Little did breakout star Anya Taylor-Joy know when she catapulted the feel-good series The Queen’s Gambit into the ratings records books, that she would also become the inspiration behind the latest trend that is sweeping the globe – chess.
“I don’t think I’m taking it all in just now. It’s all happening so fast,” says the 24-year-old actress who is credited for making chess sexy and cool again — enough, that sales of chessboards have soared globally.
The Queen’s Gambit currently ranks number one in Nielsen’s US streaming rankings and has drawn over 62 million global viewers, making it Netflix’s biggest scripted limited series ever. The seven-part miniseries, based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, follows the rise of an orphaned girl from Kentucky during the 1950s, played by Taylor-Joy, who achieves international chess fame, smashing the glass ceiling in a man’s world and dominating it.
“I’d never played chess before but I’d been fascinated by it,” Taylor-Joy explains. “I feel so lucky that the introduction came from one of the best experts out there.”
She is referring to Bruce Pandolfini, a professional player and consultant on the film, credited for the film’s authentic and highly regarded chess moves. “It was important for me to understand the theory behind it so I wasn’t just saying stuff. People who love chess really love chess and I wanted it to be believable.”
Taylor-Joy’s cool moves on the chessboard make the game, and the film, compelling. “My training as a dancer really helped me,” she explains. “I saw it as dance choreography for your fingers. And I’m really good at remembering steps. The most fun was the speed chess because I had to play a lot of intricate little movies on three different boards, and do it all as fast as possible. It fired up my competitive streak with myself.”
Since The Queen’s Gambit premiered, sales of chessboards across the USA have grown 125 per cent, and manufacturers and retailer have been selling out. The series has encouraged so many new players, that the health benefits of playing the game have also become the topic du jour. Take a look at our article on the health benefits of chess.
Born in Miami, Florida, to British and Argentine parents, Taylor-Joy was the youngest of six children who grew up in both England and Argentina. She studied ballet and was signed to the Storm Management modelling agency at age 16 after being noticed while walking on the street outside Harrod’s in London. But she always knew she wanted to be an actress from an early age.
Her first big break was the horror film The Witch, five years ago. M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, as well as the most recent adaptation of Emma, followed. Then along came The Queen’s Gambit.
“I heard that co-creator and director Scott Frank wanted to talk to me about this role. They sent me the book. I devoured it. I got so excited and passionate about the story that I actually ran to the meeting. I had so many ideas. We shot last August through December in Canada and Berlin.”
Since then, Taylor-Joy has been working through the lockdown on her next film in Belfast, Ireland. “I’ve been shooting Robert Eggers’ The Northman since August, which has been really wonderful. I’m so in awe of how our production team has handled shooting during the coronavirus pandemic. All the safety measure that they’ve implemented are amazing without sacrificing any of the quality of the work.”
The Queen’s Gambit is currently available on Netflix.