If you know Anya Taylor-Joy from her work in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, Morgan, Barry and the intriguing trailer for her latest, Thoroughbreds, it’s a bit shocking to hear her speak in her “native” British accent.
Taylor-Joy is technically a native of Miami, but she spent her first six years in Argentina before moving to England, where she caught the acting bug and showed such prodigious talent she’s found work all over the world (she has another movie, the X-Men spin-off The New Mutants, also in the can).
It’s made for a busy life, but left the 21-year-old feeling a little rootless.
“I’m from nowhere,” she said. Home has become a movie location, and one of her favorites is Philadelphia, where she’s made two feature films.
“I think I’m a Philly girl at heart, at this point. I’d love to declare myself a Philly girl, if the city will have me,” said Taylor-Joy, who recently spent time here filming Glass, Shyamalan’s sequel to his hit movie Split, which starred Taylor-Joy as a teen girl kidnapped by a disturbed man (James McAvoy) with multiple personalities. McAvoy and Taylor-Joy returned for Glass, which also functions as a sequel to Unbreakable, looping in Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
“I have so much affection for Philadelphia, which has been a second home for me. A big part of the credit goes to Night — the fact that he creates such a culture of family around his movies,” she said. “To work with him is to be part of that family, to have that feeling of loyalty. I mostly travel alone, so when I get into Philly, I instantly have this wonderful support group, this whole big circle of friends.”
And lots of places to have a good nosh.
“Plus I’m a foodie, and the city has such an incredible food scene,” said the actress, a regular at V Street when she’s in town. “Also, the city is cool, but it’s never trying to be cool, which is why it’s cool.”
Her new movie Thoroughbreds, in theaters Friday, is cool to the point of being goose bumps chilly — something of a specialty for Taylor-Joy, who’s appeared in several horror/thrillers, including a breakout role a few years ago in the Sundance hit The Witch.
Thoroughbreds was also a big-buzz movie at Sundance, where Taylor-Joy won praise for her performance as a wealthy prep schoolgirl whose friendship with a troubled outcast (Olivia Cooke) leads to a sinister symbiosis — there are echoes of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, but the movie has an icy tone all its own, and themes related to class (suggested by the title) and technology that make the movie unique.
“I loved the idea of playing somebody who’s created such a composed veneer and such a polished image of herself, and yet over time is revealed to be this bundle of nerves, of chaos and rage. For an actress, that’s so wonderfully appealing,” she said.
She loves watching the movie with audiences, feeling the energy swing between suspense and pitch-black comedy.
“It’s often quite funny, but the movie is really dark. It jumps through a lot of genres. Sometimes you see the audience laughing, and you sort of sense that they stop themselves. And I’m thinking — I know some of this stuff is messed up, but it’s OK to laugh,” she said.
The movie is written and directed by playwright Cory Finley, making his first movie, and Taylor-Joy went gaga for his script.
“It’s so wryly written, so dark and so poisonous, and, you know, I’m such a word nerd. I’m reading, and I’m thinking, this is so well written, and these characters are so sharply drawn, it felt like the movie of my dreams. It’s the first script I’ve ever picked up and read where I immediately called my agent and said, ‘I have to play this,’ ” she said.
She doesn’t always get a good look at a script before she signs on to a movie. Shyamalan is notoriously secretive about his projects. Taylor-Joy auditioned for Split without knowing much about the character. Her meetings with the director felt more like an opportunity to establish a rapport than a traditional tryout.
“What I remember is we just immediately developed a very intense connection,” she said. She also didn’t know that Split was written as a bridge to be a sequel for Unbreakable.
“It’s very important to Night that all three can stand alone as individual films. The fact that he’s connected them is just an illustration of his genius,” she said. “When I found out about Glass, I freaked out, just like the rest of the world did.”
Taylor-Joy said when news broke about Glass — also shrouded in secrecy — she told Shyamalan she’d like to stop by for a set visit.
“He looked at me and said, ‘What makes you think you’re not coming, too?’ That was the coolest moment of my life.”