‘The Queen’s Gambit’: Who Heath Ledger Wanted to Play Beth Harmon in His Film Version

The Queen’s Gambit recently premiered on Netflix to critical and audience adulation. The show follows a young Chess protege who discovers she has an innate knack for the game at a young age. Viewers fixate on the protagonist as she slays the competition, making friends in her opponents, and boasting some romantic relationships and light-hearted flings along the way. 

Anya Taylor-Joy of The Queen's Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy attends the Miu Miu show as part of the Paris Fashion Week | Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

Anya Taylor-Joy is at home as Beth Harmon. She draws audiences into her web of addiction and genius, as the series ponders what it costs to be the best. While imagining anyone other than Joy as the main character may be difficult, there was once a time when The Queen’s Gambit was to be a movie. Heath Ledger was to direct. Back then, Taylor-Joy would have been much too young — and also much too unknown — to find herself in the leading role. 

Inside Heath Ledger and Allan Shiach’s cinematic plans for ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ 

Allan Shiach, co-creator of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, explained to IndieWire that he wrote the film version for The Queen’s Gambit by himself. Two directors — Michael Apted and Bernardo Bertolucci — initially boarded the project, but they left soon after.

Ledger later reached out to Shiach, expressing interest in helming the film. Shiach explained that he was drawn to Ledger, and he wanted a chance to work with the actor (who he felt would have made for a strong director). Shiach told The Independent at the time: 

He was passionate about it; he was an intense, interested young man and I was drawn to him immediately. 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 | The Independent, 2008

Shiach felt that, with Heath Ledger, the movie would have the star power it needed to get off the ground and succeed — to get the budget necessary to create a cinematic masterpiece. 

Heath Ledger courted Ellen Page for the leading role 

IndieWire goes on to note that Health Ledger wanted Ellen Page to play Beth Harmon. Shiach noted that they got to the point in the project — after working together tirelessly and meeting up to discuss their vision — “where [they] had sent the script to Ellen [Page].” They were planning to make the movie at the end of 2008, but Ledger died January 22, 2008. 

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Though the story has now come to life with a strong cast of characters, seeing Ellen Page in the leading role would have been a treat as well. At the time, Page was best known for Juno, Hard Candy, X-Men: The Last Stand, and more. She was on the rise in Hollywood, climbing the ranks quite fast. And, such a performance may have even been an Oscar-worthy turn for the young actor.