Anya Taylor-Joy—New Perspectives
Eric Guillemain/2B Management
Anya Taylor-Joy’s acting career is the embodiment of a meteoric rise in the making; the English-Argentine actor has been busy furrowing her own path in Hollywood. Most of her work has involved critically acclaimed films—whether as a virginal Puritan teen (The Witch) , or a frigid popular girl from Connecticut (Thoroughbreds), or, most recently, a soul-sword carrying mutant (The New Mutants). At only 24-years-old, Anya has quickly become one of the most recognizable faces in young Hollywood.
However, this impressive acting resume comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked with her. On-screen, her acting is gripping; she has a hauntingly beautiful, wide-eyed gaze that draws you in as she manifests her character with a powerful, but respectful, finesse. It also helps that she is whip-smart but endearingly self-deprecating, deeply curious and fiercely committed to her craft, all the while carrying the gravitas and self-awareness of a woman almost twice her age.
Here, we chat with Anya about her transnational upbringing in a large family, her newfound thoughts on self-care and its essential role in her creativity, and how she conquers the fears surrounding her inevitable rise in fame.
You were born in Miami, moved to Argentina until you were six, and then moved to London. How do you think your transnational upbringing has shaped your identity as an adult and as an actor?
As a child, I found it very unsettling because I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere, but I do think that that kind of brought about the intense desire to find a place where I did fit in. So when I stepped onto the set of The Witch the first day, I got this feeling of, “Oh my god. I made it. This is where I fit in, and this is the country kind of that I belong to. I belong to film sets. That’s where I’m supposed to be.”
I also think it’s kind of helpful because I’m used to being transient. I don’t have a set dictation of home. Home can be anywhere. It’s wherever the people that I love are, and also wherever I’m laying my head for the evening. That just feels quite comforting. It’s the fact that I’m carrying home around with me rather than it being a set place.
That being said, I feel that whenever I go home to Argentina, or I come back to London, or go to where I’ve made my adult spiritual home in New York. But I can also feel that in Barcelona. It’s just a feeling that you’re surrounded by people that love you, and know you, and understand you as an individual, and that to me is home, rather than a cultural identity.
I read that you’re the youngest of six kids. What was that like? What was that like growing up in such a big family, and what were you like growing up?
I was still as much of a psycho as I am now! It’s wonderful. I feel very lucky that I got to experience the way that I was brought up in a big family, while also having the attention of an only child at the same time, because my siblings are so much older than me.
Growing up they always called me the “Duracell Bunny” and my two younger siblings would joke around and be like, “Where the hell is the off button? How do we shut you up? How do we stop the singing and acting all the time?”
At the beginning of my acting career I think it was a bit weird, because none of my siblings are in an artistic field, so I don’t think they really knew what I was doing. But now they’re all starting to and it’s really cute. We have a big family WhatsApp group, and it’s just really sweet to get a picture message of all of your family in three different countries going to watch your film. It’s nice to have a five-person strong army behind you, and then they have all of their kids so our clan is huge. I think we buy up a decent amount of box office seats.
Have you ever wondered, what your life would’ve looked like if you didn’t take the leap into acting? Do you ever wonder what you would be doing instead?
It was kind of this is it and I’m going to do this. There was never really another option. I mean, when you’re 16-years-old and you drop an email to your parents about why you’ve decided to leave school to try to start a career in one of the hardest industries to get into, you have to be pretty clear about it.
I definitely had my dreams about being a travel journalist or an animal activist. What I really love about my job is that I do love acting, but I also love writing poetry, I love making music, and I love directing, and those are all things that I can do now. It just so happens that acting took the mantel first, but I’m really excited about what the next couple of years have coming up for me, and the different ways that I’m going to be able to express myself creatively.
So it does seem that for a significant amount of your roles you’ve stayed within pretty dark territory. Do ever find it emotionally challenging to be living in those characters’ worlds while you’re filming?
I think it’s emotionally challenging to simply be a human being. So I’ve definitely played roles where I’ve definitely been emotionally challenged. But the word ‘challenging’ has always been interesting to me, because I don’t see it that way. I never think, “Oh, this is really hard.” I just think, “Okay, I’ve got to do this now, and it’s not about me. It’s about the character.” The only stress that I come under is being able to do that scene justice for that person rather than something to do with me in general.
But then again, I think pretty much the hardest moment I’ve ever had on set was actually somebody telling me to be incandescently happy, or to make sure that this kiss was like the kiss of love, that everyone would look at and be like, “Ah, that’s what love looks like.” That’s a lot of pressure, because I don’t know how to do that. I’m just a girl. But no, I never find them distinctly challenging. It’s just what I’m doing that day, really.
“I’m a very intense individual, and when I read something where I’m like, “There is no way in hell that that is getting made without me.” I’ve already in my mind made the commitment.”
On your IMDB page it shows that you’ve played an impressive and staggering 23 characters in the past four years. How do you prepare yourself mentally, physically, spiritually even to be filming those movies back-to-back like that?
I consider myself an artist, and so working is not really work for me. If I’m not acting on set, I’m writing poetry, or I’m doing something else that’s creative. Creativity is my way of being able to exist on this plane.
Since turning 22, I’ve kind of started to have more of an understanding that I can’t just bulldoze through everything. You do kind of have to take a step back and think about what you need as a human being. There definitely came a point where I could go to art gallery tell you what each of my characters would think about a piece of art, but I have not spent enough time being myself to tell you how I will feel about that piece of art.
So I’m taking the extra time this year to delve deeper into my characters by having the kind of restraint to be like, “So that was her time, and now I need my time to go and walk around, and listen to my music, and be a bit more introverted than I originally thought I was.” I’m basically learning the art of self-care, which a person comes into naturally by simply spending more time on the planet Earth. I’ve spent more time on it now at 22 than I had at 18, so I hopefully come across in my characters in the sense that I’ll be able to give more to them by giving more to myself.
So, I’m also curious then, how do you choose what projects to be a part of, or to even stay away from? Are you drawn to some over others, and why is that?
It’s always my gut feeling. I’m a very intense individual, and when I read something where I’m like, “There is no way in hell that that is getting made without me.” I’ve already in my mind made the commitment.
In the past, it’s been characters that I feel might be overlooked by people, or maybe not had their stories told as much. I’m a very big believer in the fact that everybody deserves to be heard, to feel important, and to have their story be told on screen, and if I can be a part of it that’s everything I could ask for.
I actually had a really good phone conversation with Night about two years ago when I was asked to be a part of his new project. I’d never done his work, so I called him up and was like, “If I take this role, then this will happen, and if I take this one, then that one will happen.”
He’s like, “Anya, if you’re deliberating taking either of them, you clearly shouldn’t do them. Everything is not right, and if you don’t feel like you would give up everything for these roles, you should never just work to work.” That’s been a really good piece of guiding advice to me, so I’ve never, luckily, played any character just because I wanted to work, it’s usually because I couldn’t handle that character belonging to anybody else.
You’ve mentioned that you want to direct your own movies in the future. Have you picked up on anything working with Night on his films that you might use someday?
Oh god, so much. I’m curious by nature, so when I’m on set it’s like I’m Alice in Wonderland. I’m a complete sponge and I’m always learning everything I can. That’s pretty much my favorite thing about being on a movie set—the camaraderie that everyone has. I’m spending time with the sound department, or behind the camera, wanting to know how everything works.
I got to spend time with Night behind the camera on Glass, and he’s an incredibly giving teacher. He would always have my chair pulled up next to him and when we’d finish a take, he would turn to me and be like, “Okay, so what do you think about that? And why do you think this needs to be different.” He made me justify every comment or position and explain myself. Having to defend your opinion in front of somebody that’s so prolific and intelligent requires you to grow a set of ovaries.
But I’m learning so much from everybody that I work with, and I’m just lucky enough that they’re being generous and patient with their time, and they’re into my incessant questions.
“I’m a very big believer in the fact that everybody deserves to be heard, to feel important, and to have their story be told on screen, and if I can be a part of it that’s everything I could ask for.”
Narad Kutowaroo/Carol Hayes Management
Emily Cheng/The Wall Group using Chanel
So you’re obviously finding a lot of critical acclaim at a young age, but has there ever been a time where you felt like your age was an advantage, or even a disadvantage for you?
I definitely think people underestimate women—especially young women in the real world and in the workplace. But I think I arrived into a situation with people who saw and appreciated that I’m continuously straddling being 85 years old in my soul and then being 12. I’m definitely incredibly playful, very huggable, and just silly when you get to know me.
But I also have a very serious opinion, and the people that I’ve been around have commended me on being able to carve out a space for myself despite my age. It’s like, “Yeah, no. I deserve a seat at this table, and actually my opinions are valid and intelligent, and you might learn something from my opinion.” I’ve been lucky enough to be in a situation where they won’t really discriminate against me for age.
I’ve read an interview where you said that fame isn’t really of interest to you, but as someone whose profession is, obviously, very heavily dependent on visibility, doesn’t the thought of the inevitable rise of your fame sort of intimidate you, or how do you feel about that now?
If I could bypass all of the glitz and the glamour and just do my work, I would. I feel like I have a better grasp on things more now than ever, but I still can get nervous about all the attention that comes with my line of work.
I had a really interesting situation at a premiere in London. I hadn’t done a premiere or a carpet in quite a while, so when I jumped out of the car, I was instantly shaking because everything’s quite intense with the sheer number of cameras and people. All I could literally think about was, “Anya. Don’t fall. Just don’t fall.”
Then at the New York premiere, I’m ready to get out of the car and those old nervous feelings start to bubble up again, and then all of a sudden I thought, “Wait a second. You’ve done this more than you’ve not done this. So maybe you’re okay, and maybe you actually know what you’re doing at this point. And you also don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do just because somebody says that’s the way that you’re supposed to do it. You can control this for yourself.”
So, if anything, my quote unquote rising fame, it’s making me more myself, making me more aware of what I like, what I don’t like, and what is acceptable to me, and what is not acceptable. So, I’m less afraid of myself, ergo I’m less afraid of what everybody else thinks of me.
When was the last time you were scared as hell to do something, but you did it anyway?
Probably during the Glass premiere in the UK. My heart was just going a million miles an hour, and I turned to my publicist and I was like, “I changed my mind. I want to go and be a farmer in Bali. I just want to go and plant shit in the ground, go surfing, and live a completely anonymous life.” Then I had to step out on the carpet and do it anyway.
The things that always scare me are the public things, which is funny because on the set, I don’t get scared. There’s something magic that happens when someone yells “Action” where I just do it. It’s a bizarre personality trait where you could put me in up and a plane as myself and tell me to jump out of it, and I probably wouldn’t, but if you had a camera and you yelled “Action” I would jump. Like immediately. I think that might be my superpower.
“I’m surprised at the amount of faith that the incredible artists and filmmakers that I’ve worked with have in me, not just as an actor, but as a creative in general. They’ve just been so open and welcoming to my thoughts, and even if they question me on it, they’re still giving me the time and space. […] That’s been surprising to me as a person, because I feel so lucky to be in these rooms and to be with these people.”
What parts of this journey that you’re on right now have surprised you, and where do you hope it’ll take you?
I’m surprised at the amount of faith that the incredible artists and filmmakers that I’ve worked with have in me, not just as an actor, but as a creative in general. They’ve just been so open and welcoming to my thoughts, and even if they question me on it, they’re still giving me the time and space. When I give them my background and why I’ve made that choice, they listen to it and they value it. That’s been surprising to me as a person, because I feel so lucky to be in these rooms and to be with these people.
Another thing that has surprised me is the sudden awakening of self-care that has come from just being a little bit older. I’ve realized how important it is to make space for your creativity so that it isn’t just something that you churn out like a manufactured meat product. It has to be organic. When your creativity comes out of you and if you’re not putting enough attention into yourself, that well is going to run dry. You have to learn to prioritize yourself, and self-care is real selfish. That’s been a wild thing for me to learn.
I hope it just takes me to a place where I get more and more confident in myself, and more fearless. I love the fact that you asked when was the last time I was afraid and did it anyway, because I think that should be the guide for your life. If you’re afraid of it, there’s probably a reason, and it probably means that you should do it, just go and do it.