The American-born, English Argentine actress, Anya Taylor-Joy, who starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and this year’s adaptation of Emma (she also had a recurring role on Peaky Blinders), is back in the spotlight with a new project: Netflix’s new original series The Queen’s Gambit.
Based on the 1983 book of the same name by Walter Tevis, the miniseries follows Beth Harmon, a young orphan in 1950s Kentucky, who is taught chess by the custodian at the orphanage. After the young girl’s gift is discovered and nurtured, a series of setbacks occurs until she’s adopted by a family which enables her to develop this gift and reach her full potential in the game. The series takes us from Kentucky to Paris, New York and Moscow following the talented young woman in her journey to become the best chess player in the world.
The 24-year-old actress talked to DuJour about why this role excited her and how 2020 has changed her.
Where have you been riding out the pandemic?
I went back to London for the lockdown. I was with my loved one [Taylor-Joy’s partner is photographer Pip, who took these photos of the actress] and two of our friends. It was really great to have that community. The first two weeks were very touch and go but I’m so grateful for the space I’ve been afforded while taking this break. I’m also grateful for my emotional growth during this period.
Where are you now?
I’ve been in Belfast, Ireland shooting Robert Eggers’ The Northman since August, which has been really wonderful. I’m so in awe of how our production team has handled shooting during the coronavirus pandemic. All the safety measures that they’ve implemented are amazing without sacrificing any of the quality of the work.
What have you learned about yourself during the last six months?
Two of my directors (Autumn de Wilde and Scott Frank) gave me advice to take care of myself. Hearing this from two people I care about and learning to set up boundaries and take space for myself was hard. I had to learn who I am without a character and understand myself versus diving into another character.
How did this role come to you?
I heard that co-creator and director Scott Frank wanted to talk to me about this role. They sent me the book. I devoured it. I got so excited and passionate about the story that I actually ran to the meeting. I had so many ideas. We shot last August through December in Canada and Berlin.
Had you ever played chess before?
I’d never played but I’d been fascinated by it. I feel so lucky that the introduction came from one of the best experts out there. [Chess coach and author] Bruce Pandolfini is the most wonderful man and he has such a deep love for the game.
It was important for me to understand the theory behind it so I wasn’t just saying stuff. People who love chess really love chess and I wanted it to be believable.
Beth breaks the glass ceiling in the male-dominated chess world. Have you ever been marginalized?
Something that Beth and I share is that Beth sort of exists outside of society. I was lucky enough that I never felt that my opinion wasn’t valid. I always had a seat at the table. I was trained to expect that kind of respect.
The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother Alma (played by Marielle Heller) is so special. Did you two bond over the heartbreak your characters experienced?
Mari and I really relished it. You’re not often presented with two broken people who are broken in different ways. They set up a transactional alliance and they put each other first. They chose each other.
What’s next for you?
We’ll be shooting in Belfast til the end of the year. I’m attempting to practice non attachment and allow everything to come my way.