Up and coming ‘It’ stars of the moment roll out of the movie industry on a regular basis, however not all live up to the hype.
The Witch, a low-budget horror film took the world by storm in 2016 with most of the focus on an incredible debut performance from young Anya Taylor-Joy.
Hollywood took notice of the low-key starlet acting beyond her years casting her in further strange, odd or obscure roles of various genres. Her latest big screen thriller is a new film from notorious director of The Sixth Sense, M Night. Shyamalan.
Split, is unpredictable. Three teenagers are abruptly kidnapped within the opening five minutes and put in a seemingly underground facility held captive by a man who appears to be of different personalities. Each time he walks in the room, another is on show.
That is all you really need to know, the surprises are frequent and not to be spoiled. I caught up with Anya down the line from a snow-covered New York. The former model and Ukulele enthusiast declares Cate Blanchett is her queen and talking with her made my day.
Good morning from the future Anya, have you ever been to Australia?
Anya Taylor Joy – No but I am desperate to go, my adoration for Queen Cate Blanchett is immeasurable, also my wonderful co-star in Barry (the story of a young Barrack Obama) is in Australia. We face-time often but your time differences confuse me. I was in Argentina speaking Spanish over Christmas to see my family, it was amazing now I am here with a new body clock.
You and Devon had great chemistry in Barry, how was that experience?
ATJ – Dream come true filming a movie in New York, Devon is lovely. Actually lucky that some of the movies I have made, I have met some of my best friends on them so Devon is right up there as one of the best people in my life and that film was a pleasure overall to be part of.
You were handpicked by Split Director M. Night Shyamalan to play Casey, did you have a different type of audition process?
ATJ – Insane the first time I went into the room because I was about to test for the first time reading the role and also about to do my first fashion show so was really nervous, not how you want to go into an audition. I rocked up to the office of our beautiful casting director Doug Aibel lugging a ton of bags while apologising for cluttering up the room because I was heading straight to Toronto after the read. After reading with him, I guess he saw something interesting and Night did too, the second I met him I felt at ease. I understood his vision, what he wanted from me and I was totally willing to give it. We started our working relationship strong which only got stronger as the project progressed.
Playing Casey you looked genuinely scared of sinister co-star James McAvoy at times. Did he push you or evoke a better performance from you?
ATJ – James is such a good person, funny and lovable. He created an environment that we all felt comfortable to allow ourselves in character to feel emotion allowing intensity. I can’t speak for everybody but when I feel at ease with anyone, I find myself to be even more vulnerable, more afraid. So creating an atmosphere that felt I could talk to him about anything which made it easier to go to those dark places you experience with us in the film.
Congratulations on your Gotham Breakthrough actor award, it has been a big year for you.
ATJ – Thank you Shane (laughs), it was so strange. Everyone kept telling me to prepare an acceptance speech but I kept saying, ‘No, I won’t win.’ Then on the night, hearing my name, I was secretly cursing myself that I should have prepared a speech. It was so surreal, it took a couple of hours to wake up afterwards.
Did you take your Ukulele with you on the Split set?
AYJ – Absolutely did, it goes everywhere with me. It’s in my hotel room right now (laughs). My mum always says I could sing before I could talk which essentially means I just didn’t shut up as a child. I picked up my ukulele while filming The Witch in a really lovely close-by town North Bay (Ontario), the closest thing we had to civilisation during that shoot. Simply walked in, grabbed it, and said immediately I wanted to learn the ukulele, it suited our surroundings. Now I move around so much, that good idea has become a constant. I know I can always go back to my room or wherever we may be and strum away for a little bit.
You also write music and poetry, would writing a screenplay or novel ever be on the agenda?
ATJ – Yes would love to but only contribute to the world in that way if I thought there was something that hadn’t been said. The large amounts of poetry I write is more of a compulsion. Sometimes I may get caught up inside my head or overwhelmed by anything. The best way to feel better about something is to write a song or a poem on the page. Definitely had ideas for a script but need to flesh them out in time so I could complete it properly.
You have made an amount of diverse films in your short career so far, maybe you could take notes behind the scenes.
ATJ – Oh my god I do Shane, it’s so lucky my directors allow me to. Actually on Split, I finished a day early and approached Night asking if he’d mind me shadowing him watching, graciously he allowed me. Anytime I am not acting on any set, I spend time with various sections of the crew: lighting, the director of photography, or any of the creatives because although I may not understand all of their procedures, although I may not be ready to write a screenplay just yet, I would positively want to direct a film at some point.
Split deals with multiple issues. Do you have any hidden Anya’s or are you always cool, calm, collected?
ATJ – (laughs) If anyone is always cool, calm, collected, give them my number. I want to know how. I got a bunch of hidden personalites but I branch them out on screen so they are not hidden anymore anyway. Everyone has dimensions or multi-faceted – that’s part of the joy of acting out your traits or someone else’s into a character.
Long-limbed, wide-eyed, offbeat, a unique amazing screen presence. How much has your confidence built over the last 12-18 months?
ATJ – Everyone has said to me, you always seem so confident but that is mistaking confidence with LOUD – there’s a difference (laughs). I’ve never been that confident, I feel it most when swept up in a character knowing I know who they are, I can be then. In terms of how I feel about Anya, it’s an important thing to have. I love my job, I know I am incredibly lucky to do it although I’ve never had a diva moment thinking, this is where I should be, I belong here; it’s not like that, i just feel overtly lucky.
You possess the ‘it’ factor that film critics such as myself take notice of. In Split, you stood out in every single scene.
ATJ – Thank you so much. It’s such an astonishing performance from James, I really wanted to do his efforts and my character justice, I was also desperate to give it 120% for our wickedly talented director, I love Night as a man and a filmmaker so I wanted to know he was proud of me. As for James, I was simply trying to catch it and respond to his supreme acting.
Did you hang out with the two girls (co-stars Jessica Sula and Hayley Lu Richardson) in between filming?
ATJ – Yes indeed, we shared a flat together. What great girls, number one let me say Philadelphia is one of the best places in the world – falling in love with Philly and the people, also the food so we explored quite often. Our scenes are so intense in close quarters, it became important to have a basis of friendship trust, much like our connection to James, it was paramount.
What can you tell Australian audiences to expect from Split?
ATJ – Go into it knowing very little, expect the unexpected, hold onto your chair, it will take them to a place you can’t see happening. It is a different side of Director M Night Shyamalan that people haven’t really seen before. You know if I didn’t know what was going on, it is a movie best enjoyed twice, there is much to revisit when you get your head around incidents. The first time is following hints, then seeing it again, it becomes a different film with subtle layers. It is scary but don’t underestimate the dark humour, James is a very funny man.
What is harder – modelling or the acting process?
ATJ – Interesting, this may sound a bit strange but I was born an actor. From my first thoughts, I remember knowing this is what I want to do. Then when I got scouted as a model, I only did two shoots. It was several months later I was plucked from obscurity and introduced to my agent. I am doing a lot more modelling now as an actor than ever doing photo shoots, promoting my movies. Still struggle with taking photos of myself, as a character or if i’m given really outlandish clothes to wear, I can understand what is wanted from me in the picture but me in real life, not a fan of pictures.
Being well traveled from an exotic background, does that help the way you approach different productions?
ATJ – It’s helpful because I rarely get homesick having grown up knowing home was wherever I hung my hat for that evening. In terms of the characters, maybe through meeting many different people understanding cultures or the way people look at things. More helpful preparing me to live on a plane, that kind of lifestyle if that makes sense.
Do you still consider yourself a bit of a tomboy?
ATJ – Yes a tomboy that loves fashion and can play the ukulele absolutely (laughs). I hope music is in my future, I will let others judge if i can sing well though. It is incredibly cathartic for me as I feel strongly about my job and others around me expressing their emotions but the truth is, what has happened to my life is madness. Nothing to everything in 2.5 years, it feels nice to have something you can go forward with and respect so much.
Dancing ballet takes massive commitment. Has that structure crossed over to your acting?
ATJ – Think so, ballet is putting strenuous effort into something making it look delicate or effortless. Being passionate for ballet, I would kill myself doing it and acting is equally as passionate, or music and so forth. Allowing your passion, overcome any physical limitations, even if your body is exhausted, I believe you can always give a little bit more.
Has there been any offers or ideas to do a Witch sequel, or Morgan? They are both characters of yours that possibly could go further.
ATJ – Gosh there has been absolutely no question or approach of a Witch sequel but working with Robert Eggers (Director) again is a given, he’s my main man. If he asked me to read a phone book out loud, I would endeavour to do it. If there ever was a sequel, I have no idea where we would find Thomasin. If The Witch was dark, a follow-on might be darker. For Morgan, I did die so not sure how that would work.
Maybe your DNA was left somewhere instating a resurrected Morgan.
ATJ – (laughs) Creating clones, I could play 50,000 Morgan’s.
Did you keep a bonnet or some clothes from The Witch?
ATJ – Absolutely, hope this doesn’t sound creepy, I kept Thomasin’s hair ribbons and garders – they go everywhere with me in my backpack so everywhere I travel, I have them there. Thomasin was my first real character ever and the people who made it are like my family. Actually, I have kept something from all my characters except one, my new film Thoroughbred because I thought if I kept anything, this person I play may kill me (laughs). She is complicated. It’s quite funny how many of my films I am covered in mud or blood, it’s all good, totally enjoy it.
Your name is fantastic, is it from anyone or anything?
ATJ – My parents loved Enya the wonderful singer, so they didn’t want to call me anything that obvious but my sister’s husband is a professional polo player. She suggested to my mum just before I was born, Anya, after talking to her about a winner of a polo tournament.
Would you consider a comedy at any point as a break from thrillers and dramatic roles?
ATJ – Oh yes Shane, I don’t think in genres, I think in characters or directors or scripts taking me places. Juno (2007) is one of my favourite movies, witty dark humour straight up my street. Have not and will not discount any kind of genre.
Finally, I must mention Thoroughbred. You’re opposite the magnificent Olivia Cooke who is equally as impressive as you but you also starred with the late Anto Yelchi. What can you convey about him, if you wish.
ATJ – Unbelievable person, unbelievable performer, and incredibly missed.
Shane A. Bassett