There’s an ‘Emma’ WhatsApp Group? Anya Taylor-Joy and Josh O’Connor on ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ ‘The Crown’ and Their Huge Year

Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) and Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Josh O’Connor, who appeared together in the latest movie adaptation of “Emma” in 2020, both broke out as Netflix stars during the pandemic. In “The Queen’s Gambit,” Taylor-Joy electrified viewers with her portrayal of Beth Harmon, a fictional 1950s global chess champion with Bobby Fischer’s mind and Audrey Hepburn’s style. O’Connor, coming off playing Jane Austen’s Mr. Elton, made a much less appealing suitor in “The Crown” — his inconsolable Prince Charles scowls through his marriage to Diana, illustrating the exorbitant cost of being a royal.

Josh O’Connor: So probably the last time I saw you was on “Emma.” It feels like that was a long time ago, but we chat. The most active I am on any WhatsApp group is on the “Emma” WhatsApp group.

Anya Taylor-Joy: It’s wild to think about “Emma,” because the entire world changed so drastically since then. “Emma” is the last happy pre-pandemic experience, I guess, that we all really had.

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Variety

O’Connor: Yeah.

Taylor-Joy: By the time I got to playing Beth in “The Queen’s Gambit,” I was so tired. I was exhausted.

O’Connor: Did you go straight on to playing Beth after Emma?

Taylor-Joy: I died in my bed, and then I did Edgar Wright’s movie “Last Night in Soho.” And then that finished, I flew to Berlin and we started doing “Queen’s Gambit.” It was a lot.

O’Connor: I remember I came in to read with you for “Emma.” Even then, I remember you were saying you kind of run from one job straight into another. And I was always amazed you weren’t completely exhausted.

I should start this whole thing off by saying that “Queen’s Gambit” is my favorite television show throughout lockdown, and I’m completely obsessed.

Taylor-Joy: Josh …

O’Connor: And I told you that. I did text you. I completely loved it, and what I kind of find amazing — if it’s an indie film, it’s like a six-week shoot. Whereas I feel like the marathon, the stamina you have to have for a television series is so much. You look so fresh and under control. How are you not exhausted?

Taylor-Joy: Thank you. Honestly, I started going to bed at 8 p.m. I became a grandma and I was very content about it. Because there were maybe four straight weeks where I had 4 a.m. pickups every single day.

There are certain characters that just carry you through a job. Like it’s just almost a compulsion to tell this story. You wake up in the morning, and you think what on earth am I doing with my life? I’m so tired; I can’t possibly create sentences for myself. But there’s something about the character that makes you want to get up, and you feel like you’re doing something.

Like, on “Emma,” every new person that came in was such a breath of fresh air. You were a nightmare on “Emma” because you were the only person I could not stop laughing at.

O’Connor: You really couldn’t handle me. I know. It was terrible.

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Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon on “The Queen’s Gambit” Phil Bray/Netflix

Taylor-Joy: You made me feel so unprofessional. From the moment I met you, I was like, “Oh, this is going to be a nightmare. He’s going to make me look so bad.” It was just so brilliant to watch you.

And actually, wait: It’s my turn to fangirl, please. I was just rewatching “The Crown,” because I loved it the first time I saw it. But now, really just keying into your performance, everything you do is believable and everything you do is completely natural. It’s astounding. I mean it.

O’Connor: I want to talk to you more about “Queen’s Gambit.” But in terms of “Emma,” Anya posted something yesterday on Instagram, which was a picture of the scene in the carriage, which is the first day of “Emma.”

So you and I came in the studio, and we’re in this tiny carriage, and people are, like, rocking it. And we had to do this incredibly daft scene.

Taylor-Joy: But also a pivotal scene.

O’Connor: I was super nervous, and was already a big fan of yours from “The Witch.” I think it would’ve been very easy to play that, the Emma role, in a sort of slightly broad way. But everything was so specific, and you were so in it. It was just such a treat to start that film, you and me, ripping into each other.

Taylor-Joy: I really felt the support from you. I remember on “Emma,” having a couple of moments where I was like, “Josh, I don’t think I can do this. It’s all too heavy, and I can’t.” And you showed me that incredible photograph of the man leaping from the window. And the people that were actually underneath him, supporting him. Do you know what I’m talking about?

O’Connor: The Yves Klein photograph I always kind of reference for everything. Part of it is showing off about my art knowledge. It does come in handy a lot.

“Emma” is a great example, but I imagine it comes through on “The Queen’s Gambit” as well. You run that show, but you’ve got this support network around you. What’s so amazing about “The Crown” is you’re constantly surrounded by these big hitters like Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter and that. They know exactly what to do and how to play it. And they have the same insecurities we all have; they struggle with the same things.

I had the extreme benefit of having two or three episodes in Season 3 to get to know everyone. Emma [Corrin] just came into the show. I think she’s done like one other job, and she walked into this role. I was all kind of prepped for like, I’m going to be the most supportive actor that this actor has ever worked with, and I’ll be there for her if she ever needs advice. Like, week two, I was going to her for advice.

Taylor-Joy: I think there’s something about being supportive and being open. Partly it’s because you want to be nice, and you want people to report back to other people and say, “Oh, he was nice to work with.” But also, I think selfishly you benefit from the other person opposite you being the best version of themselves.

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Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles on “The Crown” Alex Bailey/Netflix

O’Connor: So with “Queen’s Gambit,” what was that company like? It must’ve been a dream.

Taylor-Joy: It was. Being completely honest, I was running a marathon at the pace of a sprint three times. So by the time I got to Beth, I got really sick at the beginning of the job, which I tend to try not to do. Because when you’re sick, you just keep working. So it’s like, “Ugh.”

My relationship with my characters, they’re all very varied but they’re intense, and they’re all incredibly real for me. By the time I got to Beth, I had no energy to put a boundary up between myself and the character. I would wake up in the morning and go, “Oh, I feel awful. What is this feeling?” And then realize, it’s her.

O’Connor: Yeah.

Taylor-Joy: And you’re just going to be this for the next 18 hours. That was wonderful, because it meant I was never reaching for any emotion. I’ve never had a performance before where there was no trying. It was there.

But it was complicated separating my emotions and realizing what was me and what wasn’t. And I’m curious. What’s it like when it’s a real person?

O’Connor: Prince Charles is a tricky one. I think you have to part ways with the real version of him in order to capture something unique or different. There’s the sacrifice you sometimes have to make.

I just remember there was this amazing thing that Peter Morgan, the writer, said to me very early on. He was like, “Just try to remember that this boy shares his mother with an entire nation of people.” I was like, oh, my God. It’s a terrible affliction on some young kid. So every time someone says, “Is that a bit harsh the way you’re playing him?” I go, “No. I think he’s going through the wringer.”

Taylor-Joy: Will you miss him?

O’Connor: I’m actually good. You’re going to miss Beth, aren’t you?

Taylor-Joy: I don’t think Beth’s ever really going to go away. I think I would’ve really struggled if “Queen’s Gambit” had been a movie. And I know that sounds silly because potentially we would’ve shot it for the same amount of time, but I was so immediately connected to this woman. I mean, from the moment I read the book, I knew I was going to have to play Emma and my character in Edgar’s movie before I got to Beth. That was potentially the hardest thing about the job, keeping Beth at bay.

But by the time I was finished with Beth, I was done. It was a good space for us to part ways. I will always keep her with me because I’ve never given so much of myself to a character before. I usually think about characters as so different from me, and I make a real point to make them walk differently, to have a different caliber of voice, to laugh differently, to cry differently. I want them to be their own person. But for Beth, it was the first time that I just thought the only way to tell this accurately is to give bits of myself up.

That’s kind of strange now, because I’ll be sitting at a restaurant, and I’ll hear someone say, “Oh, she holds her face the way Beth does.” And I’m like, oh gosh. Me? Beth? What. Ah!

O’Connor: Do you have a thing you do when you finish jobs?

Taylor-Joy: I cry on planes.

O’Connor: No, Anya, no.

Taylor-Joy: I cry hysterically on airplanes. But it’s good crying. My first heartbreak was not a relationship. My first heartbreak was finishing my first job [on “The Witch”], and experiencing that loss. The loss of there was a world that existed with a group of people that became my everything for a period of time, and now it’s over. I had no concept as to how to deal with that.

I think spending seven episodes with Beth was good. Any less, I would’ve felt cheated or I would’ve felt like I didn’t spend the time with her to make sure that she was OK. It sounds mental, but I know you understand what I mean.

O’Connor: I totally get it.

Taylor-Joy: I’m so completely mental.

O’Connor: The other thing that kind of slightly caught me off guard is with Prince Charles. Obviously, the real Prince Charles, who knows what he’s like? But I think the character, he’s kind of nasty by the end of Season 4. We were going around doing press, and the journalists were finding it hard to carve me from Prince Charles.

And being like, “I don’t like you. You were nasty to lovely Emma Corrin.” I was like, “I promise you I wasn’t.” I think it’s really hard.

Taylor-Joy: I find it very difficult when people say nasty things about my characters, even if they are nasty.

O’Connor: Same. I want to ask you about “Mad Max.” You’re doing a prequel. Is it “Furiosa”? Have you started shooting it now?

Taylor-Joy: No. I’ve got a grace period until August, and then I will be working back to back until mid-2023.

O’Connor: Yeah. Good.

Taylor-Joy: Hear me out about this. Everyone thought I was mental doing “Emma,” Edgar and “Queen’s Gambit.” And to be fair, I was. I recognize that. It was a wild thing to do, but I had to do it. I’ve realized now how unhealthy I am, and the way that I’m thinking about it is if I can get a routine where I exist off of something other than Diet Coke and cigarettes and I can do this and be happier.
The thing that makes me most excited about “Furiosa” is, No. 1, George Miller. That brain is incredible. I’m also really excited to do something physical. To physically become something else is something that will weirdly give me a lot of peace.

O’Connor: I’m very relieved that you’re looking after yourself.