Anya Taylor-Joy | That Nomadic Depth of Feeling

Via Issue 192, Gettin' Around

Written by

Elizabeth Aubrey

Photographed by

Ellen von Unwerth

Styled by

Hunter Clem

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“It was definitely the bloodiest and dirtiest I have ever been in my life,” laughs actor Anya Taylor-Joy, recounting her “war stories” from the set of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, in which she stars as the titular lead. “I remember looking at my makeup artist at one point and saying, ‘I am filthy right now!’” she recalls, sharing nothing prepared her—not even her annual trips to Glastonbury, her favorite festival, where she’s well-used to being knee-deep in mud and grime.

Taylor-Joy is almost unrecognizable in the film, covered in the deep red earth of Australia’s outback where filming took place. It’s a far cry from how she looks this morning when we speak, freshly cleansed and make-up-free, her long, recently washed hair still drying. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is the prequel to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road and the fifth installment of the Mad Max franchise that began in 1979, all co-written and directed by Australian filmmaker George Miller. They’re filmed in various rural locations across Australia where extreme heat comes as standard, as does dust and dirt from outback wildernesses that neatly double for Miller’s dystopian, post-apocalyptic near-future.

The wild landscape Taylor-Joy found herself in felt even more apocalyptic, she says, because filming took place during deep-COVID-19 lockdown and she didn’t see anyone who wasn’t cast or crew for six months. “It was a very trippy experience,” she says. “There were moments when I realized I hadn’t seen a single person who [wasn’t] a part of the film for months.”

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At the end of each day, she returned to Sydney’s eerily deserted streets and her rented apartment with only a kitten for company. She especially missed her “big Latin family,” made up of her Spanish mother, Argentine father, and her five older siblings. Today, family is closer to home as we’re talking at her parents’ house in London. She looks bright-eyed, happy and relaxed as she sits in a comfy chair with her legs hunched up, nursing a morning coffee. She’s “thrilled” to have some rare time off with them over the next few days.

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Taylor-Joy, 28, has certainly earned some time off after a breathless ten years of work. She made her debut in 2015 as an eerie teen in Robert Eggers’ folk horror, The Witch, before taking on back-to-back roles in psychological thrillers, Split and Glass, the second and third of M Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy. In 2020, she took on a spikier Emma in Autumn de Wilde’s big-screen Jane Austen adaptation and in 2021, she portrayed a sixties singer with a nefarious secret in Edgar Wright’s film noir, Last Night in Soho. More recently, she was an enigmatic dinner guest who escapes the clutches of a deranged chef played by Ralph Fiennes in fine-dining shock-drop, The Menu

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On the small screen, she starred with Cillian Murphy as scheming wife Gina Grey in the last two seasons of Peaky Blinders, to much acclaim. But it was her role as chess prodigy Beth Harmon in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit that sent her career stratospheric, earning her a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Award, and a Screen Actor’s Guild award. The show was watched by 62 million households in the first 28 days of streaming and became a global phenomenon.

Taylor-Joy knew Mad Max would be tough, but it wasn’t something she could pass on. “I always said that I wanted something that was going to push me in every way imaginable, and Furiosa was it,” she says. Taylor-Joy has been a fan of Mad Max since a child, even though she wasn’t born when the original trilogy came out. “Whatever state of mind I was in, I could always snap out of it and think ‘Wow, I’m on a Mad Max movie,’” she says of getting through challenging days on set. “I’d be surrounded by these monster trucks and incredible set designs in the middle of the Outback and remember: ‘This is really happening.’”

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In Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, Taylor-Joy plays a younger version of Furiosa, the iconic Australian one-armed warrior who was introduced in Fury Road and played by Charlize Theron. In Furiosa, we learn the character’s origin story: she was snatched as a child and placed into the hands of an evil biker gang led by warlord Dr. Dementus, played by Chris Hemsworth.

Taking over from Theron was no mean feat. “I’m her biggest fan,” says Taylor-Joy of her idol, who she met after filming was complete. “I think she’s so classy in how generous she’s been with me. She’s been as wonderful to me as I could have ever hoped,” Taylor-Joy says, referring to how Theron supported her when hearing of her casting. She didn’t speak to her ahead of filming, though: “I needed to go on my own journey with the character,” she says, but afterwards, discussing their shared experiences helped her to make sense of it all. “I feel a kinship with anybody who has ever made one of these films. Regardless of which one you made, it’s a unique experience and not a lot of people understand it.”

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When reflecting on her career to date, Taylor-Joy says Furiosa is one of many “brilliant, complicated ladies” she’s played. “It’s so weird,” Taylor-Joy says. “I feel both very old and very young at the same time. It’s crazy that I’ve been working in this industry for ten years, but I will say that every role I’ve taken, there is a very specific reason why I wanted to do it and I don’t regret doing any of them.”

Taylor-Joy thinks all her characters are united by the quality of defiance, with Furiosa being one of the most defiant characters she’s ever played. “I think there can be a perception of the word ‘defiant,’ as if this is something you’ve chosen to do,” she reasons. “I actually see it as this innate quality where somebody can be pushed down repeatedly, and they can’t help but rise back up. They’re daisies growing through concrete.”

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It’s a quality she sees in herself, too, giving the example of when she struggled to fit in at school. “I spent so much of my childhood feeling very uncomfortable because I didn’t fit into boxes and people couldn’t classify me, and their discomfort made me feel uncomfortable,” she says. Taylor-Joy was an ambitious, curious child with nomadic roots. Born in Miami, raised in Argentina, she moved to England aged six but struggled to fit in once there. Even now, her accent is still peppered somewhere between North and South America and the UK. Her difference made her the target of bullies.

“I was clearly not giving them something they wanted because I was defying every single expectation they had of me. I wasn’t able to put that into a box,” she explains. “Looking back, it’s fascinating because I realized all those things made me, me. As an adult, I learned to enjoy that a lot more rather than apologizing for it.”

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She was determined to find a place to fit in. “I had an unshakable conviction that there was a world in which I made sense and that if I kind of just kept going, at some point I would find it. It’s a wonderful thing to be useful, to have purpose, to feel like you’re making something better...That was a feeling I was always looking for when I was a kid.”

Taylor-Joy found solace in ballet and plays, and while still at school, she was scouted as a model while out walking her dog in London. During a modeling assignment promoting the television series Downtown Abbey, she was overheard reciting a poem and was introduced to an acting agent soon after. She landed a small part in popular British television series, Endeavour, and another in American fantasy horror Vampire Academy, in 2014. A few years later, she was in Hollywood.

When Taylor-Joy arrived, Hollywood was just on the cusp of the #MeToo movement: she saw change happening in real-time as women rallied against the patriarchy in Hollywood. She says early on, she herself was victim to it.

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“Of course I experienced blatant misogyny, what woman hasn’t?” she says. “But I do feel grateful to have been born at the time I was, and coming up in the industry at the time I was. What I really noticed in terms of #MeToo is before, if you were uncomfortable, it was considered something that you could flippantly not pay attention to. Now, it holds weight and power. Now, to have that kind of respect. I feel lucky and grateful to have stood on the shoulders of the women who came before me.”

Taylor-Joy says there were “specific instances” of misogyny she experienced but doesn’t go into detail, saying she “made a conscious decision to not give them airtime because I don’t want them to define me. There is sort of an element where I refuse to be defined by things that I have absolutely nothing to do with. It really frustrates me, and I just think ‘I’ve worked so hard, why would I ever give that [narrative] over to you?’”

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Taylor-Joy is an avid reader and goes on to paraphrase a quote from A Kind of Anger, the 1964 thriller by Eric Ambler. “If your anger runs cold, that’s the more concerning one. It’s frustration and a rage that runs cold so you can sustain it, and with sustained pressure, you can make movement forward.” This, she thinks, is essential to bring lasting change in the industry. “I hope that we can continue to be supportive of one another and understand that together we are strongest,” she continues. “When we support each other’s voices, we inherently make things easier and better for the mass. The more women that I get to know in my industry and in general, the more I think it is fierce when we’re together. The weight of that support cannot be underestimated.”

Outwardly, Taylor-Joy seems confident and assured, matched by her bold performances and striking red carpet looks. Behind the scenes, however, she admits to feeling much insecurity—like when The Queen’s Gambit capitulated her into the spotlight in a way that made her initially uncomfortable. She remembers the moment the show went viral. How did she cope? “Kind of terribly,” she admits. “I just ran away, hardcore. I landed in New York and went [gasps] ‘Not comfortable, not comfortable, not comfortable.’ I just ran.”

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Taylor-Joy says she sometimes struggles with the eyes of the world on her: she has over 10 million Instagram followers alone. “I’ve never been that good at being perceived outside of my job. I don’t like the feeling of being watched if I’m not on with a capital O,” she explains. She thinks it goes back to her childhood again, when she concentrated too much on trying to “please people” when she struggled to fit in.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with myself and my loved ones where I have to stop trying to please everybody because that’s not healthy. I’ve realized I have to be myself and accept the fact that by [having] a larger number of eyeballs on me, that I’m going to piss some people off. And that’s okay because I’m not a bad person and I’m not doing it intentionally. That’s where I’ve landed with it.”

It took the actor’s strike of 2023 and a forced summer away from work for Taylor-Joy to come to this realization. It was the first time she’d properly paused to spend time figuring out who she was away from the different characters she’d inhabited non-stop for a decade. She knew something was coming after she finally processed the blur of the last ten years. “I kind of had a mental breakdown, but a mental breakdown I was really looking forward to having because I knew I needed this,” she says with striking honesty. “I needed to fall apart. I needed to understand everything; I needed to be able to put it all back together and I basically started living as myself again. So many things came out of that. I had a greater understanding of how I wanted to dress myself in the day-to-day that’s not just for red carpets, plus what I wanted to do for fun. I had a greater understanding of the things I enjoy in terms of traveling when it’s not for work things, because everything’s always been built around work. I’m not ungrateful for any of it. I love working, but having a greater context as to how I fit into something as an individual rather than just as somebody that has the role of putting on different skins was super helpful to me.”

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She goes on to explain how the pressure not only to perform, but to stay healthy, was immense. “When you’re a performer in a film, there’s a lot of pressure on you,” she says. “I suddenly realized I’d been living my life under this kind of pressure where I had to be superhuman in order to make everything work.”

It was the same with red carpets, where even though her looks had graced fashion magazines around the globe, it still came with an anxiety. “I hate anticipation with a passion,” she says, explaining that she would imagine red-carpet disaster scenarios in her head. “Everything that can possibly go wrong, I’ve gone through it a million times.” She says her father, who she took to the Oscars for the first time this year, was the same when he raced powerboats in his spare time. “He and I are the same in the sense of the anticipation before the gun goes off: we hate it.”

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Taylor-Joy recovered by giving herself “space and time” and “understanding that [healing] wasn’t going to be something that happens in a day.” She took time out to enjoy life and started to learn more about herself. What did she discover? “That I have an insatiable amount of energy and curiosity,” she laughs, “and I realized I am entirely nomadic by nature.” She says she loves to travel. “The second I finish a job, I want to go trekking in Rwanda or something.” She leaned into a growing love of fashion and clothes, attending Dior ateliers which “sparked off so many creative impulses” and made fashion something to enjoy. It stopped her feeling nervous on the red carpet too. “I know how to have fun now,” she smiles.

She’s also making time to appreciate her achievements along the way. Recently, for example, she made an impromptu visit to a movie theater in LA with director Denis Villeneuve who’d cast her in a surprise role in Dune 2. The Furiosa trailer was playing before Dune 2 and they decided to go and see it. “I never get the opportunity to see my trailers or my films in the cinema...It was just so incredible to see an entirely packed cinema full of people that were so excited to be there experiencing this with each other.” Is she hoping to be asked back for Dune 3? “We all hope we’ll return for Dune 3,” she laughs. “It was one of the best experiences of my life: it’s such an incredible world.”

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She’s also celebrating much in her personal life, too, like her marriage in 2022 to musician and actor Malcolm McRae in a private ceremony in New Orleans. “It’s the greatest thing,” she says. “He’s my absolute best friend and I never anticipated that I would get to experience a love like this. It wasn’t something that I was really searching for. It’s a constant delight and a never-ending series of fascinations. I just feel really lucky.”

Now, during a rare, extended Easter break with her family in London, all Taylor-Joy wants to do is to take in the simple pleasures, like walking around London on bright spring days or going to the theater. There’s one aspect of life that still eludes her, though: she doesn’t have a driver’s license. “I’ve never been in one place long enough where I’ve had enough time to get a driver’s license,” she laughs. “It does thrill me that the first thing I learned to do in a car was a juicy lift 180”—a fast reverse handbrake spin in other words—“on the set of Mad Max.”

It sounds fun. “It was!” she says, before firing off some of the other best bits from Furiosa—like pilfering props from set. Taylor-Joy famously takes a memento from each of her characters and managed to nab Furiosa’s mechanical arm. She pocketed another keepsake that she’s still keeping under wraps until the film’s release. “I’m very proud of it,” she laughs, saying we’ll have to wait to find out what it is. She does reveal that a Theron-esque Furiosa buzz cut is next on her to-do list. “I’ve always wanted to have a buzzed head,” she laughs, sharing she couldn’t get one for the film because of the age of her Furiosa. “But I’m going to do it at some point. I’m very excited about it.”

As for her next projects, Taylor-Joy is excited about those too and wants to grab them with both hands. “I’m waiting for the thing that really sparks an almost insane love for me, because that’s what these projects are. You suddenly learn you have a depth of feeling that you didn’t think you were capable of having,” she says, full of Furiosa-like hope for the future. 

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Photographer and Creative Director Ellen von Unwerth

Styled by Hunter Clem

Written by Elizabeth Aubrey

Producer: Erica Cornwall 

Hair: Gregory Russell at The Wall Group

Makeup: Georgie Eisdell at The Wall Group

Nails: Diem Truong at Star Touch Agency

Digi Tech: Michael Seeley 

Flaunt Film: Isaac Dektor 

Flaunt Film Music: Josh Landau

Post-production Editor: Ovidiu Oltean

Doberman Handler: Benjamin David Thomas 

1st Assistant: Todd Weaver 

2nd Assistant: Ian Cush 

Stylist Assistant: Genesis Webb

Production Assistant: Jabari

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 192, Gettin' Around, Anya Taylor-Joy, Furiosa, Furisoa: A Mad Max Saga, Tiffany & Co., Lever Couture, Jeffrey Campbell, Capezio, Wiederhoeft, Busted Brand, Piers Atkinson, Thom Browne, Baccarat, Heurueh, Versace, Bootzy Couture, Acne Studios, Monique Fei, Wedgewood, Christofle, Dolce & Gabbana,