(Credit: Netflix)

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How Anya Taylor-Joy became the legendary Beth Harmon

Anya Taylor-Joy has become a shining light of Hollywood. With countless projects up her sleeve, including Robert Eggers’ remake of the (now cursed) horror classic Nosferatu and David O’Russel’s yet-to-be-titled film that stars heavyweight actors such as Robert DeNiro, Margot Robbie, Mike Myers, Christian Bale and more, Taylor-Joy has been the face of indie cinema for quite some time.

Forever the misfit and self-proclaimed “odd-duck”, this polyglot is one of the most promising actresses of this generation. She dropped out of high school at fourteen, citing bullying and her desire to pursue acting; the movie set is the only place where she truly belonged. She said, “It doesn’t matter where it is in the world or who I’m making the movie with; that’s the closest thing that I’ve got to a sense of placement. So I guess acting was a way of finding a home if that makes sense.”

She debuted in the 2014 film Vampire Academy before earning her breakthrough role in Robert Egger’s horror flick The Witch which was a feminist subversion of the stereotypes regarding witchcraft, paganism and more. Although Taylor-Joy was then seen in various other films like Split and Glass as well as a reprising role in Steven Knight’s acclaimed British crime drama series Peaky Blinders, it was not until 2020 that she bagged the career-defining role of her life which changed the course of her career forever. 

The acclaimed Netflix Original The Queen’s Gambit began streaming in 2020 and became an instant hit. Created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, the series was initially meant to be directed by the late Heath Ledger and was his dream project. The limited series is set in the mid-1950s and bleeds into the 1960s as it records the evolution of an orphan named Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Harmon into a chess prodigy who undertakes a perilous journey in a male-dominated world to assert her influence. In a man’s world, Beth faces various obstacles in form of emotional and psychological turmoil while dealing with her personal demons and incessant substance abuse that causes her to spiral. 

After her brilliant portrayal of Beth Harmon, Taylor-Joy received the Golden Globe and SAG Awards. While the series helped pique an interest in the sport itself and was well-received by the chess community, Taylor-Joy went on her own crusade to battle against the dichotomy that exists in the reception of male and female characters, especially if they are addicts. While men are perceived as misunderstood and tortured geniuses, women are usually shamed and perceived as bad role models.

Taylor-Joy deftly reclaimed Beth’s narrative by adding layers of vulnerability and complexity to her character, subverting the stereotypes associated with the portrayal of female characters. Beth is flawed, realistic and human and none of it would have been possible without Taylor-Joy’s ingenious vision of her character. 

The actor also talked about how she connected with Beth’s “inherent loneliness”. Having been ousted from social groups and picked on all her life, Taylor-Joy’s understanding of man’s fundamental loneliness helped her add a different dimension to her already complex character. A raging feminist, Taylor-Joy cannot fit into any rule book. Similarly, her roles, too, transcend the idea of compartmentalisation. 

She once said, “I’ve been very lucky with the roles that I’ve played in that they were wonderful roles for women. They’re incredible, flawed characters that I really gravitate toward. I just never want anybody to be able to put me in a box.”

Taylor-Joy was never a chess expert and had a background in ballet dancing. The role compelled her to take up chess and she even called it the “proudest moment” in her character. Her determination and resilience to move forward and push her limits and break out of her comfort zone is a beautiful rarity.

With her curly red hair, piercing gaze and mind-numbing breakdowns, Taylor-Joy paved way for even better opportunities on her own, fascinating one and all with her omnipresent magnetism and charisma. Previously, Anya was seen in roles that she was “passionate” about but none left a deeper impact than her dark and heartbreaking portrayal of Harmon which was indeed a game-changing moment in her career.