On paper, Netflix’s recent breakout hit miniseries The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t sound very exciting: Tracing the journey of chess prodigy Beth Harmon on the path to becoming a world champion with one chess match after another. Yet, the way Anya Taylor-Joy portrays Beth, and the way the matches are filmed make for as exciting viewing as watching an epic battle with swords and shields.
In an interview with IndieWire, Anya Taylor-Joy revealed that the initial plan had been for her to memorize each move for each game ahead of filming. But after arriving on set, the actress realized a much more natural and instinctive method of creating those scenes would be to learn the moves on the spot before each take.
“I was just like, ‘Can you just show me the game that I’m going to play right now, and I’ll memorize it? I’ll execute it, and then I can throw it away, essentially, and learn the next one. That ended up becoming the way that we shot all of the games, but also, geekily, I loved it. I come from a dance background where that’s what you do with choreography. You show up to a class and a teacher does something and then expects you to know it the second that you’ve seen it. So it was the exact same thing, but for my fingers. And that was a much more healthy way of me going about it. And actually allowed me to get some sleep, which I appreciated.”
While The Queen’s Gambit is ostensibly a story about a chess prodigy, it is really about Beth’s emotional journey, from a young orphan who develops a pill addiction, to an adult who prioritizes chess over her relationships. In the hands of Taylor-Joy, who was twenty-three at the time of making the miniseries, the internal contradictions of Beth and her single-minded quest for chess glory are fully on display, with an emotional rawness that is rarely seen in actresses as young as her.
For Taylor-Joy, tapping into that rawness comes with the deep connection she creates with her characters, so much so that the connection becomes just as important as the actress’ real-world relationships.
“At our core, [Beth and I] are very similar. And I think from the second I met [Beth], it was a weird pain. It was a pain of, ‘Oh God, this hurts so good. And it hurts so good because I know it’s true. And what you need to learn, I need to learn… At the beginning, I used to say like, ‘I know this sounds crazy, but my characters are real to me.’ I care about these characters and the relationships that I have with them are as real as the relationships that I have with people that I don’t play.”
Streaming now on Netflix, The Queen’s Gambit stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Isla Johnson, Bill Camp, Moses Ingram, Christiane Seidel, Rebecca Root, Chloe Pirrie, Akemnji Ndifornyn, Marielle Heller, Harry Melling, Patrick Kennedy, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Marcin Dorocinski. This news was first introduced at IndieWire.