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Q&A: Anya Taylor-Joy

What is it that really scares the star of The Witch

Director Robert Eggers’ The Witch isn’t your typical horror movie. Sure, the threat of the titular character looms over the film—set in 1630s New England—but while the carefully crafted film delivers its share of scares, it still feels more like a period piece than a slasher flick. Front and center in the film is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin, a teenager whose family weathers a storm of what might be bad luck or might be something more sinister. Here, the actress explains what drew her to the role and why what was most difficult about the film isn’t what you might think.

There’s something very witchy going on in the zeitgeist these days. There was that Stacy Schiff book about Salem and now this film. What do you think makes it such an appealing topic?

There is definitely something mystical out there that none of us could have predicted—and we are very lucky for it. You know, if I were to offer a hesitant guess, I would think that women’s rights are finally at the forefront of a lot of things—people are talking and thinking about that—and this is a part of history that women, innocent women, were being brutally murdered. I think that no one really thought about that for a while, a lot of people forget that it happened, and I’m so glad that The Witch can bring the reality of it back. The truth is the movie is so historically accurate and I bet you a lot of people will go see it and be like, oh it’s a made up story. But, no, this is what a witch was. It’s a very scary thing and if you werea woman being accused of it, that was a death sentence.

Was the political nature of the movie on your mind when you first signed on?

The way that I prepare for auditions is that I read the script the night before and then again a few minutes before I go. I read The Witch very late at night on my own in my bedroom, and when I turned the final page I swear to god my body collapsed. I didn’t understand it. There was something so powerful about what I was experiencing, and it felt like someone was choking me with anxiety and fear. I didn’t even realize this was something that frightened me. This is the feeling that I will continue to chase for every script that I ever read from now on.

Once you actually started making the movie, what was life like on the set?

Rob [Eggers, the director] was very smart in how he cast the film; he did something amazing for all of us in that he delivered all of our best friends. We were so close and so in love with each other, but the shooting of the film was difficult. The actual hanging out with people and interactions and vibes on set was very light and very fun, but as far as the actual reality of shooting the movie—we willed this thing into existence. I’m talking animals, children, the dogs, all sinking into the muddy ground; no WiFi, no cell service. Spring just started to come, so we had to pick up all the buds off of the trees and the sun was out all the damn time. So, we worked really, really hard to make this.

Did being in a film like this spark your own interest in witchcraft?

I have always been a history buff, and I have always been really into magic.  When I was a kid, I would run off into the woods so happily looking for witches and things like that because I wanted to play with them. So, from a history buff’s point of view, this was right up my street. A lot of people look at this movie and still don’t really get that this happened, while I was like, Oh, these things must be real and this is the way it was.

Was any part of making the movie scary for you?

I was so wrapped up in Thomasin and her struggle, so not really. When I saw the movie for the first time, I was so struck by the number of close ups there were. I was like, Wow, how did you get that close to my face. That camera was all up in my grill and I was completely oblivious to it because Thomasin is such an interesting maverick on the inside that I spent a majority of the time filming the movie just lost in her world.

Is there something that could have frightened you?

I’m so sorry.  You probably want something really deep and intense, but if I’m going to be really honest, I have an unhealthy fears of baboons. They really, really panic me. I don’t even know why. I love animals. I’m the biggest animal lover in the world. Baboons and I are just not supposed to be in the same room. Ever.