‘When I was a kid I wanted to run away with the circus, so today was a bit of a dream come true,’ Anya Taylor-Joy tells me as we watch a trapeze artist warm up and a tumbler practise flips. We’re in an aerial dance centre, the location for today’s InStyle shoot, but Anya’s shaken off her threads and slipped into black skinny jeans and black Nikes: ‘I call them my Ninja Turtle shoes.’ The 20-year-old is blending in to the background this afternoon but she needs to make the most of her anonymity while she still can. ‘Maybe I’m trying to evade it already,’ she says of her steadily increasing profile. ‘Last week, I lopped off all my hair with my friend’s kitchen scissors and dyed it black.’ Ever since her on-screen debut in The Witch at Sundance, Taylor-Joy has gone on to bag a stack of big movies, all set to roll out over the next couple of months. First up is Morgan, a sci-fi thriller and the directorial debut from Ridley Scott’s son Luke; then the psychological thriller-horror movies Split and Thoroughbred, and on the day we meet she’s just found out she’s landed a role alongside Mia Goth in another watch-through-your-fingers movie, Marrowbone….
Your upbringing sounds quite boho…
‘I was born in Miami, lived in Argentina until I was six and then moved to London. It was a huge change. The Argentine culture is very warm and affectionate. When I came to the UK, I remember hugging people and they were like, “What are you doing? You don’t know me!” and I was like, “I’m sorry, culture block!”’
Does acting run in the family?
‘I’m the youngest of six and a bit of a black sheep. My dad was a powerboat racer and my mum flitted around doing photography and interior design but eventually stopped to take care of us. I think it became very clear from a young age that I was unbelievably stubborn and I was going to do whatever the hell I wanted to do. They’ve just been like; “Go do your thing.” I don’t know if they understand me but they support me.’
You left school aged 17 to pursue your career. That’s pretty brave…
‘I never really fitted in with my own age group. It felt like there was something between us. I just wanted to act. The minute I stepped onto the set of The Witch, I was like, “I’m never leaving.” I felt like I had found home.’
You seem very independent. How do you handle being told no?
‘My first audition was for Maleficent, and when I didn’t get it I cried for a couple of hours. Now I tell myself if it’s not for you, it’s not for you, and you’d be detracting from the project and from the character. If it’s yours, it just is and nothing can stop you from getting the role.’
Do you get nervous before auditions?
‘If I’m nervous I know I like it. Afterwards, for some films I’ve had to lock myself in the bathroom so I don’t follow the director to ask if I’ve got it. I’m not exactly a people pleaser but I’ve been surprised that when a role doesn’t feel right, I’ve found it really easy to say no. Even if there are a million reasons why I should do it like, “This movie is going to catapult you to wherever.” I just don’t want to show up on set and not feel a connection to the character.’
Did you watch a lot of horror movies growing up?
‘I never liked that genre. The first one I watched was myself in The Witch! And then The Blair Witch Project. After that I was like no, never again. It’s weird I don’t have a particular category I’m into, I just get a very strong instinct when a project is meant for me and I also get it when it’s not. It just so happens that they’ve all been of a similar theme.’
Your character, Morgan, is pretty terrifying but at the same time you kind of feel sorry for her…
‘I always called her my little critter. I don’t think she’s evil. She’s been put into a situation where she doesn’t really have morals in the same way we do but she’s trying desperately to be good. Then she’s betrayed and she’s pissed off.’
You and Kate Mara have some pretty intense fight scenes…
‘We tried to do as many of the stunts as we could. I went home every night after filming with a kaleidoscope of bruises. Kate and I had to really trust one another because we were throwing punches inches away from each others’ noses.’
And it gets pretty violent with Paul Giamatti, too…
‘He went off script during a take, which surprised me. I went up to him afterwards and asked, ‘You can do that?’ and he was like, ‘Hell yes!’ He also went back on a line he fluffed and I was like, ‘Oh wow, I thought you had to stop the entire scene and take it from the top.’ Silly things I didn’t know as I hadn’t spent much time on a set. Seven movies later I’m like, ‘I was so naïve!’
Morgan is in UK cinemas now