Anya Taylor-Joy is only 21, but she’s playing all sorts of roles
Anya Taylor-Joy has moved around a lot. She was born in Miami, but soon after, she and her family relocated to Buenos Aires. Another move settled them in London. The road to what she hoped would be an acting career led her, at age 14, to New York, then back to London. These days she divides her time between both cities, but admits that she feels like she’s living out of a suitcase, as acting jobs are taking her all over the world. And the parts she’s been landing are as different from each other as the cities she’s called home. Her first starring role, just three years ago, was in “The Witch.” She followed that up by playing the fictionalized girlfriend of Barack Obama during his Harvard days in “Barry.” She subsequently went the victim route in the horror hit “Split.” Now, with “Glass” — a sequel to “Split” — and “The New Mutants” — in which she’ll portray the Russian superhero Magik — both in post-production, she’s costarring, along with Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) in “Thoroughbreds,” a psychological horror film with a dark comedic edge. Taylor-Joy, 21, recently visited Boston as part of a publicity tour for “Thoroughbreds,” in which she plays the problematic Lily, and Cooke is the troubled Amanda. They’re long-ago school friends who get back together to reveal past personal secrets and push each other into uncomfortable situations.
Q: You’re very young for having achieved so much success. Was acting a goal early on?
A: I always wanted to be a performer, and I wanted to be a large animal biologist. I finally realized that the two weren’t exactly compatible, but I still love whales. I always had it clear in my mind that I was going to find a place to fit in, and movies seemed such a part of my life that I hoped and prayed for that situation to happen.
Q: How did you manage to leave London and go to New York when you were 14?
A: I was not having a very good time at school, and I felt like I was stagnating in London. So, I applied for a directing course, which was pretty much an excuse to get me out to New York, because I thought that was where my dreams were going to come true. I told my parents I was going to do it with or without their permission, and they’re awesome hippies, and they said, “Go! Be free!” When I arrived there, I thought I would have to change the way I looked to be able to fit in my new surroundings. So, I bought some pink hair dye, and I dyed my hair in a Chipotle (laughs).
Q: You were still filming “Barry” when you were given the “Thoroughbreds” script. What was your initial reaction to it?
A: I was losing my mind about it, every day. When I read it, I was instantly on the phone (to my agent) saying, “What do I do to get this? I have to play this character!” When I first met (writer-director) Cory Finley, I was going, “I am SO into your project. I am SO completely involved, but I’m shooting another movie right now. Please don’t think that means that I don’t want to do yours.” It all happened so fast. I finished “Barry,” then the next day I did a magazine shoot, then the day after that I went up to Boston (actually Cohasset) to start filming.
Q: You keep getting parts that call for two-hander scenes, in which there’s just you and another actor onscreen. There was a lot of that opposite James McAvoy in “Split,” Devon Terrell in “Barry,” and now with Olivia in “Thoroughbreds.” Is that kind of intensity challenging? Is it enjoyable?
A: I thrive on that kind of intensity. I’m sure it must be infuriating to do that kind of scene with somebody that isn’t invested or isn’t willing to play with you. But I haven’t had that sort of experience. I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve worked with. The ability to have that intense connection with somebody else, and just feed directly off whatever energy they’ve given you is a real high.
Q: You have a reputation for stealing an item of clothing that your character has worn in each film you’ve made. What did you take that Lily wore?
A: Lily’s the only character I have nothing from. I loved her very much and it’s only with continued viewing of the film that I am able to release what living with her was like. I admire a lot of her tendencies but she is not somebody I could continue living with. (pause) Wow! It sounds like I’m going through a divorce.
“Thoroughbreds” opens on March 9.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.