A pencil and watercolor sketch of Anya Taylor-Joy in pinks and yellows. Her head is cocked to one side, and she’s wearing a sleeveless dress in a bold floral and check print.
QUEUE & A

Anya Taylor-Joy

Netflix stars answer Queue’s questions about creativity and craft.

Opening Photo by Pip
Illustrations by Jörn Kaspuhl
26 February 20215 min read

Anya Taylor-Joy, who stars as Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit, takes her turn answering Queue’s Q’s.

Queue: What inspired you to pursue a career in acting?
Anya Taylor-Joy: I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything different, apart from being a vet. I wanted to be a vet and an actor — at the same time. That didn’t really work out. I always wanted to tell stories, and I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to do so.

Watercolor sketch of comedy and tragedy masks. The comedy mask is wearing a stethoscope. Kudos if you’ve figured out how to be a vet and an actor at the same time.

What was your first role?
ATJ: Perkin in Perkin and the Pastry Cook. I played a boy, and I got to wear my mum’s thigh-high boots and this really awesome mustache, and I never took it off. I just wore it continuously throughout rehearsals.

How did you prepare for the role of Beth Harmon?
ATJ: Beth was just there. From the second that I read her, I thought, O.K., it’s not going to be difficult to be this person. If anything, it’s going to be difficult to separate what is me and what is Beth. There wasn’t a lot of preparation in that sense. For the chess, I wanted to understand the theory of it as much as I could. The people that love chess really, really do, and I didn’t feel arrogant enough to walk into a room and pretend like I knew what I was doing; I had to know what I was doing.

How are you similar to Beth?
ATJ: I think at our core, we’re very, very similar people. We both struggle with inherent loneliness, and one of the things I connected with the most was this idea that neither of us really fit into the world that we were inhabiting before we found our passion. For her it was chess, for me it was making art. As a kid, I really had to have this belief that there was a world that would accept me and that I would be able to have something to contribute to. I think that’s a driving force for both of us.

I think Beth is kind of my dream role.

Anya Taylor-Joy

Were you a chess player before you took on the role?
ATJ: No! I had never played chess. I knew there was a board. I knew there were pieces, and I thought they were very pretty. But no, I had no idea, so I just kind of threw myself into it. It was a wonderful mental exercise. I really, really enjoyed it.

What is your favorite chess move?
ATJ: I love castling. One of the first rules that you learn about chess when you’re studying it theoretically is that you have to castle early, or you should aim to castle early, and I just loved that. And I loved saying “castle.” That was fun to use as a verb.

What was it like to film in Berlin?
ATJ: It has always been a dream of mine to live in Berlin. I loved the fact that I could finish a night shoot at five o’clock in the morning and then go for a dance and shed whatever had happened that day. And it sounds silly, but there’s so much space in Berlin. The roads are so big, the avenues are so large that it really feels like there’s enough room for everybody to be whoever they are.

Watercolor sketch of the Television Tower and World Clock in Berlin. If Anya finished up night shoot at five a.m., it was probably cocktail hour somewhere!

Did you listen to any music to help get into character?
ATJ: Oh, yeah. [My playlist] was called “Beth Harmon Phenomena,” and one of the first songs on it was Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Phenomena.” But I was so lucky because the majority of the music that I first fell in love with was music from the 60s. I got to go back into my 14-year-old playlist and pick out all of these songs that I’ve always loved. “Fujiyama Mama” by Wanda Jackson is a really good one. That’s got strong Beth energy.

What was the most difficult scene to film?
ATJ: The scene that I found potentially the hardest to separate from was Beth’s return to Henry Clay High School, when she’s been bingeing for a while, because of that feeling of disappointing other people, of trying to appear as if you have everything together when in reality you’re falling apart. That day I just woke up and as soon as I got out of bed I was like, It’s going to be a hard day. Today is going to be tricky for me to separate. I’m so grateful that our beautiful crew and our cast understood that whilst I’m not Method, Beth and I were very, very close. They gave me a bit of a wide berth on that day.

What is your dream role?
ATJ: I think Beth is kind of my dream role, because Beth is the character most similar to me that I’ve ever played. I assumed that in giving so much of myself to a character, I would feel really exposed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty exposing, but it’s also the most cathartic experience ever. Weirdly enough, because I gave her so much of myself, when I watched the show for the first time I really could separate her and me. I could see the bits of myself that I had left with Beth and that no longer came with me. I’m grateful for that.

What have you been watching on Netflix?
ATJ: Well, actually I did watch The Queen’s Gambit with my best friend, Kate Dickie. She played my mum in my first ever movie. We were living together, and I wanted to sit and watch the show with her. That was a really special experience. And then The Crown, because my friend Josh [O’Connor] is in it and he is marvelous. He’s just so much fun to watch.

Pink watercolor sketch of a crown, set with jewels and lined with fur. Josh O’Connor is a prince, but Anya Taylor-Joy is the queen.