How The Queen's Gambit Anya Taylor-Joy is tipped for Hollywood stardom

The banker’s daughter who’s the new darling of Netflix: How private school girl Anya Taylor-Joy went from being discovered in Harrods to dazzling in The Queen’s Gambit – and is now tipped for Hollywood stardom

  • Anya Taylor-Joy, 24, is the star of Netflix chess drama The Queen’s Gambit
  • Born in Miami, she was raised in Argentina before moving to the UK aged six
  • She attended private school and was discovered in Harrods at the age of 16
  • The actress had her first film role in The Witch and starred in Peaky Blinders
  • She is now set to star opposite Matt Smith, Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke 

Anya Taylor-Joy was just a girl when she first told her parents that she wanted to be an actress. Now, at the age of just 24, she is tipped to be catapulted to the A-list. 

After a jet-set childhood that saw her move from Miami to Buenos Aires and on to London before the age of six, Anya was model scouted by the woman who discovered Kate Moss while on a shopping trip to Harrods when she was just a teenager. 

A similarly serendipitous moment involving a Downton Abbey cast member led to Anya being cast in her first major film role before she was 20 years old.  

In the four years since, Anya has appeared in a total of 19 film and TV shows, ranging from BBC crime caper Peaky Blinders to a Barack Obama biopic and an X-Men spin-off. 

But while you might recognise her face, which was compared by director M Night Shyamalan to ‘a silent movie star’s from the Thirties’, Anya Taylor-Johnson is not (yet) a household name.   

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Star on the rise: Anya Taylor-Joy was just a girl when she first told her parents that she wanted to be an actress. Now, at the age of just 24, she is tipped to be catapulted to the A-list. Pictured, the star in a stunning gold creation on the red carpet of the 2018 Met Gala

Netflix’s new darling: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in chess drama The Queen’s Gambit

British TV breakout: Anya with Finn Cole and Helen McCrory in BBC’s Peaky Blinders

Bringing the glamour: Anya Taylor-Joy outside Good Morning America in February 

But that is all about to change, thanks to her stunning performance in Netflix chess drama The Queen’s Gambit, which has become the unexpected hit of lockdown.

Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy and orphan from Kentucky whose genius is never in doubt, but whose drug and drink addictions mean disaster is constantly stalking her — both on and off the board.  

In the pipeline is psychological thriller Last Night In Soho, co-starring The Crown’s Matt Smith, and The Northerner, in which she will go toe-to-toe Hollywood heavyweights Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgård and Ethan Hawke.

Here, everything you need to know about Britain’s next big breakout star… 

PRECOCIOUS SCHOOLGIRL WITH DREAMS OF STARDOM 

Big dreams: Striking a stylish pose in her pink Flamenco dress, the young – and precocious – Anya Taylor-Joy looks at ease in front of the camera, a place where she fully intended to remain. The photo was taken in Argentina, where Anya grew up with her five older siblings 

Striking a stylish pose in her pink Flamenco dress, the young – and precocious – Anya Taylor-Joy looks at ease in front of the camera, a place where she fully intended to remain. 

Private schools with royal connections 

After moving to London aged six, Anya was educated at Hill House prep school in Notting Hill. The school, named in The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook as an example of an acceptable school for the children of the elite, counts Prince Charles among its former pupils. 

For secondary school, Anya, by then a fledgling model and actress, moved to girls’ independent school Queen’s Gate, just a stone’s throw from South Kensington Underground station, where fees cost up to £7,200 a term for senior school and sixth form.

There is no shortage of accomplished women who attended the school, including Nigella Lawson, Tilda Swinton – and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Anya was just five when she was filmed telling her mother that she was going to be an actress. Two years later she was asking her parents for an agent.

The childhood photograph, was taken in Buenos Aires, where the Miami-born actress lived as a child with her five older siblings. 

She says that she is now a ‘mash up’ of identities, with a British sense of humour combined with ‘Argentine warmth… I hug everybody. I’m very effusive.’  

The family moved to the UK when Anya was six to allow her Scottish Argentine father, a former investment banker, to become a powerboat racer. Anya’s mother is a South African photographer of British and Spanish descent.

Anyna attended Hill House prep school, where Prince Charles was educated, but struggled to adapt. 

‘Argentina is all green and I had horses and animals everywhere. All of a sudden I was in big city and I didn’t speak the language,’ she said previously.

Indeed Anya reportedly refused to speak English for her first two years in London. She eventually learned when an uncle started her on the Harry Potter books. 

‘I wanted to go home, and in my six, seven-year-old mentality I thought my parents would have to take me back if I didn’t speak the language,’ she told NME. ‘My uncle would sit me down with the Harry Potter books, so all my language when I was young was quite precocious because I was learning from these books.’ 

She moved on to independent girls’ school Queen’s Gate School, just a stone’s throw from South Kensington Underground station, where fees cost up to £7,200 a term for senior school and sixth form. Famous former pupils include the Duchess of Cornwall, Nigella Lawson and Tilda Swinton.  

SPOTTED IN HARRODS… AND A FILM FAIRY GODFATHER

Standing out in the crowd: Despite her early ambition, Anya had to wait until she was 16 before she could step into the limelight. While on a shopping trip to Harrods, she was spotted by Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm Models – and the woman who similarly discovered Kate Moss. Pictured, a photo shared to Instagram in 2015 – the same year as her first film role

First film rolse: Still only a teenager, she landed a bit-part in ITV drama Endeavour before breaking into the film business in 2015 in the horror movie The Witch (pictured). The film was critically acclaimed and brought Anya to the attention of major Hollywood players 

Despite her early ambition, Anya had to wait until she was 16 before she could step into the limelight. 

While on a shopping trip to Harrods, she was spotted by Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm Models – and the woman who similarly discovered Kate Moss. 

Her introduction to acting came thanks to another fairytale moment.  

‘I was on my third photo shoot ever and Adam Leech from Downton Abbey [he played Tom Branson] saw me reading poetry and asked me to recite some.,’ she recalled. ‘He put me in contact with his agent.’

Still only a teenager, she landed a bit-part in ITV drama Endeavour before breaking into the film business in 2015 in the horror movie The Witch. The film was critically acclaimed and brought Anya to the attention of major Hollywood players. 

Over the next four years she was cast in a string of films and TV shows, including Ridley Scott-produced sci-fi slasher Morgan, Netflix’s Barack Obama biopic Barry and M Night Shyamalan’s Split, starring James McAvoy. 

Speaking of Anya, Shyamalan said: ‘Her visage is like a silent movie star’s from the Thirties. She is so atypical, physically, and emotionally.’ 

Blessed with a photographic memory that means she has to read a script only once to know her lines, Anya also boasts an ability to deliver perfect accents, helped by her nomadic early life. 

‘I grew up in lots of different places. Belonging to all of them, you also belong to none of them,’ she once said.   

BREAKOUT ROLE

No-nonsense: Before Emma and The Queen’s Gambit, Anya was probably best known to British viewers as Peaky Blinders’ Gina Gray (pictured). She was introduced in the fifth series as the scheming American wife of Michael Gray, Tommy Shelby’s (Cillian Murphy) cousin

Hollywood spotlight: Anya starred as clever, rich, restless queen bee Emma Woodhouse in the Jane Austen adaptation Emma, opposite Johnny Flynn as love interest George Knightley

Versatile: Anya also appears in X-Men spin-off The New Mutants, which was finally released this year after two years of delays. Pictured, Anya (far right) with the cast

Before Emma and The Queen’s Gambit, Anya was probably best known to British viewers as Peaky Blinders’ Gina Gray. 

She was introduced in the fifth series as the scheming American wife of Michael Gray, Tommy Shelby’s (Cillian Murphy) cousin, and will presumably return for the sixth series, although details for the show are kept closely under wraps. 

She juggled filming Peaky Blinders with voicing a role of a ‘gelfling princess’ in the new iteration of The Dark Crystal for Netflix, released last year. Displaying her range, Anya also voiced a character in 2019’s Playmobil: The Movie. 

They were followed up by Jane Austen adaptation Emma, which thrust Anya into the Hollywood spotlight. The actress starred as clever, rich, restless queen bee Emma Woodhouse opposite Johnny Flynn as love interest George Knightley.

‘It’s the idea of portraying that kind of youth,’ she said of the role in an interview with The Times.’That youth and inexperience — her wanting to play doll’s house with these real people and their real lives, and her understanding, by the end of it, that you can’t. I do feel that’s incredibly relatable. You know, when you’re a kid, you think you know everything, then there’s a moment when you’re suddenly, like, “Wow, I know nothing, Jon Snow! Nothing!”‘

The film, released in cinemas just weeks before lockdown hit, was well received by critics. 

Anya also appears in X-Men spin-off The New Mutants, which was finally released this year after two years of delays.  

Now, in a year of very little joy for the film and TV industry, Anya has another success under her belt in The Queen’s Gambit. 

NETFLIX’S NEW DARLING 

Checkmate: Anya Taylor-Joy as chess prodigy Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit

Fashion forward: Taylor-Joy, as Beth Harmon, leaves the board for other pursuits

Star turn: Anya Taylor-Joy as chess prodigy Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit

Based on a 1983 book The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, the show tells the story of Beth Harmon, who is brought to live at the Methuen Home for Girls after her mother, a maths professor, kills herself.

At the orphanage, the children are given tranquilliser pills, and Beth, aged eight, becomes hooked on the drug.

She also starts to play chess, taught by the janitor Mr Shaibel — working out how the pieces move herself and visualising strategies on the ceiling while others sleep.

Beth gets taken to a local school, and plays a simultaneous game against a room of teenage chess enthusiasts, easily defeating them all.

At 13, she is adopted by Alma and Allston Wheatley and starts to play in tournaments across America, and later the world.

She becomes close to her adoptive mother, who is depressed and a drinker, and falls into a lifestyle of drink and drug abuse herself after a tragedy and romantic disappointments.

Critics fell in love with Taylor-Joy and the cinematic quality of the show.

One wrote: ‘The Queen’s Gambit is a work of art — riveting, radiant, and simply spellbinding. Like Beth, it triumphs through its devotion to a love of the game.’

BRIGHT FUTURE   

Fans won’t have to wait long to see Anya on screen again. 

She is set to star opposite The Crown and Doctor Who star Matt Smith in psychological thriller Last Night In Soho, which is in post-production after wrapping filming earlier this year. 

Originally set for release in 2020, the premiere has been pushed back to spring 2021 due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

At present, she is filming a lead role in The Northman opposite Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard, a sure sign that her sign is on the rise. 

It was also recently announced that Anya will play the younger version of Charlize Theron’s Mad Max: Fury Road character, Furiosa, in a George Miller-directed spin-off.

‘(Charlize) did such an incredible job and it was so beautiful and I can’t even think about trying to step (into her shoes),’ she said, after news of the role was announced.

‘It has to be something different, because it just can’t be done.’

She added how it was ‘difficult to put into words’ and that she was ‘humbled and grateful’.

‘The first thing that went through my head when I found out I was going to do it was, “I am so excited to work so hard,” she said.

‘I am going to work so hard at this. The level of commitment that has been shown before me, I endeavor to match that, and that makes me really excited.’

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