Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in a 'The Queen's Gambit' scene
7 'The Queen's Gambit' Behind-The-Scenes Facts That Add To The Fascination

by Ani Bundel
Originally Published: 
Ken Woroner/Netflix

A seven-part miniseries about a chess genius doesn't seem likely to be the next big thing in streaming, and yet The Queen's Gambit has taken Netflix by storm. The riveting story of fictional 1960s-era chess superstar Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) is one of Netflix's biggest hits this fall. For fans who want to know what went into creating this jewel of a show, these The Queen's Gambit behind-the-scenes facts are as precious as protecting one's king.

The Queen's Gambit is based on the novel of the same name by author Walter Tevis. Tevis only wrote six books over his career, but movie buffs will definitely recognize his work. The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell to Earth were all works of Tevis that were adapted into major motion pictures, each garnering Academy Award nominations. All three are now regarded as classics of their genres.

The latest of his stories to be adapted, The Queen's Gambit waited a long time to find its way to the screen, but the story has proved just as engrossing. As befitting a novel that took so long to get an adaptation, it turns out the making of the series is just as fascinating as the story it tells on screen.

Here's what you may not know about the show:

'The Queen's Gambit' Was Initially Envisioned As A Movie

Tevis has already had three of his six novels adapted for the big screen. The Queen's Gambit was nearly the fourth. The late Heath Ledger optioned it in the mid-aughts to make a feature film starring Ellen Page as Harmon. Unfortunately, it didn't get off the ground before Ledger's untimely death in 2008, and the idea fizzled.

Anya Taylor-Joy Signed Onto The Project Without Seeing A Script

Despite the delays in getting an adaptation made, The Queen's Gambit novel reads like something that ought to be made for the screen. Anya Taylor-Joy evidently agreed. When she was approached about Netflix's potential project, there wasn't even a script written for it, so she simply read the novel to see what it was about. She was immediately hooked, so much so, she literally ran to meet with the director.

Benny Watts Is Based On A Legendary Chess Player

Though he's only one of her love interests in the show, Benny Watts is hands down Beth Harmon's most fiery affair. Tevis loosely based the character on the real-life chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer, who won the famous "Game of the Century" at 13 years old. Perhaps that's why Beth and Benny were too alike to make it work out romantically.

A Real Chess Master Was Nearly Cast In The Series

Behind the scenes, The Queen's Gambit had a pair of real-life chess geniuses who developed every match played over the seven-episode series. American chess coach Bruce Pandolfini and Russian Grandmaster Garry Kasparov laid out the moves and worked with the actors to choreograph every game. Initially, the series was planned to put Kasparov on-screen too, as Beth's Russian nemesis Borgov. Kasparov turned down the chance to play on screen, though, preferring to have his handiwork show up more subtly in the match they play instead.

The Chess Matches Were Really Played

As noted above, Pandolfini and Kasparov designed every game played on screen. But there were also several games played off-screen, in which the camera focused solely on the actors' faces, and viewers never even saw the board. It turns out, those games were really played too, and just as choreographed.

The Speed Chess Games Were Also Real

Speed chess may seem impossible — I mean, the pieces move so fast. But there was no CGI or sleight of hand camera tricks involved; the actors really learned the moves to play those games. Taylor Joy credited her ballet training to helping her remember her hand movements, though she admitted that, in some scenes, she would learn the moves just before the cameras started rolling — you know, to keep it all fresh.

Beth's Wardrobe Pieces Were Chess-Inspired

Beth Harmon's style game is one of the joys of watching The Queen's Gambit, as the chess prodigy parlayed her success into iconic looks. But what fans might not have picked up on is that the chessboard inspires the outfits she wears. Beth's obsession with chess covers her from head to toe, from the striking black-and-white motifs to the square and diagonal lines.

The Queen's Gambit is on Netflix now.

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