Culture

Anya Taylor-Joy Talks 'Emma', #MeToo, And Maximising Her Creativity

With a distinctive face, indisputable talent, and extraordinary confidence, the actress has set herself up for a jam-packed 2020 full of high-profile film projects
Reading time 10 minutes

Photography by Alan Gelati

Styling by Chloe Beeney

When she's not dressed in some of the latest wares from top designers for the L'Officiel shoot, Anya Taylor-Joy looks the part of an off-duty dancer, wearing an oversized sweater and striped wool socks over some fishnets. The young actress has plenty of exciting projects going on, but perhaps the most notable is her role as the titular character in Emma, director Autumn de Wilde's cinematic interpretation of the classic Jane Austen novel. The film, which came out in February but just became available for streaming, marks Taylor-Joy's biggest moment yet and allows her to showcase her chops through a complex character's comedic journey to find romance.

"In November 2018, I received an email out of the blue asking me not to confirm any new projects, immediately followed by another saying that they wanted me for Emma and the next day the director would get on a plane to meet me," said the actress, 23, of how she got the part. "When I met Autumn de Wilde, we understood each other instantly and what was supposed to be a lunch turned into a long afternoon walking around antique shops, marking the start of an almost mother-daughter relationship."

Though Austen wrote Emma in 1815, the book has continued popularity and relevance today, something the movie is sure to only increase. Taylor-Joy, who had read the novel at 11, understands this well. "Because it's witty!" she says of the modern power she sees in the film. "I believe we have managed to bring out all of Austen's extraordinary sense of humour."

While Taylor-Joy immediately had a natural rapport with de Wilde, she still had an idea of what she was getting into by taking on the role of Emma. "While shooting, I was perfectly aware of the expectations and the pressure that comes with playing such a beloved role," the actress says of her experience working on the film. "I thought it was going to be a very serious experience." Luckily, she was pleasantly surprised that the ease of it all continued on set: "We had a lot of fun," she says. "I think I will include in my next contract that I no longer intend to work with Josh OʼConnor, because it's impossible for me to keep a straight face around him."

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TULLE BUSTIER DRESS RICHARD QUINN WITH SWAROVSKI EMBROIDERY, RING MOUSSAIEFF

But despite the energy on set being fun and lighthearted, Taylor-Joy still held a deep respect for the role she was playing. "Jane Austen wrote in the preface of the book, 'I am introducing a heroine that few will like outside of me,'" she says. "I find it fantastic. The idea that you should always like everyone makes me angry. I wanted to convey that Emma is beautiful, intelligent, and rich, and she has a kind heart but she is also totally snobbish and can be absolutely cruel. But this cruelty derives from her insecurities and her sense of solitude: she is extremely protective of her friends because she doesn't want to be left alone."

With Emma's traits and Regency-era mannerisms established, Taylor-Joy had a few rules she had to stick to off-camera, as established by de Wilde. "As a good Latin American I hug anyone, but Autumn didn't allow me to do it with anyone on the set. And the others weren't allowed to touch me," the actress, who spent much of her early childhood in Argentina before moving to London, explains. "Emma lives so much behind glass walls that it becomes a big deal every time the characters touch their hands with her. This explains in part why when Emma and Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) dance together, it's such an electrifying moment."

Emma was the first feature film for de Wilde, whose past successes have been as a fashion and music photographer. Still, Taylor-Joy's connection with the director, as well as her general dedication, made for a smooth filming experience. "My job as an actress is to get into the director's brain so much that I know what they want and what they prefer before they explicitly tell me," she explains. "The Emma we present is the creature that Autumn and I have conceived together. The chemistry between us has allowed us to create a complex and interesting character."

In taking on a classic literary role, Taylor-Joy has some film acts to follow, as well: Gwyneth Paltrow played the same role in 1996, the year the young actress was born. Back then, Harvey Weinstein was an executive producer on the Miramax film, over two decades before news came out of his predatory nature. Establishing her career in the #MeToo era, Taylor-Joy is hopeful the film industry environment is more fair to actresses than it was in the past. "Personally I have been lucky since my first film, and my opinion has always counted as much as that of everyone else," she explains. "So far I have never experienced anything negative in the film industry, knock on wood. I hope that every woman can find her own space without feeling like she needs to apologise."

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LONG KNIT DRESS WITH RUFFLES, EARRINGS, RING, BELT, AND BOOTS ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

Taylor-Joy entered the film world due to a stroke of luck. "I was walking my dog and a guy in a car started following me," she says. "He was in charge of an agency and asked if I was interested in modeling. I said that I would do it if he would also consider me as an actress. I found myself on the set of a photoshoot with the cast of Downton Abbey, and Adam Leech asked me to recite a poem. He later put me in touch with his agent. For this reason, he was my fairy godmother." 

Without any formal training, Taylor-Joy found herself on the set of Robert Eggers' 2015 horror film The Witch, which won the directing award at Sundance 2015 and launched her career as an actress. Since then, she has been going nonstop: she won the Gotham Breakthrough Actor Award in 2016, was nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star Award the following year, and earned the Trophée Chopard for young actors at Cannes in 2017. Taylor-Joy is about to reunite with Eggers for The Northman, a story of revenge set among the Vikings in the tenth century.

After The Witch, Taylor-Joy appeared in M. Night Shyamalan's 2016 psychological horror Split alongside James McAvoy, who she would star alongside again two years later in the next instalment, Glass. Each role has taught the actress as much about herself as about her craft. "I started acting at 18, and I seem to find out who I am progressively through all the roles that I play," she says. "It was great to come back to work with M. Night. The people I work with best always have a component of madness. I would follow them to the end of the world and they would follow me. When I'm not on stage, M. Night always wants me by his side and asks me for opinions on many things. In general, my characters become like a twin sister with whom I live with all the time. I live my roles with such passion that playing such different characters is absolutely electrifying."

Taylor-Joy is still figuring out adult life in London after spending much of her childhood there, but her relationship with the city has deepened regardless. "When I arrived, I didn't speak a word of English and everything seemed grey and discouraging," she recalls. "I had grown up in the countryside, in the Argentine sun, and I felt totally lost. But today I love my independence. I know London like the back of my hand and when I explore far and wide in my combat boots, I feel totally safe. There is a sense of rebellion here that flows alongside a cordiality filled with tea and pastries. I find this an exciting coexistence."

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FLORAL PRINT SILK DRESS STELLA MCCARTNEY, PENDANT ASPREY

Beyond combat boots, fashion still fascinates Taylor-Joy, and that is another aspect she's gotten to learn more about through her film work. "At the end of this year I will have shot 22 films in five years, in which I've almost always been in costume," she says. "I am now beginning to discover my love for the style that I would call irreverent. I like eccentric things. My latest obsession is on the verge of bad taste: giant earrings, which I made myself by hanging Christmas decorations on a hook."

Taylor-Joy's self-confidence is impressive, and it's easy to see why with her strong support system. "My security comes from my family, even though we are all scattered around the world," she explains. "I am the youngest of six children. It is wonderful to have such a large family and at the same time to have grown up with the full attention of my parents, as if I had been an only child. My father is half Scottish and half Argentine, a competitive sportsman; my mother, of African, English, and Spanish ancestry, is a person full of joie de vivre, always ready to laugh and dance. At the age that I am today, 23, she took on three adopted children, and then she had three more. She dedicated all her love and time to us. A real Wonder Woman."

With the spin-off of X Men, The New Mutants, coming out later this year, Marjane Satrapi's Radioactive with Rosamund Pike on our screens in June, psychological thriller Last Night in Soho due out in October, and current filming work on Netflix's The Queen's Gambit, Taylor-Joy is at only the start of a busy year. The best of us would get exhausted from that kind of schedule, but the actress wouldn't have it any other way. "I do not consider myself ambitious because I pursue success, but because there is so much that I want to be able to do creatively," she says. "Next I would like to work in a musical or martial arts film that requires strong physical involvement. The director I hope to work with? Wes Anderson: his taste for eccentricity is very similar to mine."

Credits

Hair Carlos Ferraz / Carol Hayes Management

Makeup Nathalie Eleni using Giorgio Armani Beauty

Nails Chisato Yamamoto/ David Artists

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