Anya Taylor-Joy is quick to say that she doesn't believe the movie characters she's played have much in common, but I beg to differ. They are all stirring, shocking, and strikingly complex. Don't expect this 20-year-old rising star to play a damsel-in-distress or rom-com lead anytime soon. She's an actress for the ages, telling The Hollywood Reporter that she strives for a career like Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, and Tilda Swinton.
For Taylor-Joy, the weirder and more insane the characters, the easier it is for her to bring them to life.
Taylor-Joy first proved her dedication to tackling challenging roles in her impressive performance in the Sundance hit, The Witch, her first movie — a fact that many, myself included, find hard to believe. Now she's front-and-center in the highly-anticipated film directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley Scott), the sci-fi thriller, Morgan, followed by another horror movie Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
In Morgan, in theaters September 2, Taylor-Joy plays the title character, a genetically-modified "it" that is as emotionally fragile as it is physically destructive. Taylor-Joy manages to earn our sympathy, despite playing a non-human character, especially in her gripping action scenes opposite co-star Kate Mara.
Refinery29 talked to Taylor-Joy about her role as Morgan, her attraction to complicated characters, and her love of Stranger Things.
Do you prefer more intense and uncomfortable kind of plot lines?
"I never think about it like that, to be honest. I’m a very instinctual person, I never think about genre. I don’t strategize in terms of ‘Oh, I’ve made all of these horror movies, I should now make a comedy.’ I guess there’s something about darker roles that to me feels a little bit more honest. I think a lot of people are very afraid of the darkness of humanity and we all have it, so why not shed a little bit of light on it?"
I really like what you said in a recent interview — that you don’t want to be in a box, you want to be on top of that box. What are you doing to achieve that?
"I guess to just keep going the way I’m going. I’m so fortunate and so completely — it’s so cliché to say — but I’m so completely blessed to have worked with the people that I’ve worked with. I’m learning so much from all of them and every film that I've made is a film that I would throw myself under a bus for the character. I’ve learned so much because I didn’t go to acting school and this is only my second year of acting. Each film just makes me love what I do more and more and more."
Your character is so cool and...different. What’s the best term for Morgan?
"I always thought of her as a genetically modified human, because the thing with A.I. is that Morgan is really not a robot. She bleeds, she cries, she’s a human — at least in my eyes she is, even though a lot of people disagree with me."
One of the ongoing themes in the film is whether Morgan is a "she" or an "it." What did you think while filming?
"I really love my characters. My characters are incredibly real to me and they're real people — which I know makes me sounds a little nuts — but I had so much empathy for her and I loved her so much the whole time. Even though I referred to her as 'her,' I don’t think Morgan herself thinks about that — it’s not something that she pays attention to — but I definitely don’t like the term ‘it’ at all. I think she’s so much more than that and ‘it’ is kind of like an object — and she’s definitely not an object."
Did you have to eliminate certain characteristics of yourself in order to make Morgan seem less human?
"Instead of thinking ‘Oh what do I need to do to make her less human?’ or ‘What do I need to do to make her more A.I.?’ I guess, I just thought 'Who is Morgan? What is she like?' And at the core she’s a five-year-old who knows so much — but doesn’t actually know anything from experience. She’s just super intelligent, super strong — but she’s a child and I thought about what it must be like to have so much knowledge and yet not know anything at all, and be experiencing everything for the first time."
Morgan reminded me a bit of Eleven from Stranger Things on Netflix. What do you think?
"I’m actually working with Charlie Heaton [Jonathan Byers on Stranger Things] right now on a film in Spain and I absolutely adore him; he’s one of my closest friends and I think he’ll really enjoy that [comparison]. I love Stranger Things — I think it’s so so great and yeah, I am totally happy with that comparison. I think Eleven is awesome."
I’m so excited to see what you do next — although I can’t promise that I’ll go see Split because it looks so scary.
"Trust me, I’ve seen it — it will surprise you. I’m not very good at scary movies and that film is surprisingly funny. You should really check it out, even just for James McAvoy alone. He kills it."
This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!