Anya Taylor-Joy has asserted herself as a majorly talented and in-demand actress over the last handful of years. The young star broke out in 2015’s The Witch and has started to become something of a scream queen, with turns in Split, Thoroughbreds and Glass. Her latest effort, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic Emma, is something entirely different. Not just for Taylor-Joy, but for Jane Austen adaptations in general.
Emma follows the antics of a young woman, Emma Woodhouse, who lives in Georgian- and Regency-era England who occupies herself with matchmaking, in misguided and often meddlesome fashion. The adaptation has received a great deal of praise. Visually it has the trappings one associated with Janes Austen, but this is much more comedic than what one might be accustomed to with this sort of thing.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Anya Taylor-Joy on behalf of the movie’s release. We discussed her transition into comedy, our mutual fondness of Bill Nighy and her big year in 2020.
Jane Austen adaptation, and I feel like people have a certain expectation when it comes to Jane Austen movies. But this seems to be quite a bit different than a lot of what we’ve seen in the past. So what would you say people should expect from Emma?}
Anya Taylor-Joy: For some reason people don’t seem to associate Jane Austen with funny, which has always blown my mind because she’s so witty and so acerbic with her language. I think we really brought the fun back into Jane Austen in this film. We just stayed very true to the text, but in a way that I don’t think people have seen before, where we’re really bringing life to the wit, and the joy, and the fun. Also, the characters are very young. People seem to forget about that. I think the Emma adaptation that has most got it right is Clueless, and this is like that similar energy, but just in the Regency period.
You, more than anything have become known for your horror and genre exploits in your early career. But this is a comedy more than anything else. How did you handle that shift?
Anya Taylor-Joy: It was so much fun. I mean, I’m an actor. I love to shapeshift and I love being chameleonic. But it was definitely intimidating my first day of rehearsals because I walked into a room with all of my heroes, and they’re all comedy geniuses. And I was like, “I’m supposed to lead this ship? How do I do this?” But everyone was so supportive and kind, and I don’t know. I think you find, you adapt to anything that you’re doing, and as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously and you’re willing to push your comfort zone, I think you tend to end up with something hopefully quite good. I hope.
You touched on, this is a little different with Jane Austen stuff, but no matter what it is with Jane Austen, she’s beloved, and you’re playing a pretty iconic character. Is there an added pressure that comes with playing a character like this from literature that is very beloved by many?
Anya Taylor-Joy: Yes, but my brain does this clever thing where it doesn’t let me know about that pressure until it’s too late and I’ve shot the movie because I don’t think I could have done it if I felt that way beforehand. I just sort of approached Emma as I would anything else, and only when I finished the movie was like, “I shot Emma. I am Emma in Emma. What do I do with this?” But no, I just fell in love with her the way that I do with any of my other characters, and I feel a strong need to tell the story right for that person. So yeah, Emma and I went on a bit of a journey together.
You mentioned the cast and Bill Nighy on this, and I love him. He genuinely one of my favorite actors.
Anya Taylor-Joy: Likewise.
Is he as delightful as I assume he is?
Anya Taylor-Joy: People say don’t meet your heroes, but meet Bill Nighy. He is better than what you could ever hope he would be. And he’s just, he’s a dream. He’s an incredible actor and a beautiful human being, and I just adore that man with my whole heart.
What’s next? What do you have coming up?
Anya Taylor-Joy: I have five movies coming out this year! So it’s a big year. I’ve got New Mutants, have got Radioactive with Rosamund Pike, then Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, then I have a limited series coming to Netflix called The Queen’s Gambit that I’m really, really proud of.
Can you say anything about Last Night in Soho? Because that has been very mysterious up to this point.
Anya Taylor-Joy: And mysterious it shall stay.
Emma is in theaters now from Focus Features.