Rewind to some 10 years back and Anya Taylor-Joy was just another aspiring actress looking for a big break. Today, though, she’s widely acknowledged as one of the hottest leading ladies in Tinseltown, with an impressive CV that covers everything from horror films (2015’s The Witch, and M Night Shyamalan’s Split a year later), to the eponymous leading role in Jane Austen’s Emma.
More recently, her note-perfect portrayal of troubled chess prodigy Bess Harmon in Netflix’s multi-award-winning The Queen’s Gambit saw her lap up yet more limelight. Offscreen, her undoubted talent has seen her notch up a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award, while she has also been nominated for an Emmy. Amid all this, it’s sometimes hard to remember she’s just 26 years old.
It’s also fair to say that her career trajectory continues to be stratospheric. She did, after all, kickoff 2022 with the release of The Northman, a hugely multiplex-friendly Viking epic starring Alexander Skarsgard and Nicole Kidman. Then, just last month, she could be found heading up Amsterdam, a period comedy thriller that saw her sharing the top billing with such Hollywood luminaries as Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington.
This month, her busy year continues with the release of The Menu, a black comedy featuring such renowned knockabout A-listers as Ralph Fiennes and Nicholas Hoult. It seems like her name is getting better known by the minute, however, there’s probably still quite a lot you don’t actually know about Ms. Taylor-Joy.
Citizen of the World
Anya-Josephine Marie Taylor-Joy, to give her full name, has something of a multicultural background. Her father, retired banker Dennis Alan Taylor, is Argentinean of English / Scottish descent, while her psychologist mother, Jennifer Marina Joy was born in Zambia but has both English and Spanish heritage. For her part, Anya, the couple’s youngest child, was born in Miami on 16 April 1996. It was not, however, her home for long.
Although this undoubtedly glamorous leading lady may be a US citizen, she actually spent many of her early years in Buenos Aires, with her family having decamped there soon after her birth. As a result, Taylor-Joy’s first language is actually Spanish. After six years, much to her apparent dismay, her parents then decided to relocate to London – a move she objected to so strongly that refused to learn English for two years in the hope this would ensure her swift return to Argentina. It didn’t.
Her unhappiness was compounded by the vicious bullying she was subject to by her British classmates (she attended the prestigious Kensington-based prep school Hill House, the alma mater of such luminaries as songstress Lily Allen and newlycrowned King Charles III).
Recalling this turbulent time, she says: “Argentina was all green and I had horses and animals everywhere. Then, all of a sudden, I was in a big city and couldn’t speak the language. I didn’t really feel like I fitted in anywhere. I was too English to be Argentine, too Argentine to be English and too American to be anything.
“The other kids just didn’t understand me in any shape or form. I used to get locked in lockers. I spent a lot of time in school crying in bathrooms. When I was 16, I then dropped out to pursue acting.”
Road to Stardom
Although acting was undeniably her passion, she initially began work in the fashion industry after her potential as a model quickly became apparent. As fate would have it, one of her first shoots took place on the set of Downton Abbey, the award-winning UK period soap opera. Here a chance encounter with actor Allen Leech (more popularly known as “Tom Branson”, the show’s Irish chauffeur) led him to introduce her to his agent.
Recalling this particularly lucky break, she says: “I’m still so amazed he did that as he had no reason to and there was no benefit for him. Cat, the agent in question, said that he really pushed me and kept asking her if she’d contacted me, telling her: ‘You really need to call this girl!’”
Unbeknownst to all concerned, this kindhearted gesture would transform Taylor-Joy’s life. The apparently reluctant agent went on to send her script for The Witch, the 2015 award-winning horror movie that saw her make her big-screen debut.
In 2019, when many of her peers were just really setting out on their careers, Taylor-Joy was already starting to gravitate towards the big league.
Indeed, it was over these 12 months that she undertook three gruelling back-to-back projects – director Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 interpretation of Jane Austen’s Emma, horror film Last Night in Soho and The Queen’s Gambit ¬– with just a day’s break between each. Recalling this exhausting period, she says: “While I survived on Diet Coke, cigarettes and coffee, by the end of it, I was like: ‘I need to eat a vegetable.’”
Golden Globe Gaffe
The immense success of The Queen’s Gambit saw Taylor-Joy lauded by critics and the general public alike. Among the many accolades she received for her portrayal of chess prodigy Beth Harmon, was the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie. Given her Argentinean heritage, this technically made her the first Latina star to win the award.
When certain New York-headquartered magazine dubbed her “the first woman of colour to win the category since Queen Latifah in 2008 and only the fifth woman of colour to win overall since 1982, when the category was introduced,” the article went viral and the internet exploded at this apparent racial misrepresentation. Soon thereafter, the publication removed the offending sentence and publicly acknowledged the actress as a “white Latina”.
At present, the actress shows no signs that she’s likely to slow down any time soon. She’s already been signed up to voice Princess Peach in the upcoming The Super Mario Bros Movie, while she is also wrapping production on Furiosa, the prequel to post-apocalyptic cult classic Mad Max: Fury Road, which sees her take over from Charlize Theron as a younger take on the title character.
(Text: Tenzing Thondup)