How Anya Taylor-Joy Translated a Childhood Fascination With Makeup Into a Successful Acting Career
Which God-fearing person thought, You know what would be cool? If we painted our mouths bright red — really dialed up the pigment 5,000 percent so that you could see our lips from a great distance!
Cursory Internet searches tell me that it could have been the ancient Sumerians, or the Egyptians, or the Romans, but none of this is satisfying enough. Was it for glamour? Intrigue? Sex? A really good going-out look?
“Dude, I think about that stuff all the time!” Taylor-Joy says breathlessly. We are just wrapping up our interview when we stumble upon the topic we both want to talk about forever. “The ‘first people’ question gets me. Who was the first person to decide that pasta would be fun if it was tubular? And coated in butter? That person’s a genius. Who cut up an avocado and was like, I’m going to eat this green stuff on the inside?”
I wonder aloud: Who decided eyelids should be blue? She laughs. “I think we should bring blue eye shadow back.” She is kidding — and the beauty director of this magazine later informs me that it is already back, so her point is actually moot.
But Taylor-Joy suggests it in a kind of conspiratorial way that is partly whimsical and partly illicit, and in that moment I think, Absolutely, let’s do this new thing you just thought of. This is a woman who only started acting in movies four years ago (at age 18), whose second film was a critical hit (The Witch), whose fifth was a financial success and a critical hit (M. Night Shyamalan’s Split), and whose Marvel movie debuts next year (it’s X-Men, The New Mutants, and she gets top billing). That last one just might catapult her into the celebrity stratosphere, which is both exhilarating and anxiety-inducing for her. Now, in the period before her star crystallizes, she can do anything she wants.
Taylor-Joy spent her childhood between London and Argentina — her first name is pronounced ANN-yah, which you cannot say without pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth and smiling. The daughter of a powerboat racer and a psychologist, she grew up with a childhood bedroom featuring a four-poster bed with a canopy — “very fairy-tale-like,” she says. “I could close the curtains at night and enter into my dream world. I was always obsessed with magic.” She’d watch her mom apply red lipstick at her mirror and marvel at its transformative powers — and then she’d turn around and use the same bullet for war paint. “I used to paint stripes on my face and make myself into a cat, or I would play Rambo or something. I was more excited about the color than the makeup,” she says.
When she was 14, she cut off her hair and dyed it pink, signifying the onset of her punk phase. “I had this life force, and I was excited to go out and speak my mind and be in different situations, and be in mosh pits, and listen to very angry music,” she says. “I was never angry myself. I just enjoyed the angry music.”
Taylor-Joy describes this period as a right-angle departure from the child with the canopy bed, but in hearing her tell it, there is a kind of mystical through line — the idea that people are just characters with the power to change themselves at any time. One example: “I had really, really long blonde hair my whole life, and then I cut it into a bob, and I was like, OK, I’m going to dye it pink, and I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that. And I’m going to create myself again. When you’re born a certain way, and then you suddenly realize you have the ability to change who you are and be whoever you want to be, that’s magical.”