The sparkling Sala Grande, with a capacity of filling up to around 1,100 bums on seats, is the Venice Film Festival’s par excellence when it comes to showing off the biggest films of the year. Radically renovated from its original 1937 design, the cinema (with its numerous technological enhancements) is where films make a home amongst the greats. Only the best of the best pack out that movie theatre. Earlier this September, the seats were surely filled (at two-metres apart) with eager mask-wearing audience members to catch the first glimpse of Edgar Wright’s latest ‘acid-trip-horror-flick’ starring Anya Taylor-Joy —a love letter to London, almost—Last Night in Soho.
As the finishing credits rolled, the audience erupted in applause and Wright’s latest masterpiece was given a five-minute standing ovation. The director looked at the reaction gleefully. So did Matt Smith, who plays one of the main characters of Jack, the love-interest of Sandie. But the lead actress (who plays Sandie) didn’t stand. She wasn’t anywhere to be seen, in fact. After a few moments of confusion, Anya Taylor-Joy, as though reentering the world—deer-eyed, radiant and dressed in hot pink Dior Haute Couture—drifted graciously back in through the big balcony’s doors to the pomp of applause. Had she missed the ending of her own movie? She didn’t seem to mind. No one knows where she went, but it almost seemed fitting with the character of Sandie (and Anya’s own personal persona) that the truly-gifted actress arrived just in time.
Red Carpet Images by Giulia Parmigiani
Actresses nowadays have this certain look and feel about them, I think. They have to be everywhere all the time, doing this and doing that, posing for every camera’s clack, every interview, every star-studded event. But not when it comes to Anya. She’s working off her own clock, making every interaction she has with her adoring fans personal. Each interview and camera shot is unique to her own style with her recognisable natural beauty, warmth and grace. She is brilliant at being herself and not what other people want her to be.
Set to be released in 11 November, Last Night in Soho is Edgar Wright (known for Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) at his directorial best. Described as being a rollercoaster of a film by critics, it follows fashion student, Eloise (played by young Kiwi actress Thomasin McKenzie) who becomes embroiled with 1960s singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). From that, relationship chaos ensues. The story fizzes with the glory and glamour of Soho’s red-light district in its heyday and the more modern-day lavish ideals of private galleries and hangouts, with Wright’s hint of craziness.
Whether she’s working on her latest break-out role, reading feverishly (she loves juicy novels, by the way), hanging out with her close friends, or achieving another goal, Anya remains gracious and poised throughout. She seems like your average, down-to-earth cool girl.
Born in Miami (and then moving to her fathers’ homeown of Buenos Aires as a baby), the young Spanish-speaking Anya Taylor-Joy spent most of her childhood in her own little world. A natural ‘fire-cracker’ of a kid, Anya wouldn’t sit still and would create all sorts of mischief with her bubbly personality. She would play in the woods adjacent to her house and assumed several characters to create friends. Her much older siblings (there are six of them!) were apparently not at all interested in playing with her, so she learnt to enjoy her own company. At age six, the family up-and-moved to London where she didn’t know the language, had no friends and felt quite alone.
Following the move to the UK, she refused to learn the language. She felt alienated and was meticulously bullied by her English-speaking peers at school. Anya just wanted to return to Argentina. “The kids just didn’t understand me in any shape or form,” Anya told The Evening Standard in 2017. “I used to get locked in lockers. I spent a lot of time in school crying in the bathrooms…” It wasn’t until she attempted to read JK Rowling’s Harry Potter with her uncle that she succumbed to the pressure (all for the sake of magic). It was in those pages that she came to accept her then-current situation and became well-versed in spells and charms instead of times tables and the ABC’s. What an awesome way to learn a new language, am I right?
At age 16, whilst innocently taking her dog for a walk, her first stroke of luck hit. She was flagged down by a black vehicle that had been trailing her down a busy London street. “I thought ‘Oh s**t, this is the end,'” she told Daily Mail in 2016. “So I picked up my dog and started to run!” Little did she know that the person sitting in the car was not a creepy stalker, but Sarah Doukas of Storm Management. Doukas, for those who don’t know, is a legendary talent scout who started the modelling careers of Cara Delevigne and Kate Moss. When she stopped running and realised that she wasn’t going to be kidnapped, Anya was taken by the possibility of modelling and stepped into Storm Management’s offices. After spending a short time there, she realised that modelling wasn’t what she was cut out for. She wanted to be behind the camera lens in a different way, for Anya had become smitten with the idea of becoming an actress. She had even written out a lengthy essay to her parents to convince them of how she was going to reach for her dreams. After being read the riot-act by her folks, they came to accept it and helped her pursue her passions.
In 2014, Anya landed her first ever TV screen role as a schoolgirl in British detective-drama series, Endeavour, which lead to her first breakout film debut as Thomasin in Robert Egger’s The Witch. In the film she plays a shy Puritan girl in 1600’s New England. Anya was sceptical, though, of her performance. “I felt like I’d let everybody down. I was terrified I was never going to work again.” Well, the film, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, received such rave reviews from critics and earned her many awards that she subsequently received a tonne of casting calls. You know what they say: we’re all our own worst critic.
After several more film and TV roles made her more recognisable, her next big break came in 2016 when she was cast opposite James McAvoy in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split. “I was very aware that most of her sh*t is stage directions,” she told The Independent in 2017 with a smile. “I was wondering how much of that I can communicate with an audience just with my face, just with my eyes. It was a challenge and one I really wanted to play.“
In the movie, she plays the quiet yet wildly switched-on Casey Cooke, who gets kidnapped by the multiple-personalities of Kevin Crumb (McAvoy). By using every bit of screen-time she was offered, Taylor-Joy connected both to the character of Kevin and the audience. Her performance was breath-taking and it shines against McAvoy’s many characters to make her the front-runner for the film.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie in Last Night in Soho • Courtesy of Universal Pictures
The trajectory of Anya’s acting ability was not lost on audiences at that point in her career. Her talent seemed to grow to exponential heights. She seemed to be flexing her creative muscles more and more. Next, without seeming to take a holiday, she teamed up with first-time feature film director, Autumn de Wilde for the stylish role of Emma Woodhouse, the ferociously witty protagonist in Jane Austin’s, Emma.
“I spent a lot of time living with her in my mind,’” Anya explained to Vox last year, “trying to understand how she saw the world. I think one of the first things I came up with was that Emma is in her own movie.”
That film is one of my favorites with Anya Taylor-Joy (just saying). Her character is played so well, as though off-the-cuff but rehearsed. Her movements are strong, yet defined. The stylistic quality of the movie shows Anya as Emma in such a unique light.
Bound for award season success, it was in that role that got the casting directors of a new Netflix series talking. Created by American producer Scott Frank, Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, based on Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name, follows the life and career of the orphaned Beth Harmon. Initially, the series was to be released as a film directed by the late-great Australian actor, Heath Ledger.
Years later, the idea was then floated past American director, Scott Frank, who saw the story more as a miniseries. Anya was lucky enough to score this main role, and her performance in the limited-series is truly glowing.
“She has eyes in the back of her head,” said Frank of Taylor-Joy. “If the camera moves, she knows how she needs to move. She knows where to be, always, and she’s not afraid to be still and to be quiet.”
Audiences and critics were captivated and transported by her vulnerable portrayal of the young prodigy, whose main goal in the series is to become the chess world’s greatest players, amongst her struggles with substance abuse. Set over a 10 year period in the Cold War-era of the swinging 60’s, the idea of a female being in the game was unheard of, so the chance of playing the protagonist (and antagonist) was perfect for Anya to really sink her teeth into.
“I’ve never given so much of myself to a character before,” Taylor-Joy said to Variety in an interview. “I usually think about a character as so different from me, and I make a real point to make them walk differently, to have a different calibre of voice, to laugh differently, to cry differently. I want them to be their own person. But for Beth, it was the first time that I just thought the only way to tell this accurately is to give bits of myself up.”
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit • Courtesy of Netflix
For her role as Beth, Anya was awarded Primetime Emmy Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Critics Choice Awards. During the world-wide Covid-19 pandemic, the show shook the world and offered audiences the escapism they craved for.
What next for her, then? As well as her wonderful portrayal as Sandie in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, Taylor-Joy isn’t slowing down any time soon. She seems to be picking up pace. Being announced to starring in an untitled epic David O. Russell saga with Margot Robbie, Robert De Niro and Christian Bale, Taylor-Joy has also reunited with director Robert Eggers in The Northman. She’ll be showing off some serious viking rage in this role, for sure.
“I must say that I am very proud to be part of this project,” Anya said in a recent interview on the viking thriller. “Every moment on the set makes me happy and we are going to introduce the world to something that has never been seen before and I feel very honored to be a part of it.”
Anya’s also been said to star as the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach, in the wildly entertaining upcoming film, Mario.
Whether it’s walking the red carpet to her next premiere, receiving numerous awards for her work, or talking to the press with that recognisable grin on her face, Anya stays grounded, poised and ready to tackle just about anything. From growing up in Argentina, to learning a new language, to becoming one of the biggest names in Hollywood, Anya Taylor-Joy is magnificent in any goal she sets herself. She truly shines, marking herself truly as one of the world’s most down-to-earth and sensational actresses. “I feel very, very fortunate to have worked on the things that I’ve worked on,” she told Variety. “If anything, every day I fall more and more in love with what I do. And that is what’s so important.”