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Netflix’s new limited series The Queen’s Gambit sees Anya Taylor-Joy (The New Mutants, Emma) star as Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy with a traumatic past, coming of age in the early 1960s. The adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel explores the true cost of genius, as well as what it means to be lonely.
The cast spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about what drew them to the project, as well as the series’ poignant message about family.
“I loved [Beth] immediately,” Taylor-Joy told THR. “There was no script when I first heard that [director and writer] Scott Frank wanted to talk to me and I inhaled the book in like an hour and a half. And I’m not a runner, but I ran to that meeting. The excitement level that I had of just how much I connected with this woman, how much I wanted to tell her story and, something that I think is really important is, I did think I could tell it right.”
While Taylor-Joy plays a chess phenom in the miniseries, she and her fellow on-screen chess pros revealed that their chess knowledge before working on the project was limited.
“Zero, none,” said Taylor-Joy of her previous experience with the game. “I knew there were pieces, I knew there was a board, but that’s actually what was kind of awesome about getting to do this was that I got invited into a very secret world that’s super cool and really interesting. A lot of the chess, especially the speed chess, was my favorite part of filming.”
“I knew how to play the game,” revealed Thomas Brodie Sangster, who plays chess champ Benny Watts. “I was aware of what each piece did. I used to play checkers when I was a child. It’s a similar board and then my mom bought me chess pieces, but that’s about it really. I knew what they all did, but I couldn’t formulate a game or think 10, 15 steps ahead of anyone.”
“I knew, obviously, the pieces, the board, but apart from that, I didn’t know how to play, didn’t know any of the different maneuvers you get told to do,” added Harry Melling, who portrays fellow chess pro Harry Beltik. “So, I was a real beginner, but that’s part of the joy of acting, I think. You know, you get to do things that you just wouldn’t usually come across. So, that was definitely part of this journey.”
Taylor-Joy’s character Beth suffers the loss of her mother at a young age in the story and ends up in an orphanage. Throughout the series, she finds family in Jolene (Moses Ingram) at the orphanage, her adopted mother Alma (Marielle Heller) and friends she meets along the way. The cast opened up about the series’ profound message about choosing your own family.
“Family is where you find it,” said Heller. “Beth is a very resilient character. She’s somebody who really finds connection with people and she sort of adjusts herself in order to meet whoever she’s meeting. She’s kind of always growing and changing … she’s a resilient character who finds it where she can.”
“Family’s who you make it, who you invite in, who you allow to share in that space with you and sometimes it’s stronger with those people that aren’t blood,” said Ingram. “And if you allow it, it’s something that can bloom into a very beautiful flower, if you will.”
“It’s a beautiful message about family,” said Taylor-Joy. “As you’re watching it, something that really struck me, and I think was also a lesson I had to learn for myself, was sometimes when you feel the most alone or the most lonely, it’s only because you can’t see further than your nose. There are people around you who love you and support you, and you’re actually not alone … I think it’s the idea that you don’t have to be born into a great family, you can choose your family.”
Watch the video above for more. The Queen’s Gambit debuts on Netflix October 23.
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