From horror’s It girl to her latest role as ambassador for Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb Midnight, Anya Taylor-Joy is fast becoming one of Britain’s brightest stars. She talks to Martha Hayes about impending fame, finding her voice, and why she’s a bit ‘extra’ and totally OK with that
In a secluded corner of an art-deco hotel bar in London, Anya Taylor-Joy collapses into a regal-looking armchair and reaches for the wine list. ‘I’m so Argentine,’ she laughs, ‘red wine runs through my veins.’ Not that she needs an excuse. It’s Friday night, and she’s just got back from shooting her first fashion campaign – for Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb Midnight fragrance – in New York. If Anya Taylor-Joy (who is of Argentine, Spanish, Scottish and British descent) wasn’t already about to go stratospheric with her acting career, then her latest role as a beauty ambassador for Viktor & Rolf’s new perfume will surely seal the deal. ‘It’s going to be weird,’ she nods, taking a sip of Merlot and removing her leather jacket to reveal a long T-shirt and skinny trousers that look like tights – ‘I’m very into Edie Sedgwick at the moment’. ‘I’m going to get bombarded by family members taking awkward selfies in front of billboards and I’ll be like, “Oh my God”.’
Since the 22-year-old burst on to the big screen as the lead in cult indie horror film The Witch in 2015, Anya Taylor-Joy has quietly carved out a kooky niche as a scream queen in psychological thrillers like M Night Shyamalan’s Split (2016) and Glass (2019), and the sci-fi horror Morgan (2016). She rose to wider prominence in BBC One’s memorable adaptation of Jessie Burton’s debut novel The Miniaturist in 2017. This year, the actress is stepping things up a gear with roles in the much-anticipated Marvel movie The New Mutants, big-budget CGI animation Playmobil: The Movie (with Daniel Radcliffe), and Marie Curie biopic Radioactive (alongside Rosamund Pike). There’s also, most significantly, a lead role in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance, coming soon to Netflix, and starring everyone from Helena Bonham Carter to Alicia Vikander.
You’ve filmed projects back to back since you started out. That’s prolific for someone between the ages of 18 and 22. I got a degree in those years, but I can barely remember anything else.
‘I can remember everything; I don’t know which is worse! I have [the ages of] 18 to 22 recorded on film. At the beginning, it was a bit of a baptism of fire. I’m certainly my own worst enemy. If I was in a boxing match with myself, I’d be formidable. I’d rather have The Rock in there than me. I am not someone who is particularly good at being famous.’
Why do you think you’re not cut out for it?
‘I’m quite “extra” as a person. I spent so much of my childhood trying to be normal and dampen down all [my] craziness. Then, last year, I just thought, “I’m done.” I’m gonna be myself and do weird things with my hands and sing at inappropriate moments. The other day my sister said, “You do realise that since you’ve stopped trying to be normal, you’ve actually become normal, because you’re not behaving in the way you think you should behave.”’
It takes some people decades to get to that point…
‘I grew up really fast because I had to. You couldn’t pay me to go back to being 16.’
What happened at that age?
‘I moved out [of my parent’s house in London] and started living alone. There’s definitely a story to be told there, but I want to make sure that when I do tell it I’ve got all my ducks in a row, so it can make an impact for the greater good. I was in a really difficult place, and I’m not kidding when I say [acting] saved my life.’
You come from a large family – the youngest of six children – how supportive were they?
‘There’s a large age gap between myself and my siblings, so I grew up like, “I’m going to this party, people will be drinking and smoking, but I’m not going to do any of it and I’ll probably come back around this time.” They never got angry with me because I always told the truth. My parents and I have a unique relationship; they’ve always trusted my judgement.’
Long before you were an ambassador for Viktor & Rolf’s fragrance, you were scouted on the street at 16 by Sarah Doukas from Storm Models (who famously discovered Kate Moss). How did you move into acting?
‘From the second I walked into Storm, I thought, “I want to be an actor.” I didn’t think I could be a model. I grew up as a tomboy and never saw myself as pretty. I met [Downton Abbey star] Allen Leech on my third ever [modelling] job and he took my name and number. A couple of weeks later, I got a call from his (and my now) agent. Allen jokes that he should be getting commission from all my movies. I’m like, “Dude, you’re not wrong!”’
You’ve worked with some great people, from James McAvoy to Sarah Paulson. What’s the best advice you’ve been given along the way?
‘I’m lucky actors who are older than me seem to take me under their wing. Jennifer Jason Leigh [her co-star in Morgan] once said to me, “Even if you don’t understand a script or what’s going on, if you love the director, just jump, because they’re going to do something right.” Romola Garai [her co-star in The Miniaturist] gave me a book that killed me. Inside she wrote, “Make sure your voice is heard; take a seat at the table.”’
When you’ve had nice experiences, it must be disheartening to hear about those in the industry that aren’t so good.
‘It’s not all been smooth sailing, but the uncomfortable or painful experiences I’ve had have shaped me to be someone who is starting to understand their worth. You have to set your own boundaries, and I think we’re coming into a [time] where women feel more comfortable finding that voice. It’s fun to be difficult sometimes. And, by the way, being difficult does not mean being a dick, it means saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable with this, so I will not be doing it.”’
When was the last time you were difficult?
‘I don’t think I’m a difficult person. I’m very easy to work with and I work hard. I’m kind to people, but don’t bullshit me because I will call you out on it. I just read this incredible book called In Praise Of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo [about how] the term “difficult” has been used to brand women when really they just know what they want.’
Why do you think you attract such dark, edgy roles?
‘If you had told baby me that I would be known as a scream queen or as horror’s It girl, I would have laughed so hard. That is so not me; I’ve never even seen a horror movie. I’ve never actually looked at genres. I’m about to start shooting [the lead in a new adaptation of [Jane Austen’s] Emma by a director called Autumn de Wilde. She’s the coolest.’
Have you seen Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma (1996)?
‘No. I want my own Emma. I’m quite excited to bring a more eccentric version to the screen. I’d like to create a very real person with very real insecurities. That’s not a comment on Gwyneth’s performance, because I haven’t seen the film. It says a lot about the character that Austen says [at the beginning of the book] that she’s written a character who nobody other than her will like. I love that.’
Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb Midnight EDP, £71 for 50ml, is available exclusively at Debenhams from 1 March and nationwide from 31 March