In Netflix’s new miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, watching main character Beth Harmon play chess is mesmerizing. Her swift movements, calculated risks, and intense stares at the board all make you forget you’re not watching an actual chess master, but rather an actor portraying a chess master. That’s thanks in large part to star Anya Taylor-Joy, who actually learned chess for her role in The Queen's Gambit.
“People who love chess really, really love chess, and I didn't think that it was fair or responsible of me to show up on set and be like, ‘I don't understand what I'm talking about, whatever,’” she tells Elite Daily. “So, I had to learn all of the theories for my own head.”
In the show, Taylor-Joy’s character, Beth, is a natural at chess, picking it up astoundingly quickly at age 8, when she learned about it from her orphanage’s janitor, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp). As the show follows Beth through her teen years and early adult life, her skills only grow, leading her to championship win after championship win, busting stereotypes in the male-dominated world of competitive chess along the way.
Of course, Taylor-Joy hasn’t been working toward mastering chess for most of her life like Beth. But she’s still learned a lot about the game in quite a short time — including the methodology and lingo that separates a noob from an experienced player. “ I understand a lot about chess theoretically. Now, applying that theory to actually executing games and playing them all the way through — that's a very different story,” she says. “I've adopted Beth's mentality of beginning the game strong and intimidating your opponents. So my opening game is very, very strong. My middle and end game is when it starts to fall apart for me. But I'm certainly a better player than I was when I started.”
Chess isn’t the only thing Taylor-Joy and Beth have in common. “I think we're both inherently very lonely people, especially as children,” Taylor-Joy says. “Like, we didn't necessarily find our place where we fit in until we found that specific community — for Beth it was chess, for me it's making art. That's where I really found myself and a place that would appreciate me for being myself.”
However, she points out a few key differences between herself and her character. "Beth is not great at reading other people. She's not the most empathetic person in the world, or the most tactful person in the world," Taylor-Joy says. "I find human beings fascinating, and I see my job as to be able to empathize with people. So I would like to think that I'm kinder in that way. Beth's very good with chess pieces, not so great on the human side of things."
You can watch Taylor-Joy show off her chess prowess — and confront Beth's emotional struggles — in The Queen's Gambit, on Netflix now.