The Queen’s Gambit: Anya Taylor-Joy Talks Playing a Trailblazing Chess Genius

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Netflix subscribers will soon get to experience The Queen’s Gambit, a lush and genre-bending new miniseries that is set to hit the streaming service this Friday. The limited series, which is based on Walter Tevis’ book of the same name, follows the journey of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman who defies societal expectations and becomes one of the most formidable chess players in the world. The series follows Beth from her childhood in a Kentucky orphanage in the 1950s to her young adulthood on the competitive chess circuit, while chronicling her relationships with identity, addiction, and trauma in the process.

Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth in nearly every episode of the series, absolutely excels at bringing her complex, poignant, and incredibly earnest journey to life. The Queen’s Gambit is just one of several high-profile showcases of Taylor-Joy’s talent to come out this year — she starred as the titular character in a big-screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma in February, and X-Men fans finally got to see her play Illyana Rasputina/Magik in The New Mutants in August. And in the time since this interview was conducted, it was announced that Taylor-Joy will be portraying the titular character in Furiosa, a highly-anticipated prequel telling the origins of Charlize Theron’s Mad Max: Fury Road character.

In anticipation of The Queen’s Gambit‘s debut, ComicBook.com got to chat with Taylor-Joy about her compelling and unconventional role in the series. We also spoke about how Magik influenced her performance as Beth, which famous woman she would still love to play, and more.

(Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images, Netflix)

ComicBook.com: One of the things that I loved most about the series was kind of how modern Beth’s journey was, and how universal it felt. What was the challenge of that like, of making her feel modern, even though the setting and the text are decades old?

Anya Taylor-Joy: Absolutely, I completely concur. I think it was genuinely fascinating and wonderful to me that Beth is so outside of society, that she’s genuinely baffled by the fact that people talk about her gender, and not like the incredible play she just made. I think like that level of comfort in your own ability was something that I really enjoyed playing. I think it’s important, not just as a performer, but as a human being, to be aware of history. But it felt pretty good to sort of walk up and go, “I’m aware of all of this stuff. It does not pertain to this character. I’m gonna let it go,” and just sort of like show up and do my stuff. So yeah, I wouldn’t say it was a challenge. I would say it was incredibly liberating.

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What was the research process like in terms of the chess itself? All of the terminology, and all of the moves that you recite in the series are just incredible.

Oh, thank you. I had a wonderful teacher, Bruce Pandolfini, who is like a chess God. He’s also the sweetest human being ever, and so supportive. I had some ideas of, as an actor, how I wanted her to move the chess pieces, because of what I thought it said. And he was so great, because rather than being like, “Oh, but no chess player moves like that.” He was like, “If you can make it look seamless, then I totally buy that she would move in this way.” He was super supportive of all of my choices, while still giving me so much information about this entirely secret world that I knew nothing about.

Honestly, it sounds silly, but the pure joy you get when you finish a really complicated long sequence – especially if it’s something like speed chess over three different boards – I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of myself in my life. It felt amazing and I totally understand why people get so sucked into this game. I get it.

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I’m a huge X-Men fan, and your take on Magik [in The New Mutants] is one of the best castings ever, in my mind. Did any of Magik influence your take on Beth? They’re obviously so different, but they have a similar sort of like confidence and energy to them.

I loved Illyana as much as I loved Beth. I have very deep connections with my characters, and the second I read Illyana for the first time, I was like, “Oh, mine forever.” But, the reality of playing somebody that stomps into a room that aggressively was certainly something that, right before action, I was like, “I can’t believe I’m about to do this. Okay. I’m doing it. It’s happening.”

I think it probably did set the stage for the lack of – I’m trying not to swear, but fill in the blanks – the lack of [a damn] that Beth gives. Beth just embodies this energy where she is just going to do what she needs to do in order to win. And yeah, I think Illyana certainly helped with the confidence level of that.

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Between Beth, Magik, and Emma, you’ve had a really big year of playing these iconic, amazing female characters. Is there a character or a historical figure that you would love to play that you haven’t yet?

Somebody that I’ve always been obsessed with – but I don’t think I should play her, unfortunately, because I think we’ve had a lot of her in recent times – is I’ve always been fascinated with Anne Boleyn. I think she is so interesting. From childhood, I was obsessed with her. But I’m happy just like letting her be one of those people that, if I could have dinner with anyone living or dead, it’d be like Anne Boleyn, Stevie Nicks, and Edie Sedgwick. Like, talk to me, and tell me about the experiences that you had in life. So yeah, Anne, but I don’t think I’ll get the opportunity to do that, unfortunately.

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The Queen’s Gambit is available to stream on Friday, October 23rd, exclusively on Netflix.

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