In a span of seven months this year alone, Anya Taylor-Joy played a meddling British brat in Emma, a Russian mutant with teleportation powers in the latest X-Men film, and an American orphan who turns out to be a chess phenom who can checkmate grown men by the time she’s eight in The Queen’s Gambit.
She’s just getting started.
The 24-year-old just wrapped shooting The Northman alongside Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgard, Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke. In October, Warner Bros announced that Taylor-Joy will play Furiosa in the highly anticipated prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road. Oh, and she’ll have another movie coming out in April: Edgar Wright’s psychological thriller, Last Night In Soho.
“When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was go to Narnia and, you know, fly to Neverland and go to all of these incredible places," Taylor-Joy recently told The Associated Press, which named her one of its Breakthrough Entertainers of 2020. "And now as an adult, I’m like, ‘I live in Narnia. Like, this is amazing.’”
Taylor-Joy is “the busiest person I’ve ever met”, said Marielle Heller, who plays Taylor-Joy’s foster mother in The Queen’s Gambit and directed A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood and Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
“I don’t know how she’s doing so many projects at the same time. It’s really kind of mind-blowing,” Heller said.
Netflix says The Queen’s Gambit was its biggest scripted limited series ever and Emma received critical and box office acclaim, as did her big screen debut as a lead in Robert Eggers’ 2015 horror hit The Witch, which won Taylor-Joy a Gotham Independent Film Award for breakthrough actor. She’s also drawn praise for her performances in M Night Shyamalan’s Split, the dark comedy/thriller Thoroughbreds and BBC One’s Peaky Blinders.
All that success could easily have gone to Taylor-Joy’s head, but Heller said she has managed to stay humble.
“The danger of young people having a career take off when they’re really young – you can turn into a jerk. But she hasn’t,” Heller said. “She’s a real joy to work with. You don’t get that many roles back-to-back if you aren’t somebody who’s good to work with.”
Taylor-Joy is so well-liked among those who’ve directed her, they’ve formed what’s almost a club of adoration, calling each other and talking about how she’s doing, said Autumn de Wilde, who directed Taylor-Joy in Emma.
“We share a common bond in that we just 100 per cent believe in her and we’re so excited to see how our ideas will flower with her,” de Wilde said. “She’s not an empty vessel. She’s a never-ending box of drawers and secret passageways.”
Part of what makes Taylor-Joy so magnetic is her complete lack of narcissism, she said.
“A great photograph makes you wish you were there. I think she makes you wish you were there watching her work. That’s because she’s not looking at herself in the mirror, she’s looking at the person she’s acting with, she’s feeling me through the lens as a director,” de Wilde said.
Taylor-Joy was born in Miami and largely grew up in Argentina. She only spoke Spanish when her parents moved her and her five siblings to England, where Taylor-Joy struggled to fit in and learn English.
Although she has escaped the bullying she struggled with at the time, she's still learning how to be kind to herself.
“A friend of mine once told me, ‘You would never speak to your friends the way that you speak about yourself,’ which was huge," she said. “It’s such a difficult journey for every individual to become friends with themselves. Some people are born and they just have it and I applaud those people. I was not one of them."
Though she says her skyrocketing fame “can be a bit intense", the journey has been “a beautiful process”.
“I have a ton of energy, and I think this career and the hours of this career requires, they make me tired enough to be sane, which I appreciate,” she said.
“Making films is hard. Any film that is made, it’s a miracle that that film was able to be witnessed by other people. The fact that it even made it there is a baby miracle, and working with so many talented people and so many different people to make that come true and come to life, it’s weirdly life-affirming. It just makes me really happy.”