Having just returned from filming on a mountainside for the past couple of months, we caught up with Anya Taylor-Joy of Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit (that made everyone want to learn more about chess) to find out who exactly this talented actress was. The 24-year-old lets us into her world of Beth, fighting her own battles, and of course, fashion.
Ps. She gets to keep her wardrobe from the show!
How did you prepare for the role, and was there anyone particular you had in mind when portraying Beth?
Anya Taylor-Joy (ATJ): Weirdly, myself. While I think I often present myself to be bubbly and easy-going, Beth is definitely a voice I had in my head for a long time. That kind of deadpan, not socially-equipped persona has always been in my head. Because of that, the second that I read the book, I didn’t have to do a lot of preparation in terms of finding the character—she was just there.
More than anything, whilst we were filming, something that was very important was learning to disconnect my own feelings from Beth’s feelings. We are so close and alike that when Beth was having a bad day (in the show), I would find myself having a bad day as well, and then I “wake up” and realise that I’m totally fine and that I was just too absorbed in the character.
Despite having a huge supporting cast around Beth, we sense that she’s still very alone most of the time. Is there something in particular that draws you as an actor to these lone wolf, intuitive, off-beat roles?
ATJ: Yes, there is! I guess that’s how I identified with the majority of my childhood (she’s the youngest of six children, but due to large age gaps with her siblings, she was raised mostly like an only child) and into my young adulthood. I only really found my community when I started making films and working when I was 18. So, for 18 years I was a lone wolf of an individual.
For characters like these, I feel like I have the perspective to tell their story right but it’s also a form of catharsis for me—I don’t overthink it too much when I take on the roles, but while filming and when it’s over, I often realise that I clearly had to purge some stuff through that. It’s good therapy for me.
The chess scenes were pretty intense. How did you prepare for them?
ATJ: The speed chess scenes were actually one of my favourite parts of the show. It was a complete choreography.
At the very beginning, they gave me a book on about 350 games. I studied it, turned up on set and they changed it. I immediately went ‘no way!’—the only way I could do this show was to learn the choreography five minutes before we shot it.
It was just such an interesting way to challenge your brain, and the feeling after the first take where we got it right was probably one of the proudest moments I had on set.
Related article: Will There Be A Season 2 Of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’?
Mr Shaibel (played by Bill Camp) taught Beth how to play chess. Is/was there a Mr Shaibel in your own life?
ATJ: Like Beth, I tend to go off my instincts most of the time and that’s where I feel most comfortable and work best. I’ve been so lucky with the directors whom I’ve worked with because I essentially learnt how to act while acting.
I’ve learnt so much from Robert Eggers (Director of The Witch, which Taylor-Joy starred in), Scott Frank (Director of The Queen’s Gambit) and so on. Not only did they really want me to become a really good actor, but they also allowed me to stick around on set. I’m really interested in directing, and basically everything about movie making, so I just hung around and learned about what everybody does.
The clothes are part of Beth’s story, and there has been a lot of conversation about them. Which was your favourite outfit, and why was it important to you that Beth was a brilliant chess player who also loved fashion at the same time?
ATJ: I think the duality of that love and passion for both chess and clothes was important to me because as women, we’re often taught that we can’t be both. Especially when you look at storytelling, you’re either a beauty or a brain and never the two shall meet—it’s so reductive. It’s not mutually exclusive. You’re allowed to be both. So, that for me was important to show.
I also love the way that Beth is exploring her personality through clothes. It’s more than one specific outfit; I love the journey that we go on with her. If you look at the first clothes that she gravitated towards—she’s trying to go for something that makes her more likable, to dress like them the girls in her new school. She then realises that it doesn’t work for her, so she moves on.
Then, I love where she ends up—all the outfits she wore in Russia, how structured they are and how they have this beautiful combination of being sleek and put-together but also kind of utilitarian? That was very Beth to me.
Was there a particular outfit you wanted to keep?
ATJ: Because so much of the clothes were vintage and Gabriele (Binder, costume designer) and I worked so closely together, she basically invited me to the wardrobe truck to pick out whatever I wanted at the end of filming. It was amazing, and I thought I’d never have to shop ever again because shopping really stresses me out. However, the show’s done so well that all of the clothes are now in a museum in Brooklyn, which is obviously wonderful, but I hope to get them back they’re done…being in a museum?
There’s a coat I’m really excited about—a blue coat Beth wears to Margaret’s house where she puts the vodka in the pocket. That is such a good coat, and I cannot wait for it to be in my life.
Related article: How To Get Beth Harmon’s looks in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’
Beth is a very independent woman of her time. What do you think women of today can take away from that?
ATJ: Well, it may not just apply to women, but people love to put others in a box and they’re not comfortable if you’re in any way outside of that. Human beings are so complicated and messy. It would be more enjoyable going through life if we all just embrace each other’s weirdness and our differences. It’s important to accept yourself as a whole individual rather than attempting to fit yourself into a box that would make others more comfortable—that’s something nice to learn.
In terms of female representation, do you think there’s still work to do in the industry?
ATJ: Absolutely! But I think there’s still work to be done in every element of life. The world has been inherently sexist forever, so it’s going to take a while and consistent pressure for us to be able to live in a truly equal society. If we allow ourselves to believe the fight’s won then we’re going to be in trouble, because once again… it takes time to implement the idea that the genders are equal.
Why do you think the show has resonated so much with audiences around the world?
ATJ: I think every human being has a part of themselves, big or small, that believes that they don’t belong, or believes that there’s something different about them. What’s beautiful about Beth is that she finds a place that she belongs and ultimately has to learn that unless she makes a home within herself she’s never going to be happy or content. I think the show also has a beautiful element that the idea of working together gets you further than working by yourself, and while we’re all so isolated at the moment, it’s nice to be reminded of that.