‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Star Anya Taylor-Joy Ran Away From Home When She Was 14

On the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, Anya Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon, a young chess prodigy. Beth gains her independence from an orphanage and adoptive family through the chess world. The real Taylor-Joy may have that in common with her character. 

Queen's Gambit: Anya Taylor-Joy
Anya Taylor-Joy | Phil Bray/Netflix

Taylor-Joy was a guest on The HFPA In Conversation podcast on Jan. 1 to discuss her role on The Queen’s Gambit. Describing her childhood, the actor told the story of how she ran away from home when she was 14. 

Before ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ Anya Taylor-Joy didn’t feel at home 

Taylor-Joy grew up in Argentina, but her family moved to England when she was six. It was a challenging adjustment for her. 

I can remember arriving in London and being very confused and very displaced and I just wanted to go home. So I refused to learn English for about two years, thinking that my parents would have to take me home, which clearly didn’t work out. It’s been interesting actually now as an adult, I love London so much. So much of my sense of humor and potentially where I feel the most comfortable is wrapped up in being a London girl. It’s been a long rambly road of trying to understand that I come from lots of different places and I am okay with that. I don’t need to fit into one box to make other people feel more comfortable but that’s taken me a long time to learn.

Anya Taylor-Joy, The HFPA In Conversation podcast, 1/1/21

When Anya Taylor-Joy ran away

By the time Taylor-Joy was a teenager, she started making her own decisions. One of those decisions ultimately led her to a successful acting career. 

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queens Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy | Ken Woroner/Netflix

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“I ran away to New York at 14,” Taylor-Joy said. “I was having a really bad time at school and I wanted to be an actor. So I enrolled in a director’s program and I got in. I came down to go to school one day and I said to my parents, ‘Look, I’m not going to school. I’ve saved up enough money to buy myself a plane ticket to New York. I’m going to do this and you can either be a part of it with me or I’m just going to go do it by myself.’ My parents were amazing and they supported me in it.”

A chance encounter began Anya Taylor-Joy’s career 

Like Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit, Taylor-Joy started living her own life. During her second year in New York, Taylor-Joy chanced upon a random opportunity. 

“I was walking my dog and I was wearing high heels for the first time because I had a party that I was going to and I wanted to practice,” Taylor-Joy said. “This big black car started following me. I panicked and then  thought there’s no way it’s following me, there’s no way it’s following me. It really was so I started to run. This guy stuck his head out the window and said, ‘If you stop you won’t regret it.’”

Queen's Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy
Anya Taylor-Joy | Netflix

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That man offered her a modeling job, which gave Taylor-Joy an early taste of acting. 

Weirdly, I stopped which I think about that moment a lot. I think that was such a dumb move. Who stops when someone yells something as creepy as that? The girl in horror movies, that’s who, I guess. It all worked out and I think I only did a couple of shoots as a straight model before I was lucky enough to get my acting break, but it was really fun because it is a form of acting. You put on the clothes and they’re usually not clothes you would wear yourself so you have to become the person that would wear those clothes. I got a buzz off collaborating with people. I got a buzz off collaborating with artists for the first time. 

Anya Taylor-Joy, The HFPA In Conversation podcast, 1/1/21