Why you need to get to know up-and-coming actress Anya Taylor Joy

There's a reason BAFTA recognise her as a rising star

You may recognise this 20-year-old American-born Argentine-British actress (more on this later) from her breakthrough role in creepy British horror film The Witch, which gained critical acclaim at cult film breeding ground Sundance Film Festival last year. Or, chances are, you’ve seen her modelling work in a magazine, or last watched her in Netflix original film Barry, where she played the love interest to a young Barack Obama.

Well, soon, Anya Taylor Joy is set to become a household name. Her next role sees her co-star opposite James McAvoy in Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest edge-of-your-seat thriller Split. She plays Casey, a small-town teenager who gets kidnapped alongside two of her friends by a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Anya Taylor Joy

But, it isn’t your usual glorified slasher film, by any means. It’s clever, thought-provoking and Anya Taylor Joy’s character is as much a hero as she is a victim. Trust us, you’ll be talking about this film, and the performances in it, for weeks. Here’s what happened when we met the BAFTA Rising Star nominee...

Your character’s pretty kick ass. She’s tough, and she’s been through a lot. Is it important for you to play strong females characters?
My characters are so intimate and I go wherever my characters are so they can be any type of person. But, yeah, with hindsight do I look back and wonder if it’s really important to portray these women on screen? Absolutely. It’s interesting when I see my character on screen for the first time because I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirrors, and so when I’m being a character, I’m in their head and I’ve got no idea what they look like.

So when you’re watching yourself, it doesn’t really feel like you’re seeing you?
No, I don’t look in mirrors very often! I’ve got really bad eyesight so I can’t see my reflection in car windows or anything. I very early on decided that I didn’t want to be about physical appearance, if that makes sense?

Split is about a man with 23 different personalities. How would you describe your personality?
I think I’m very emotional. I feel everything and I have no skin. I’m affected by everything which is a blessing and a curse. Acting is awesome for that because it’s a place to exorcise all those feelings in a positive way and be safe in it. I’m very loving, very affectionate and incredibly passionate. But, I have no logic. I follow any logic that’s not real-life logic. My best friends look at me and they’re like ‘What the f*ck!? What are you doing with your life?’ and I’m just like ‘I don’t know! It makes sense to me’.

Tell us your life story in one-minute…
Oh, christ! I was born in Miami but we moved straight away to Argentina where most of my family still lives, and I was there until I was six, and then we moved to England, and I learnt English when I was eight. I was stubborn and I wanted to go home and I didn’t understand London at all. I’d come from a place where everything was green and everything was expensive and there were animals everywhere and all of a sudden, I came here and I was like ‘what the f*ck is going on?’

What made you guys move?
So my Dad’s Scottish-Argentine and my Mum’s African-Spanish – and the political situation in Argentina was getting so dire that they wanted their children to grow up in an environment without fear. We all really resented them for it and now we look back, we’re like thank you so much because they gave us such an opportunity in life.

When did you know you wanted to an actor?
I always wanted to be an actor and I dropped out of school when I was 16. I got scouted for modelling, which was super weird, and then ended up on a shoot with the actors from Downton Abbey and really hit it off with the actor Alan Leech who ended up connecting me to this [acting] agent – and that’s how I got The Witch. I’m still so amazed he did that as he had no reason to do it and there was no benefit in him [vouching for me]. My agent, Cat and I, are super close and she told me, ‘he really pushed it, he kept asking me have you called her yet? Have you called her? You need to call this girl!’ I remember seeing him at the London Film Festival Awards and saying to him, ‘you did this for me. This is you.’

We heard you thought you were, er, going to be kidnapped when actually you were being scouted…
I was 17 at the time and absolutely terrified! We’ve all seen so many crime movies and I was wondering if I was just being paranoid when I noticed this car following me, so I turned down the street and noticed it was still behind me. I just thought ‘oh, f*ck.’ So, I picked up my little rescue dog, Khala, and started legging it. Khala starts freaking the f*ck out, and this guy sticks his head out of the window and he’s like, ‘if you stop, you won’t regret it.’ So, I stopped dead in my tracks which made no sense! But then, [model agent] Sarah Doukas gave me her card and asked me to come in with my parents the next day. And, as she drove away, she said, ‘oh, and by the way, never do that again. Never ever stop if a car asks you to stop. Don’t put your hand in a window to shake my hand, I could just drag you in, what are you doing!?’

What made you decide to leave school at 16 and pursue acting?
I had a really tough time at school, I was bullied and it was all making me quite depressed so I just wanted to go out into the world, which, um, my parents were thrilled about…

What did they say?
I wrote them an essay explaining why I was leaving school to become an actor. My dad was a world champion parapet racer and my mum studied psychology and I’m the baby of the family; number six. My youngest older sister is seven years older than me so I said to them, ‘look, I’m your youngest child, I’ve dropped out of school and you have no obligation to be here anymore. Go out and travel the world! Enjoy yourselves and spend time together’. I stayed at home in South West London with my sister – and my parents are still travelling to this day.

Where do you call home now?
London and New York. I first went there when I was 14 to do a directing course. I went on my own and the first thing I did when I landed was head straight into Chipotle and then dye my hair pink. I was like ‘New York, new me.’

Anya Taylor Joy

And, you’re nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star Award this year, how did you find out?
I found out from my fans – I shit you not. from like fans. They were like ‘congrats on your nomination!’ I’m terrible at the Internet, I’m terrible at anything that’s remotely millennial. It’s awful. I get my work schedule in a PDF and I actually have to write it down in a notebook because I just don’t speak machine. I’ve been an insomniac since I was seven so I remember waking up at 3AM and my phone went crazy that evening. I called my mum, and she doesn’t know what BAFTA is so she was just like, ‘is that good?’ and I was like, ‘yes! It’s VERY good!’ Then, I called my grandparents and my best friend.

How excited for the BAFTAs are you?
I’m just super excited that it’s at the Royal Albert Hall this year because that’s one of my favourite venues. I just think it’s so beautiful and the idea of going there and being in a really pretty dress sends shivers down my spine! Oh my god!

Split is in cinemas from Friday 20th January.

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