Elliot Page Was Supposed To Play Beth Harmon in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Netflix‘s The Queen’s Gambit would have been a completely different film if it had originally been made in the 1990s or again in 2008.

The Queen's Gambit
ANYA TAYLOR-JOY as BETH HARMON in THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT |KEN WORONER/NETFLIX © 2020

Filmmakers planned to turn Don’t Look Now by Allan Shiach into a script for a film, The New York Times reports. The script almost came to fruition on two earlier occasions. First in the early 1990s with Michael Apted directing and Molly Ringwald starring. But then later in 2008 when “chess enthusiast” actor Heath Ledger hoped to direct the film.

Instead of Ringwald, Elliott Page would take on the role as Beth Harmon. The project ramped up, but Ledger died of a drug overdose before preproduction.

Elliott Page said losing Heath Ledger was ‘extremely tragic’

In 2008, Page was asked about the prospect of filming The Queen’s Gambit with Ledger. “It was talked about,” he said in 2008 to MTV. “But, you know, obviously, that’s not the [most important thing right now].” Adding, “It’s just extremely tragic. I wish his family the best, and I hope his privacy is respected. That’s what’s getting out of control, and it’s becoming too much. Hopefully, that will begin to end, that intensity.”

Shiach considered Ledger to be the perfect person to direct the film. “Of the three [directors considered] I found Heath was the one I wanted to work with,” Shiach told the Independent in 2008. “He was passionate about it; he was an intense, interested young man and I was drawn to him immediately.”

Elliott Page
Elliott Page| Dipasupil/WireImage)

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“We spoke and spoke about the project over the phone, and then eventually got round to meeting up over it towards the end of last year,” Shiach added.

‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is finally made for Netflix

“We spent a lot of time over the last three months working on his vision,” Shiach told the Independent. “I did draft after draft and he gave his input and we met several times in New York and here, where he was spending a lot of his time. We had got to the stage where we had sent the script to [Elliott]. Heath was full of ideas for the other cast, mainly from his list of acting friends. We were planning to make a movie at the end of 2008.”

The screenplay was seemingly buried along with Ledger in 2008 until director Scott Frank unearthed the book and thought the project could be an engaging series, The New York Times reports. Frank partnered with Shiach for one more shot at bringing the story of competitive chess in the 1960s to the masses.

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A series made more sense because it allowed storytellers to peel back the layers of the series heroine Beth Harmon. “If you did it as a movie, it becomes a sports movie: ‘Is she going to beat the Russian guy?’” Frank said. “And that’s not what the book is about. For me, it’s about the pain and cost of being so gifted.”

By now Page was likely too old to take on the role, which opened an opportunity for Anya Taylor-Joy to transform into orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon.

The Queen’s Gambit is currently streaming on Netflix.