'Emma.' Star Anya Taylor-Joy on Her Fast Rise to Stardom and Why She Finds Language 'Erotic'

The star of Emma. talks about her unique upbringing, her love for period films and her very busy life

Anna Taylor Joy
Photo: Felipe Ramales/Splash News Online

Anya Taylor-Joy might not yet be a household name despite a scene-stealing performance in The Witch, and starring in Split and its sequel Glass — but that’s about to change.

The actress, 23, leads the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Emma (the film is titled Emma.), as the titular matchmaker who takes joy in meddling in the lives of her friends and family but is unlucky at finding love for herself. Taylor-Joy is mischievous and charming in a star-making role that showcases her otherworldly beauty and cunning smarts.

Here, the actress talks about her unique upbringing, her love for period films and her very busy life.

How do you identify culturally — where is home for you?

I ask myself that question a lot, so it’s interesting when other people ask me because I’m like, “I’m still trying to work it out.” I was born in the States basically as a fluke, but I went over to Argentina straight away. And then, when the political situation got scary, my parents moved us over to England. But I refused to learn English for the first two years I was there because I was convinced we were going to go home. Plot twist, didn’t happen, and so I ended up learning English.

But it’s complicated because I am very unusual looking. Nobody’s ever come up to me and said I looked Latina and I’m not necessarily the most typical English Rose either. So that’s a bit tricky. And then, when I go home to Argentina, I’m the English girl. When I’m in England, I’m the Argentine girl. When I’m in the States, I have no idea. Yeah, I’m just a bit confused.

How many languages do you speak?

I speak like, two and a half. Spanish, English, and my mom speaks to me in French. Whenever I go to Paris, I always get so intimidated by other people. I can understand exactly what they’re saying to me, but I’m like, “I’m not going to talk.”

Anya Taylor-Joy
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Do you ever want to make a movie in Spanish?

I would love to. I’m waiting for the right one, but that would be such an incredible challenge and I think my grandmother would lose her sh–. That’d be amazing.

You’d have to meet Pedro Almodóvar!

I want to. Desperate to work with him and [Guillermo] del Toro. He likes his monsters the way I like my monsters.

So what is home to you?

I think home is where the people that I love are, but I also think that this kind of transitory existence has really helped me get into my characters because my characters have a more secure sense of self usually than I do. So it’s like, “Okay, you’re from Connecticut and this is how you grew up and this is how this is.” I can do that.

I think if I were to call any place home, I think it would be London. But then, my warmth and the way that I gesticulate, and the way that I move, and how I live my life is more Argentine.

Anya Taylor-Joy
Focus Features

You said that you don’t really see yourself as an English Rose, but here you are playing a Jane Austen heroine!

I know, I know.

Did you ever see yourself one day playing Emma?

I hoped, but definitely the first day of rehearsals I was a bit nervous because in walks a gallery of the most resplendent British stars and I’m like, I’m this strange mutt and I’m supposed to lead all of you guys?! Like, God help me. But luckily, everyone was so supportive of me and really truly kind and loved what I was doing and were giving me feedback.

I do see myself as a chameleon, I really like to get lost in these characters and so very quickly Anya kind of shifted away from that, and I was Emma and that was how I was existing. So, I think that fear kind of went away quite quickly.

Anya Taylor-Joy
Focus Features

You have a talent of making tough language just seem like your own. In The Witch, you had to deal with Old English, while in this you make Austen’s dialogue flow naturally. What’s your secret?

I’m a real nerd. That is the honest answer to that question. I read so much and I find language almost erotic, to be honest. I love words and I love sumptuous words and so those periods, every paragraph is painting a picture. So, I actually do find it very natural, because if you think about the way that they’re saying… Words weren’t thrown away back then. They were picked for a specific purpose, and some words gave a bite and some words made things more softer, made you look more attractive. I think that they really inform the scene and the way that you play it. So, anytime I get the opportunity to say things like that, I just love it.

You’ve made 23 movies in five years. Do you have time off?

No, is the short answer to that question. But then again, I’ve only once ever taken a job because I was scared of not working, and luckily that worked out fine and I didn’t regret it. But, I knew that that’s why I picked it. Every job I’ve taken on since then has not… It’s been a compulsion.

Emma. is now playing select theaters and opens wide March 6.

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