How Anya Taylor-Joy Became A Hollywood 'It' Girl

Anya Taylor-Joy is taking the world by storm, and it's no wonder. Her role as Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit" was a massive success, and the series was, as The Wrap points out, "Netflix's most-watch scripted limited series ever." So, all eyes were on Taylor-Joy.

Her transformation has been remarkable. Taylor-Joy was born in Miami, Florida in 1996 to a mother of African-Spanish-English heritage and a father of Scottish-Argentinian descent, as Taylor-Joy explained at the Golden Globes in January 2020. She's the youngest of six kids and spent her childhood between Argentina and England. "It was very difficult to leave Argentina when I was kid, so I only spoke Spanish for the first six years of my life," the star told People in 2016. "I refused to learn English for two years when we moved to London, hoping to send my family back home."

This transient childhood shaped her future path. "It was tough, but at the same time it has given me a sense of displacement that actually really suits the life that I'm living now," Taylor-Joy told the outlet. "I don't really feel like I belong anywhere, which makes me belong everywhere. Plus they are both beautiful places that I love being able to call my home." 

So, what has Anya Taylor-Joy's life been like since this time?

Why the actor related to Beth Harmon's loneliness

Anya Taylor-Joy didn't have the easiest childhood. While she did great in school, thriving in drama classes, English, and the classics, Taylor-Joy told the Evening Standard in 2017, "The kids just didn't understand me in any shape or form, and I was really badly bullied. I used to get locked in lockers, you know, barred from classrooms, not invited to things. It wasn't pleasant." "The Witch" star added, "We're social creatures, and we don't do well when we're not accepted, or when we feel like we don't belong anywhere." Noting that "kids are mean," Taylor-Joy explained, "If they don't understand something, they're meaner."

While it's completely unfair that Taylor-Joy had to go through this as a child, she reflected as an adult that the loneliness of her childhood made her understand the character of Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit" — allowing the star to transform childhood tragedy into character relatability. "I saw a lot of parallels between the two of us," she said to Style in March 2021. "Beth is an inherently lonely person, and that was something I definitely struggled with growing up. She's desperately looking for a place where she fits in and where she feels like she can contribute something. For her, that's chess, and for me, it's acting."

Anya Taylor-Joy took a huge risk for acting

With such an unusual childhood, filled with travel and change, Anya Taylor-Joy seems comfortable uprooting her life and making big moves. While speaking with the Evening Standard, she explained how she used her savings to move to New York at 14, before deciding to quit school two years later to focus on acting. Noting that her family was scared for her, she said, "All of my brothers and sisters called me to tell me I was ruining my life. I cried hysterically."

But "The Queen's Gambit" star added that being the youngest of six kids gave her a preternatural confidence that she used to her advantage. "I think because my siblings are so much older than me, I grew up around adults and I never thought of myself as a child," she told the Evening Standard. "My parents raised me as if they always trusted me."

Taylor-Joy rose to this trust and her huge risk payed off when she was discovered. "I used to look at the future and I was scared," she admitted to Marie Claire in October 2020. "But I was scared because I hadn't made a home in myself. [Now] I know how to take care of myself in a different way. I finally am like, 'I get it. I get what's important to me. I get what I care about.'" 

The Witch was her major breakthrough

Anya Taylor-Joy is now a major Hollywood player: she's played Gina Gray in the TV series "Peaky Blinders," Emma Woodhouse in the 2019 adaptation of Jane Austen's "Emma," as well as the character of Illyana Rasputin in the 2020 film, "The New Mutants." But her big Hollywood breakthrough came when she nabbed the role of Thomasin in the 2015 film "The Witch." 

Taylor-Joy described when she first watched herself in the movie to the Evening Standard. "I saw myself on screen for the first time and I was terrified," she explained. "I was convinced I would never act again. I never actually figured that I couldn't act." Of course, this proved to be very far from the truth, and Taylor-Joy has gone on to play a whole panoply of characters. 

"Each character is such a gift," she said at the 2020 Golden Globes. "Each one has been so individual and has had such a different way of arriving. There's a moment where everything clicks and just suddenly you are that person. But I couldn't say that one is more rewarding or more taxing cause I put all of myself into each one of them."

What The Queen's Gambit meant to Anya Taylor-Joy

While "The Witch" might have been her big breakthrough, it was "The Queen's Gambit" that put Anya Taylor-Joy on the map in a global way. The series earned her a Golden Globe in 2021, which also marked her first major award. In fact, Taylor-Joy became the first Latina to win in the category of best actress in a limited series, anthology series, or a motion picture made for television, according to Variety.

Obviously, her role as Beth Harmon on the Netflix series made Taylor-Joy close to Scott Frank, the co-writer and director of "The Queen's Gambit." "Scott Frank, my God, I love you," she said during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes (via Variety). "Thank you for letting me be part of the journey and thank you for trusting me with Beth. It's obviously wonderful that everyone has seen the show, but I would do this project again and again and again." Taylor-Joy went on to say, "I learned so much. I'm so grateful, and thank you to the audiences that have watched it and supported the character. It meant the world."

What are her dream gigs?

Anya Taylor-Joy has hit the jackpot with TV and film gigs, but she still has some dreams on her horizon, namely in people she wants to work with and what she wants to do. At the 2020 Golden Globes, Taylor-Joy talked about working in Spanish language projects. "I have always wanted to work with Guillermo Del Toro," she said. "I feel his relationship with the supernatural is very much like mine. He understands my brain and my heart very well. So I would love to work with him."

"I am just waiting for the right project," Taylor-Joy went on. "It needs to be something special because it's a very special part of my life, it's a very special part of my soul. Spanish is my first language."

But Taylor-Joy has other dream collaborations. In 2016, she told The Hollywood Reporter: "I would love to work with [Quentin] Tarantino. I'd love to work with the Coen brothers. And Steven Spielberg. 'E.T.' was big for me." If her past is any pattern to base projections upon, it looks like Taylor-Joy will get everything she wants — and we'll be here to watch it!

Will there be a Queen's Gambit 2?

With the success of "The Queen's Gambit," many have been wondering about the possibility of a sequel for the iconic chess show. Things got really exciting when a tweet came from Anya Taylor-Joy's Twitter account that read: "The Queen's Gambit Season 2," per Yahoo! Understandably, fans whipped themselves into a frenzy over the prospect of a second season, but Taylor-Joy jumped in quickly to explain that the tweet had not come from her. "My Twitter has been hacked — apologies for all inconveniences, it's NOT me!" she wrote in her Instagram stories. The previous tweet was also deleted, causing a considerable amount of disappointment.

Taylor-Joy has been asked about a sequel before. "It's so surreal and very wonderful that people want a second season, because we never thought about it, there was no discussion about it," she told Deadline in February 2021. "That said, never say 'never' in Hollywood."

Others involved in "The Queen's Gambit" also addressed questions about continuing the beloved series. Show runner Scott Frank spoke about it in September 2021 and said, "I'm so sorry. I hate disappointing anyone ... I feel like we told the story we wanted to tell, and I worry, or let me put it differently, I'm terrified that if we tried to tell more, we would ruin what we've already told," according to E! News. It looks like what's done is done, and if anyone's craving more spirited chess matches, they can always just rewatch the season.

How the pandemic shaped Anya Taylor-Joy

For Anya Taylor-Joy, the COVID-19 pandemic was the moment she skyrocketed to fame. It sounds counterintuitive, but everyone was cooped up at home and what became an instant favorite on Netflix? "The Queen's Gambit." Everyone wanted to know who brought the the wide-eyed Beth Harmon to life. "[All] of this happened during lockdown," Taylor-Joy said on "The Graham Norton Show." "So the craziest thing was I was just kind of in my house and then the internet was telling me that things were happening but I don't believe it so I'm like, 'Oh, okay fine,' and then I landed in New York and I was like, 'nope, this is different.'"

While the pandemic made her an international sensation, it was also a transformative time for Taylor-Joy. She told Tatler that she was filming "The Northman" when everything shut down, and she had to go stay at her home in London and face a completely different reality from the one she had previously known. "I do think there's a specific period of time between the ages of 18 and 25 when you are so malleable," she said. "And because I was pouring so much energy into understanding these other people [the characters she plays], I was like a vase being filled with different colored liquids and I had no concept of who I was." She said that the solitude and slowness allowed her to carve out personal time, something she hadn't had in a long time.

Dealing with burnout

While most actors have a hard time finding work, Anya Taylor-Joy had the opposite problem. She's had so much work that she's needed to slow down. For instance, she had one day off between filming "Emma" and "Last Night in Soho." Taylor-Joy told Tatler how she managed it and why this wasn't working: "I survived on Diet Coke, cigarettes and coffee, and by the end of it, I was like, 'I need to eat a vegetable.'" Taylor-Joy admitted that it can sometimes create a feeling of missing out. "It can be difficult when you're 'young' to not feel guilty about not doing things that other 25-year-olds are doing and that can be a bit of a headf**k," she explained.

She's been so busy that while filming "Peaky Blinders," Taylor-Joy wasn't even able to be in the scenes with her co-stars. She was filming "Amsterdam" in Los Angeles while Finn Cole was in England. "And so we actually did a lot of our scenes not together," Taylor-Joy told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was just me acting to empty space and watching a scene that Finn had done and trying to do my reaction based off of that, which was a really interesting way of working."

On "The Late Late Show with James Corden," Taylor-Joy spoke about exhaustion. "I haven't slept since I was seven," she joked. She spoke in praise of white noise apps and confessed to loving whale sounds to fall asleep. After that grueling schedule, if whale sounds work, then whales it is!

Learning to deal with the fame

Part of becoming an A-lister meant that Anya Taylor-Joy began dealing with paparazzi and approaching strangers. In some cases, these encounters were harmless while others have been scary. "Most people are sweet and kind and just want to have a conversation, and I love that," she told Tatler. Meanwhile, some experiences are bad. "Well, there are other times when you're just one person facing off against 20 and that's just physically not safe," she explained. "It can be very frightening when there are whole bunches of men with cameras attached to their faces running after you down the street."

She said that she had a particularly bad experience in New York, which left her in tears, but after taking a pause, she came up with an idea. "The next morning I went out and I said, 'Hello, my name is Anya. Let's lower down the camera and let's meet.' I am not prey. I don't want to run." Her goal was to get the engagement to a place where they could do their job without her feeling scared.

But the happy fans are her favorite part. On "The Graham Norton Show," Taylor-Joy said that "The Queen's Gambit" brought forward a delightful mix-match of fans. "I think the thing that I love the most is the disparity between ages because you have like really little kids that love it and then you have like 87 year old people that are like Beth!" she said. Chess seems to bring everyone together.

Anya Taylor-Joy bought a home and put down roots

A happy development in Anya Taylor-Joy's success has been that she was able to buy a home. She told Tatler that she bought a house in east London, and the space has meant a lot to her with such a peripatetic job. "It feels so good to have a place to dump my stuff in between movies," she explained. "Up until six months ago, I went to every meeting with two giant suitcases trailing behind me." That's got to make a huge difference.

But her work requires her to be all over the place, and since so much happens in California, it made sense for Taylor-Joy to also get a home in the Hollywood Hills. In May 2022, Dirt reported that she bought a restored hunting cabin that was over 100 years old, paying $2.3 million for the digs. The home was exquisitely refurbished, while still maintaining its historic charm, making it one of the oldest homes in the area. The story goes that around 1904, a wealthy man in the area built four hunting cabins for his daughters. The aesthetic of the 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home is much like that of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the space is expansive. The interior is 2,310 square feet, so Taylor-Joy has glamorous touchstones in both London and Los Angeles.

The phenomenon of 'The Menu'

One of the more curious projects that Anya Taylor-Joy has ever worked on was the 2022 film "The Menu," starring alongside Ralph Fiennes, Hong Chau, and Nicholas Hoult. The curious horror movie takes place at an exclusive restaurant on a tiny island, so the guests are trapped and at the mercy of Fiennes' character, celebrity Chef Julian Slowik. It sounds tame enough, but the film is dazzling in its unexpected plot direction, and Taylor-Joy is a marvel as Margot.

In a breakdown of the scenes with Vanity Fair, Taylor-Joy raved about how much she loved her character and the movie itself. "I love Margot very, very much," she said. "Because she is the character that I've played that's the most comfortable in their skin. I've never been a particularly passive aggressive person, and I deeply enjoyed being passive aggressive."

Taylor-Joy also spoke about the delight of working with legend Fiennes. "He's just beautiful in every way," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "He's such a talented actor in that whatever he wants to transmute onto the screen, he will achieve it in spades. Maybe it was because of the characters we were playing or the relationship that we have, but I just find him deeply comforting. I feel very comfortable and taken care of when I'm with Ralph." She said that at their core, both of their characters were outsiders, and it created a bond while filming.

Let's meet her boyfriend

Anya Taylor-Joy found love in a fellow reader. She began dating musician and actor Malcolm McRae in May 2021, per People, and they became really official when they kissed in public at "The Northman" premiere. During an interview with British Vogue, Taylor-Joy discussed their relationship — a very literary one at that! "I said to my partner the other day that he was my hobby. I see reading as something that I have to do," she explained. The interviewer asked how McRae reacted to that statement. "He loved it because he's the same," Taylor-Joy clarified. "I've finally found someone who will happily sit in silence with me reading. We're basically 80 years old and seven at the same time and it works really well."

McRae and fellow musician Kane Ritchotte came together to create the band More*, and his musical talent has proven useful in their relationship. On his Instagram page in March 2022, he posted a song and added the caption, "I wrote this song for Anya two days after meeting her. It's called 'Really Want to See You Again.'" If that's not romantic, we don't know what is. The lyrics go, "I think we're alike in ways that I can't quite explain right, but I might, could with some time. If ever we were in the same place. I want what's right, but I want without warning now, and I think we're wanting something the same." So music was obviously the magic touch.

The sophistication of her red carpet style

Anya Taylor-Joy has had a remarkable fashion transformation since she first came into the spotlight. For the premiere of "The Menu" in November 2022, she chose a vibrant blue bustier dress with matching gloves, creating a final look that was both futuristic and flirty. At the 2023 Critics Choice Awards, Taylor-Joy chose a classical twist on the "naked" dress, per Teen Vogue, with a wide, sheer skirt. In fact, anywhere she goes now, she seems to bring playfulness with her. The looks always have a twist; it's feminine yet edgy, it's decadent yet minimal.

This wasn't always Taylor-Joy's focus. She admitted to Vogue that it was playing Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit" that changed her view of fashion. "Ooh. I grew up quite a tomboy," Taylor-Joy began. "It's not that I didn't like clothes ... It's just that I wasn't really aware of them. And I really like how Beth puts together an outfit. I now pay more attention to the whole thing rather than just: 'Oh, I'll wear this shirt, and I don't really care what else is around it.' I pay more attention to how an outfit comes together. And I thank her for that." It was quite the tutelage, because Taylor-Joy hit the ground running after her debut as a chess star. Who knew that fashion would be such a big takeaway from the show? But we're thankful for it. She's a delight to behold both on screen and the red carpet.