Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Free Willy, Jumanji—but in London “everyone was already into S Club 7 and I just couldn’t catch up”.

Taylor-Joy has spoken often about a youth that was lonely and even distressing; she was bullied so badly in high school that she left at 16 and was promptly scouted by Sarah Doukas—the Storm Models founder who discovered Kate Moss—while walking her dog. But acting was her true calling. “I really don’t remember ever having a different plan for my life,” Taylor-Joy says, although she would like to go to university one day to study animal biology. “I had an insane conviction that there was a world where I made sense … I just had this dream that I was clinging to and desperately trying to make happen. And then it did.”

That fact alone still surprises her. Sometimes she will stop in the middle of a scene on Furiosa and think: “Oh my god, I’m on a huge movie!” A huge movie directed by the “straight up” genius George Miller, starring Chris Hemsworth, a prequel to a film that won six Oscars and a project that is injecting $350 million directly into the New South Wales economy, making it the biggest Australian movie in history. “I’m trying to treasure every moment,” she shares. “I love George, I love this character, I love this world. I feel really privileged.”

In The Menu, an incredibly dark comedy skewering the fine-dining scene, she headlines as a customer in the crosshairs of an exacting chef, played by Ralph Fiennes. For someone who jokes that Harry Potter characters were her only childhood friends, Taylor-Joy only realised the magnitude of sparring with Lord Voldemort himself after the fact. “Suddenly, I’m calling my partner and being like, ‘Oh my god, the penny has dropped!”

Nicholas Hoult also stars in The Menu as Taylor-Joy’s dining companion, for whom the experience of eating at this restaurant—where each course is more outlandish than the last, including a “bread plate with no bread”—is pure ecstasy, the perfect contrast to her sardonic scepticism. “Just putting it out there, getting to spend months on a dinner date with Nick Hoult was awesome,” Taylor-Joy smiles. Hoult, who previously starred in Fury Road, is now part of Taylor-Joy’s mental support squad on Furiosa. (The other is Riley Keough, another Fury Road cast member.) “We talked a lot about it,” she admits. “He’d be here in a heartbeat … There was a moment where we were discussing how he could be in the background. I was like, ‘You’re featured pretty heavily in the other one, babe.’”

The Menu has its teeth bared at foodie culture: Taylor-Joy’s character Margot, who eats for the pleasure of it and not for the kudos, is the only person who isn’t mocked mercilessly by the film. Taylor-Joy loves dining out. (She name-checks Fred’s as one of her favourite Sydney spots.) She understands why the world is ripe for satire. “There’s a certain degree of when anybody’s supremely passionate about something, it goes into the absurd,” Taylor-Joy observes. “I know that I’m semi-absurd with the passion that I have for what I do.” Absurd is perhaps the wrong word, but passion is correct; it radiates off her like electricity. “I’ve never felt happier than when I am creating something with other people,” she says. “I’ve been working a lot, especially these past two years, on quieting the pace of my brain … And on a film set, [my thoughts are] just so clear, they’re really exact. I’m using all the parts of my brain that if they don’t get used, I just end up really anxious and agitated.”

This slow and crucial work of protecting her mental health is something of which she is most proud. “I’ve been able to roll with the punches. Not scratch free, but I don’t stay down when I fall down,” Taylor-Joy explains. “Because there definitely have been moments where I’m like, ‘I’m not getting up from this.’ And then I have. And I’m proud of that.”

Until recently, she leant towards “self- destructing” as a coping mechanism for the strain on her mental health. The pandemic was a turning point; at the beginning, she cried for two weeks. “Everything came out, even prior to having started working. I just had to sit with myself.” Her realisation was plain: “I can start taking care of myself more, and that will make it easier for me to give more to the people that I love, and to the character that I love. And actually, it makes my head a better place to be.” Not always, she stresses, but enough, and that’s all anyone can do, isn’t it?

She’s excited for the future, largely because it is so unknown: “I really don’t know where I’m going to go.” She wants to find new wild and surprising stories to tell, such as The Menu, which has an ending that must be seen to be believed. “That’s a game that drives my partner crazy,” she admits. “If you watch a movie with me, I will guess the ending.” These days, she’s looking for something she can’t predict. “I want to be in situations that make me feel really alive and very lucky to be exactly where I am,” Taylor-Joy declares. “Hopefully, people will keep inviting me along for the ride, because I do love it.”

It’s all fodder for her “backpack” of experiences, the one she carries with her from job to job, moment to moment, and has made her into the completely unique person she is today. Like this, for example: the first time Taylor-Joy went swimming in Sydney, she strode boldly out into water. “Having a great time, jumping the waves, and then all of a sudden, this wave ripped me, threw me against the ground,” Taylor-Joy recounts, her face alive with the memory. “I got up and suddenly, the beach was clear. No one was in the water anymore. I was like, ‘Ah okay. It changes that quickly. Good to know.’” Welcome to Australia, I tell her. She beams. “Thank you!”

Amsterdam is in cinemas on October 6. The Menu is in cinemas on November 24.

Talent: Anya Taylor-Joy
Photographer: Jess Ruby James
Stylist: Melissa Levy
Hair: Gregory Russell
Make-up: Kellie Stratton
Manicure: Gemille Azar at Diandra Politano
Set designer: Natalie Turnbull