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Before she played The Queen Gambit‘s Beth Harmon in 1960s Kentucky, Last Night in Soho star Anya Taylor-Joy portrayed Sandie in Edgar Wright’s take on 1960s London. Wright’s psychological horror film revolves around Thomasin McKenzie’s Ellie in the present day, as she begins having vivid dreams involving a talented 1960s singer played by Taylor-Joy. The latter not only shows off her dancing prowess in the film, but she also turns heads with an a cappella performance of Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” Taylor-Joy credits Wright for directing “in beats,” as well as his vast music knowledge and predetermined needle drops.
“I love that he knows what the music is going to be before he does the scene. As a performer, it places you in the realm, perfectly,” Taylor-Joy tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve watched a movie back and thought, ‘Oh, if I had known it was going to sound like this, I would’ve calibrated that a little bit differently.’ So having the music beforehand might be something that I carry on [to my own set, someday].”
Last year, Taylor-Joy was cast in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road prequel, Furiosa, as the eponymous lead character, and even though they’re still in the early stages, she’s already impressed by Miller’s unique sensibility.
“Even at this stage in the process, working with him is like going to university,” Taylor-Joy shares. “I love the conversations that we have. I love the way that we talk not just about the character but the story as a whole. I adore him already, and I haven’t even met the man in person yet.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Taylor-Joy also reflects on mirroring McKenzie, as well as an elaborate dance sequence the two shared with co-star Matt Smith.
Your list of illustrious collaborators keeps getting longer. With that frame of reference in mind, what is Edgar’s superpower among that group?
Wow, the amount of references he has both in music and in film. But also, he directs in beats, and as an actor who started off as a dancer, I see my scenes in beats. And being able to collaborate with somebody who spoke the same language as I did in that way was wonderful. Truly.
For the many reflection shots involving you and Thomasin [McKenzie], did the two of you basically learn choreography to mirror each other in that way?
Yes, we had a wonderful choreographer called Jennifer White, but she kind of let us lead it. It was almost about becoming each other, and what’s beautiful about that is both Thomasin and I like to be quiet, very quiet sometimes. And that’s the meditation that you have to get into in order to be able to anticipate someone’s movements before your own and having that very still and yet, buzzing-with-energy connection between the two of us. That was something that I hadn’t experienced before, and it was so much fun to do.
The opening dance number was also incredible as you and Thomasin kept switching in and out. Was that quite the process to put together?
Yes and no. We were genuinely like little kids after every single take. We would rush to the monitor and say, “Oh my gosh! We pulled it off. This is incredible!” The behind the scenes of that is almost better than what’s in the movie because it’s quite funny seeing how we managed to be where we had to be for the perfect moment. And it’s not only a dance between Thomasin, Matt and myself; it’s also really a dance with the camera. At one point, our director of photography [Chung-hoon Chung] jumped in with some lights and that’s when it was pretty wild. Having four people move that quickly around each other was pretty extraordinary.
We’ve talked before about your filmmaking aspirations and how you treat each set like film school. Did you pick up anything in particular from Edgar’s set that you might apply to your own set someday?
I love that he knows what the music is going to be before he does the scene. As a performer, it places you in the realm, perfectly. You can really understand what it is. I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve watched a movie back and thought, “Oh, if I had known it was going to sound like this, if this was the sonic information I was going to get, I would’ve calibrated that a little bit differently.” So having the music beforehand might be something that I carry on.
Even though Sandie is introduced as a projection in Thomasin’s character’s dreams, did you still approach this character like you would any other character of yours?
Yeah, Sandie was a very real person for me. I had to play her that way. I get so invested in my characters that I really have to know them. Each character comes through in such a different way, and there’s really no telling how that point of connection I’ll have with them is going to happen. For Sandie, I could feel that desperation. As somebody who didn’t know anybody in the entertainment industry, I understood this longing to be part of this world and needing somebody to give you a break. It’s not enough to have the talent; you need so much luck and so many specific doors to open for you. So I felt that I could give her that kind of hunger. Unfortunately, her story goes quite differently than mine does and I’m very grateful that I have a kinder story.
I believe you went straight from playing Sandie in ’60s London to playing Beth Harmon in ’60s Kentucky. So did anything from your experience on Soho come in handy on The Queen’s Gambit?
Ooh, interesting. If I’m being perfectly honest, I started off January 2019 semi-terrified as to how I was going to film three feature-length projects with one day off in between all of them. So I just remember when I wrapped Soho, I thought, “I now only have to take care of one character,” because I’d been living with three for such a long time. It’s pretty wild to go from being an Austen heroine [in Emma] — where to touch someone’s hand through gloves meant so much — to suddenly be Sandie and be dressed up like a marionette doll, performing a striptease for 500 extras. So that was pretty wild. (Laughs.) So when Last Night in Soho finished, I just thought, “I just have one character to give everything to,” and that was a relief.
There was some very exciting news last year involving you and George Miller. Since the Furiosa announcement, have you had more and more time to pick his very unique brain?
Yes, I am so lucky, genuinely, to say that I have. Even at this stage in the process, working with him is like going to university. I love the conversations that we have. I love the way that we talk not just about the character but the story as a whole. I adore him already, and I haven’t even met the man in person yet.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Last Night in Soho opens in movie theaters Oct. 29.
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