«After the Queen’s Gambit, I am the queen of Swinging London»
From her childhood as a "rich kid" in Buenos Aires to the letter she wrote her parents telling them about her dream of acting. After the tv series that made her famous all over the world, Anya Taylor-Joy shares her story exclusively to Panorama. Anticipating the secrets of her new film «Last Night in Soho».
«Sometimes when I go to work in Los Angeles I still pass by these huge billboards where there is me, in front of a chessboard, looking at passersby. I see my face and I get shocked, then I feel a chill on my back and say to myself: calm down, it's okay! To this day, seeing myself up there is a surreal experience». Anya Taylor-Joy recounts the emotions that overwhelmed her as she transformed, in the span of a few days last October, from just another young actress, with appearances in films like Split and Barry or TV series like Peaky Blinders, to worldwide star thanks to her role as the talented orphan Beth Harmon in the Netflix series The Queen's Gambit. «I remember the making of it with great joy because we all participated with passion, but honestly none of us imagined that a show about a child chess prodigy would become the most watched show in the world, turning into a phenomenon. To be honest, I try not to think about it too much, because it's total insanity».
Taylor-Joy, born in Miami on April 16, 1996, the youngest of the six children of banker Dennis Alan Taylor and psychologist Jennifer Marina Joy, is now Hollywood's most desired actress: she will be in the Mad Max Fury Road spin-off entitled Furiosa, where she will play Charlize Theron's character; then in the adaptation of the novel A Laugh in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, and finally in the new David O. Russell film, which already won Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar for The Bright Side. Now, from November 4, we will see her at the cinema in Last Night in Soho, a thriller with fantastic elements for which, says the actress, «I was cast before The Queen's Gambit came out». In the movie by Edgar Wright, director of Baby Driver, Anya is a dreamlike presence: when Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) moves to London to study fashion design and finds a room for rent in Soho, she begins to dream of returning to the English capital in the Sixties, transforming herself into Sandie (Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer and dancer who seeks the help of a club manager (Matt Smith) in an attempt to make it big, only to discover the dark side of that glittering world. «Sandie is a lonely woman consumed by unbridled ambition» explains the actress, «and she's not afraid to step up to get what she wants, even if it means ending badly».
What role does ambition play in your career?
I always hope to have the same passion as when I shot my first film ( The Witch, in 2015) and couldn't wait to wake up at 4 a.m. to go to set. Acting on the other hand has always been my dream since I was a little girl. I even wrote a letter to my parents to tell them about it.
And what did the letter say?
That I wanted to be an actress and would do anything to pursue my goal, even if they wouldn't let me. Luckily, they decided to support me.
This film takes place in London, where you live. What is your relationship with the city?
At first, I was hostile to it because I moved there when I was six years old with my parents from Buenos Aires, where I had gone to live when I was very young. I still spoke Spanish and I was used to being around dogs and horses, very much in contact with nature, so when I found myself in this chaotic metropolis I felt lost. But it's the place where I grew up and went to school, the place I fell in love with as an adult, and where I feel most at ease, so much so that now when I land at Heathrow I really feel at home.
Your character, however, lives in the Soho of the Sixties. What was it like to be immersed in the atmosphere of Swinging London?
Fantastic, because when I received the script from Edgar Wright I found out that he had already chosen all the music: reading it and listening to it immersed me in that magical world, and listening to it helped me immediately understand the tone of the various scenes. Fortunately, the songs of the Sixties are my favorite since I was 16 years old, and since I always prepare a playlist for each character I play, this time Sandie's matched perfectly with mine!
Did playing Sandie make you a little nostalgic?
Because of the pandemic and the lockdown, it was easier to take refuge in the past, however idealized. I'm nostalgic in my own right, I'd love to travel back in time to find out what the world was like 60 years ago. If I went back to London in that era I think I would love everything, the clothes, the clubs, the way of having fun. But I confess that I would have trouble coming to terms with the way women were treated back then. I too have been in unpleasant situations because of men, luckily today it is easier to refuse advances or say that you don't feel comfortable in a certain situation.
What is your relationship with your beauty?
To tell you the truth, I've never given it much weight, nor have I ever been particularly narcissistic, also because when I was a child my mother always told me that I should focus on my inner beauty, and that's what I've always done.
So what does it feel like to see yourself on screen?
At the beginning of my career, I made one film after another and only after three years did they start coming out in theaters. At that point I was surprised to think that other people would see me on screen, and I had to come to terms with that, because until then for me the reality of filmmaking was going to set. Over time I learned to look at myself and disassociate myself from the actress playing the character. I find it very useful to watch the "daily" (the end-of-day shoots, ed.) to understand how I am framed and to learn to move better on stage.
In this film, you dance and sing. What was it like to step into the shoes of a real showgirl?
It's really not that complicated. I started dancing when I was three years old and took lessons until I was 15, when I went through a phase of rebellion and didn't want to wear shoes anymore. In retrospect though, I was happy that my body still remembered how to move in time to the music. I also felt prepared to sing, because I have always loved to sing.
What instructions did the director give you to prepare for this role?
Everyone knows that Edgar Wright is an inveterate cinephile who is constantly suggesting to his friends which films to see and watch again. You can imagine what can happen when one is an actor who has to star in one of his films! He gave us a long list of films to watch and study: the most significant in my opinion was Poor Cow, shot by Ken Loach and featuring a young Terence Stamp, with whom it was a real honor to work.
Maybe at this point in his career he won't have to go through auditions to get a part. But what was the most bizarre audition you can remember?
Auditions can be terrifying, that's for sure. I once had to do one with a very famous actor and play a scene where my character had to pass out. I didn't really know how to do it so all of a sudden I started staggering around and then I threw myself to the ground. At that point he dragged me out of the frame. Of course I never got that part.