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,”
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.
Four Actresses on the Rise, in Minimalist Knits
When she was just 17, Anya Taylor-Joy was faced with a particularly meaningful decision: She could fulfill her childhood dream of appearing on a Disney show, or she could make her lead-role debut in “The Witch,” the puritanical horror film that would eventually launch her to stardom. “I had to be honest with myself, and realized that I’m a lot darker and less bubbly than I thought I would be at this age,” the now-20-year-old says. A former model — she was discovered while walking in London, where she was tailed by a car containing the Storm Model Management founder Sarah Doukas — Taylor-Joy will next star as an at-risk artificial being in the sci-fi thriller “Morgan,” the debut film from Luke Scott, the son of filmmaker Tony Scott. It’s been a rapid ascent, to be sure, made real when Taylor-Joy recently spilled trade secrets with her acting idol, Saoirse Ronan. “That was the first time I thought, ‘I guess I’m officially an actor.’”