Anya Taylor-Joy is a constantly booked film star with no plans to slow down. After a decade of acting, she is only beginning to rise to Hollywood's best. How did the multinational actress get her start?
Anya-Josephine was born in Miami in what she described as a “fluke” to People, as her parents just happened to be on vacation. It was a lucky coincidence, as she had American citizenship by right.
Born in 1996 as the youngest of six children, her parents are Latin Americans of English descent; her mother has Spanish and English roots, and her father is Argentine and English. Right after the soon-to-be star’s birth, her parents returned home from their holiday to Argentina.
Life in Argentina
Anya lived a happy life in Buenos Aires and still looks back on her time there fondly. Anya spoke with the Argentinian magazine Clarins; she said (in Spanish), “I come from many places, but my quality and my attitude to life is from Argentina. I really appreciate that part of my story. I feel very proud to come from Argentina”.
She told Marie Clare, "We moved straight away to Argentina where most of my family still lives." In an Instagram post in 2018, Anya shared a photo of her as a young girl with a caption in Spanish that translated to “Buenos Aires... you have my heart. And it’s with a heavy heart that I leave.”
Moving to London
When she was six, the family picked up and moved to London, much to the chagrin of Anya and her siblings. The Split actress told People, “I refused to learn English for two years when we moved to London, hoping to send my family back home.” For many years, she never really felt like she “belonged.”
She told Marie Clare that the family moved because things became “dire” in Argentina, and her parents wanted the children to live “without fear.” Although Anya and her siblings initially “really resented them for it,” they now appreciate giving them “such an opportunity in life.”
From her roots in Argentina, Spanish is Anya’s first language. The actress never felt she had roots in London and longed for a different home. However, as an adult that is always on the move, she is thankful for that. Her “sense of displacement really suits” her life as a non-stop traveling actress.
She told ES Magazine, “When I was younger, I didn’t really feel like I fit in anywhere. I was too English to be Argentine, too Argentine to be English, too American to be anything.” Her accent is a rare example of a modern Transatlantic accent; she has a primarily British accent with hints of American vernaculars.
Bullied But Not Beaten
With broken English and a distinct (but beautiful) look, Anya didn't have an easy time at school. In an appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show, Anya said she was "bullied for [her] looks." She conversed with The Sun, "I used to get locked in lockers. I spent a lot of time in school crying in bathrooms; I was so lonely as a kid."
She spoke with ELLE about her lack of friends in high school. "I joke about this, but I'm kind of serious when I say that the characters in the Harry Potter books were my friends," she laughed. With no friends and little enjoyment of school, Anya decided to leave school at sixteen and follow her acting dreams.
Anya revealed to The HFPA In Conversation how she announced her plan to become an actor to her parents. “I ran away to New York at 14,” Anya said. “I came down to go to school one day, and I said to my parents, ‘I’m going to do this, and you can either be a part of it with me, or I’m just going to do it by myself.’”
While the plan “terrified” her parents, and she received calls from her five older siblings encouraging her to stay, they eventually decided to support her. The first thing Anya did when she arrived in the Big Apple? Dyed her hair bright pink in a Chipotle bathroom. She told Vanity Fair, “Yes, pink hair; that’s what I need.”
Scouted for Modeling
Anya was hard to miss, with her tall figure and uniquely beautiful features. When she was 16, Anya took her dog for a walk around Knightsbridge in London. She noticed a car following her and began to panic. She told Marie Claire, "I thought 'Oh s***, this is the end.' So I picked up my dog and started to run."
Little did she know, waiting in the car was Sarah Doukas, a modeling scout responsible for finding Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne. Of course, Anya had no idea who Sarah was; she assumed the car was stalking her. Sarah signed Anya the next day with her modeling agency, and the teenager began her journey to Hollywood.
Only Eyes for Acting
Even though she had been given the chance to model, Anya only had eyes for acting. Rather than shutting the opportunity down, she decided to use it as a platform to get where she wanted to be. Anya told the Hollywood Reporter, “My first thought was, “I’ve heard of models who are actors. This is an ‘in.’”
The following day after being scouted, Anya went with her parents to speak to Sarah. She decided to be transparent with the agency and explain her true passion. She said to them, “I want to act. This is what I need to do with my life, and if you could possibly help me out with that, then I will do whatever you tell me to do.”
No Rest for the Talented
Luckily for the actress, her true career intentions took little time to reach. On Anya's fourth modeling shoot for the agency, she was to model a promotional photoshoot for the British TV series Downton Abbey. Although Anya was in the middle of her high school exams and had rejected work, her agency encouraged her to take it.
Anya wasn't working consistently on the shoot and was frustrated because she could have studied. However, instead of doing nothing, she decided to help out on set. Allen Leech, one of the main cast members, noticed Anya's effort. When Anya revealed she wished to be an actor, Allen gave her his agent's contact.
Rejection Is a Bitter Pill
Like several other actors, Anya was rejected for roles before she got her break. "My first audition was to play the young Angelina Jolie in Maleficent. Oh, I wanted it so badly. It was Disney, and I love Angelina. I looked nothing like her, so I was never going to get it, but I was naive, and I thought, 'Miracles happen.'"
The rejection from Maleficent stung particularly hard for Anya. She added, "I definitely cried for a very long time after that happened." Even though it was the actress' "first experience of rejection" when she was 18, Anya's luck turned around. It was soon that she was getting the option to choose her gigs.
In 2014, the soon-to-be star Anya was offered two jobs in one day; the lead character in a Disney Channel pilot or the main character in an independent horror film from an unknown director. Anya told Harper Bazaar, "It was so exciting to be offered anything at all that I ran around the house like a loon."
However, despite the appeal of the Disney show, Anya decided to put her faith in Robert Egger's 2015 film The Witch. "I just had this really good feeling about The Witch that made me willing to forego the Disney experience for the thing that felt unknown to me, the thing that felt sacred."
Not only was the film a critical and commercial success, but the previously unknown Anya was now a face to watch. The Film Magazine described Anya’s performance as “exquisite.” Stephen King even shared on his Twitter that the film “scared the hell out of [him].” Anya was nominated for a plethora of breakthrough acting awards.
However, despite the film’s success and Anya’s praise, the actress hated her performance at first and even, for a while, regretted ever accepting the role. She told the Hollywood Reporter that the director “showed us the film maybe two hours before the audience screening, and I was devastated. I thought I’d never work again.”
Not only had the film provided a young Anya with her breakout performance, the actress later described the film as her "first heartbreak." She told Variety, "The loss of a world that existed with a group of people that became my everything for a period of time. I had no concept as to how to deal with that."
Eventually Anya would improve at getting less attached to projects, but in the meantime she had built herself a name as a Scream Queen. After The Witch, Anya booked Morgan, a science fiction horror film alongside Kate Mara. She cemented herself as a horror icon when Anya landed the role of Casey Cooke in M. Night Shyamalan's Split.
Split for Time
Not only did the role in Shyamalan's 2016 film propel the young actress to stardom, but Shyamalan also gave Anya some of the most valuable film advice she has ever learned. Anya told BBC Radio 1 that the director told her during a big emotional scene, “These are your own tears. Don't be selfish. Give the character her own tears.”
The advice changed how she acted as she had always “mined [herself] for experiences,” but now, Anya could feel her character’s pain through empathy. From then, Anya had more endurance for emotional scenes and, therefore, the capacity to work non-stop. The advice must have been helpful because Anya was on an unstoppable roll.
More Than a Girlfriend
Anya next starred opposite the late Anton Yelchin in Thoroughbreds. The film premiered at Sundance, and she earned herself a BAFTA nomination for her performance. Anya reprised her role in 2019's Glass, Shyamalan's sequel to Split. The actress was booking gigs like there was no tomorrow and emerging as a unique face in the game.
By this point, Anya had begun to carve a career that leaned into female characters with agency outside relationships with men. When The Guardian asked about her stance on 'girlfriend roles,' Anya told them, "Whenever I've got a girlfriend role, I've sent it back being like 'Eh? Why?'"
Ready to Quit
With her growing success and her dreams slowly becoming a reality, Anya was on a roll. However, her own personal and romantic life made the actress want to quit acting altogether. Anya told Elle, “I had been working back to back… and I was going through some emotional relationship stuff.”
Anya was exhausted from putting all her energy into creating characters when she needed to work on herself. When she told friend and fellow actor Mia Goth her intention to leave acting to “take care of [her] heart,” Mia told Anya, “You can’t not have the thing that is your oxygen.” It was then Anya realized she “needed acting.”
The Big Leagues
Thankfully, Anya didn't quit acting because her next role proved to be her most demanding yet rewarding role yet. The actress scored herself the lead role and title character of the 2020 film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. The former Scream Queen revealed to Vox it was her "first time doing proper comedy."
Anya was now batting with some of the most prominent players in Hollywood, namely Bill Nighy and Rupert Graves. She told Buzzfeed, "I was really frightened my first day of rehearsals because I just saw all of these icons of cinema come in." So, naturally, Anya went into Emma feeling "very anxious."
Panic in the Regency Era
With all the developing pressure and the fear of not delivering on the classic character, Anya was a pressure cooker on the verge of explosion. She revealed to Vox she had "imposter syndrome" on the set of Emma, and the pressure to "lead this ship" of actors was too stressful for the then-22-year-old talent.
Anya told Glamour, "I had a panic attack on set one day just because the hours are really intense, and I'm in every single scene, and I was trying to learn all of these different skills." A supportive cast and crew helped Anya through the difficult period, but the actress knew the consistent pressure wasn't good for her.
An English Rose
While Anya had difficulties balancing work and stress, and despite being released just two weeks before the pandemic broke out in March 2020, the film succeeded with audiences and critics alike. OprahDaily described Anya’s performance in Emma as “the ingredient holding the entire concoction together.”
Anya played a spoiled and wealthy Emma Woodhouse, whom Jane Austen called “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” While the film successfully put Anya even more on the map, she told People she couldn’t say no to a job because of “compulsion.” The star was busy and booked, with no intention of stopping.
It may be hard to believe, but Anya is so on the move she doesn’t actually have a place to live. The actress told Live With Kelly & Ryan, “I don’t really have a home right now… I don’t have a house yet, but I’m working on that.” Before the pandemic, Anya had been consistently working with little time off.
There are no ‘between shoots’ for Anya; it even took the actress a long time to realize actors can take breaks between shoots. Anya told the LA Times, “All my friends are always like, Take a break. But the roles are too good. I wouldn’t be able to deal with it if I didn’t say yes. I wouldn’t cope.”
The Queen’s Gambit
Next on Anya's hectic schedule was her most important role, making her the name she is today. According to the star, The Queen's Gambit was a new challenge because of the preparation required for the lead role as Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy with a problematic past and substance abuse issues.
Anya told Interview, "I'm usually very instinctive. I don't like to prepare too much. Playing Beth, I had to do a lot more [preparation]." The role forced her to play a troubled girl between 15 and 21, and the challenge taught Anya an essential lesson in being kind to herself. Let's say this role was worth the challenge.
A Household Name
Anya was no longer a ‘breakthrough star’ but a legitimate actress with a credible career. Not only did her performance receive critical acclaim and earned her an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress, the show was watched by 62 million viewers on Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy was a big name and an even bigger face to remember.
With recognition comes fame, and Anya was forced to readjust to celebrity status. She said fame “can be intense” and “frightening.” However, Rob Eggers, director of The Witch, told Vanity Fair, “I’m surprised it took so long [for her to become famous]! You can be a great actor and not be a star, but Anya has both.”
Reunited with Horror
After years of building a career across many genres, Anya returned to horror to film Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho. Wright described the film as “a cautionary tale” for those that overvalue nostalgia; it was a return to Anya’s favorite preparation before shooting a film or series: just vibing.
Even though the actress sang for the film, she told Grazie, “I’m not great at preparing for things, so I just showed up and was like, “OK, let’s just try this. Hopefully, they won’t hate it.” Only Anya could rock up to a shoot, belt out some tunes, and make it look easy. Oh, and she also danced for most of the film.
No Rest for the Talented
There are no more ways to say it; Anya doesn't know how to take a break, or she doesn't want to. By 2021, following Last Night in Soho’s release, Anya had worked in sixteen feature films over only seven years. And she showed zero sign of slowing down, with three more movies lined up for shooting.
Anya told Vanity Fair, "I had just played character, character, character, never taking a second." Even with the acclaim and recognition, Anya needed to stay grounded. "If you don't have a true heart and a true place of emotions to come from, how on earth are you going to give life to a character?"
Next up on Anya's agenda was a reunion with The Witch's director, Rob Eggers. Egger's third feature, The Northman, was filmed in Northern Ireland literally in the mud. As someone who described herself as "a mud-caked ferret" to British Vogue, this environment was hers to relish - and relish, she did.
Despite the critical success of the film, it was Egger's first box office flop. The director spoke with THR about Anya's evolution from dough-faced 18-year-old to a prominent 24-year-old actor. He said, "I think where she's changed is just that her professionalism on set is an inspiration for everyone who works with her."
Starved for Content
By 2022, Anya was still hungry for more; nothing could assuage the star. While the screenplay of The Menu was initially blacklisted and made publicly available, Anya was eventually offered the role to replace Emma Stone. Anya was drawn to the improvisational aspect of the script, as well as the unexpected twists and turns.
As a part of the plot, Anya’s character, Margot, barely ate in the film. The self-titled “hanxious” star was forced to resort to finishing co-star Nicholas Hoult’s leftovers. Anya admitted to Page Six that her cooking capabilities end at boiling water, explaining, “We have delivery, we have takeout.”
Love on the Down Low
Anya is very private and prefers not to share details about her relationship. However, fans were intrigued when she was spotted in June 2022 wearing an engagement ring. There are whispers that she and singer Malcolm McRae married in a quiet courthouse ceremony. However, the rumors remain unconfirmed.
The couple reportedly began dating in early 2021 and have been tied at the hip ever since. While the 28-year-old singer and Alabama native has his band, Malcolm has accompanied Anya on her hectic international schedule. He has been appearing more at award shows and screenings alongside our blonde bombshell.
Furiously Filming Furiosa
Anya revealed to THR that shooting Furiosa was “the most life-changing experience that [she’s] ever had.” She confessed she would need “two full years'' to process the experience. Anya told Graham Norton her first time driving was while shooting the action-packed motor film. We’re just glad the cast and crew got out unscathed.
Before her four-month shoot in the middle of the Australian outback, the former star of a Mad Max film and her Menu co-star Nicholas Hoult shared some encouraging advice for the Furiosa star. Nick reassured Anya, “You’ve got this. You’re going to be fine.” The small support was all Anya needed to grapple the mammoth task.
Desire to Direct
In 2020, Anya told CRASH magazine about her desire to helm her own films. She said, “I want to direct one day. But right now, my heart is very much preoccupied with acting.” She told Queue she needs to be passionate about the story, spilling, “I don’t think I could ever direct just to direct.”
Anya called herself a “sponge” to The Laterals, and said she spends her time on set “wanting to know how everything works.” While it’s unlikely we will see a directorial debut from Anya anytime soon (given her hectic schedule), don’t be surprised a few years down the line when she reveals her intentions to be the next Greta Gerwig.
Kindness is the Key
With an array of diverse films in pre-production and filming, Anya's career continues to move forward. She will remain on the move for many years to come, and as the actress said to Harper Bazaar for their 2022 Woman of the Year feature, "Home is wherever I've slept for longer than two nights."
Anya may have started with slammed locker doors in her face, but that same face is now Dior's spokeswoman. On her success in Hollywood, Anya said, "If you work hard and are good to people, they want to keep working with you, and then another door opens." Anya's kindness clearly knows no bounds, and her career proves it.