Her Move: Anya Taylor-Joy on Queen’s Gambit success

(Anya Taylor-Joy)

At just 24 years old, Anya Taylor-Joy is already a force to be reckoned with. Fresh off her starring role in the popular Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, the fantastic actress won both a Golden Globe and SAG (Screen Actors Guild) for her outstanding role.

The Argentine-British actress and model is riveting in the 1950s miniseries, playing the orphan Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy who is committed to breaking into the immensely competitive, male dominated world of chess. 

During the virtual cast panel/executive producer get together during the recent PaleyFest LA, she talked about the realization that the show was a hit. 

“I think it took me a solid two months really. Because I was filming in Northern Ireland and I’d spent all my days barefoot in minus three-degree weather on the side of a mountain, so it’s very difficult for that to work out in your brain!” she quipped.

Taylor-Joy got to Los Angeles and was thrilled to see a poster from the series.  “I took a walk and I just saw this giant poster and I was like, ‘Oh my god wow.’ It does feel really special, because I think there is something to be said about the story of an outsider who is trying to connect…being the thing that connects people when they are unable to connect with each other.”

It was Taylor-Joy’s interest in the book that inspired her to sign onto the project. 

“I immediately connected with Beth so much that inherently scared me, because I think I’ve always acted from a place of empathy, where I try and lose aspects of myself and bring new people in,” she said. “I was very aware immediately that I was going to have to show more of myself in order to tell the story right. And that was a wonderful filming experience, because I’ve not had to try in that way– I’ve just sort of showed up and did it.”

This was the first time Taylor-Joy had learned chess.

“I had never played. But I had kind of a strange fascination with the board, like I’d always seen it and thought, ‘huh’…it was really fun to learn chess for the show because I could experience it as Beth does the first time that she walks into the tournament hall. She sees that this is a world, I had that same excitement. We had such wonderful teachers as well, people that cared so much and were so good that they weren’t going to let us make fools out of ourselves.”

Taylor-Joy expressed how much she loved  how “complex” her character is. 

“I think something about Beth that I really admire, because I don’t share it and I would really like to, is she has an ability to recognise when she’s not somebody’s cup of tea – and not care. It’s like, ‘OK you don’t really like me, that’s fine, it doesn’t really affect my life and I’m going to go on and do whatever I want to do.’ And I think I’m somebody that enjoys pleasing people so I would definitely love to have a bit more of that in myself!”

As her character is dealing with addiction, it was vital for Taylor-Joy to be able to portray the role with authenticity. 

“I think the time that we’re living in, a lot of people are wrestling with their own personal demons because there’s nobody else to wrestle with, you’re just locked in your head. But much like we always wanted to make the chess scenes very different, it was incredibly important for the substance of these scenes to be different.”

Taylor-Joy wanted to show what it is that Beth was getting out of it.

“Or what it was that she was trying to get out of it. And the thing about substance abuse is that it works for a period of time, that’s why people do it, it works, and then eventually stops working and then it completely derails your life.” 

But something that (creator/director/executive producer) Scott Frank and Taylor-Joy talked a lot about at the very beginning, was that in the many films that she had seen that tackle substance abuse, “usually something really bombastic and loud happens and it’s like, ‘This is your rock bottom.’” she said.

“And there’s a beautiful heart-breaking line that Harry says to Beth, ‘You just get quiet and fall asleep’. And that reality of what it is to live with addiction and that it’s not this big rock’n’roll, ‘I got drunk on a plane and woke up in Las Vegas’ – it’s not that, it’s like you locked inside your house. And I think having that respect for the quiet sadness of it and the quiet despair, I think potentially people haven’t really seen that much of that and it shone a light in a different way.” 

Susan L. Hornik is an active contributor to Los Angeles Times, Grammy.comShondaland.com, InStyle, SFGate, LA Weekly, Irvine Weekly, MensHealth.comAARP.org, Los Angeles Blade, Washington Blade, Industrym.com.com, Videoage, Alo, Discover Hollywood