SHE was discovered by a modelling scout, then won film and TV roles, and is now dazzling in The Queen’s Gambit.
But Anya Taylor-Joy does not think she is beautiful enough to be a star.
With her Bambi eyes and pillow lips, the 24-year-old actress shines as pill-popping chess genius Beth Harmon in Netflix’s latest hit series.
Yet Anya said: “I have never and I don’t think I will ever think of myself as beautiful.
“I don’t think I’m beautiful enough to be in films. It sounds pathetic and my boyfriend warns me people will think I’m an absolute d*** for saying these things, but I just think I’m weird-looking.
“I won’t go to the cinema to watch my own film, I’ll watch it before. The beauty of being in your own skin is that you don’t have to look at your own face.”
Anya, who shot to fame in the title role in this year’s movie adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Emma, added: “I genuinely had a panic attack on Emma because I thought, ‘I am the first ugly Emma and I can’t do this’, because the first line in the movie is, ‘I’m handsome, clever and rich’. ”
Anya has wanted to be an actress since she was just six.
While at primary school, she announced to her mother, an African-Spanish psychologist, and her father, a Scottish-Argentine powerboat racer, that she wanted to act.
CRYING IN BATHROOMS
She had a tough start after moving from Buenos Aires to London when she was eight, being bullied because she didn’t speak a word of English.
She recalled: “Argentina is all green and I had horses and animals everywhere. All of a sudden I was in a big city and didn’t speak the language. I didn’t really feel like I fitted in anywhere.
“I was too English to be Argentine, too Argentine to be English, too American to be anything.
“The kids just didn’t understand me in any shape or form. I used to get locked in lockers.
“I spent a lot of time in school crying in bathrooms.
“I was so lonely as a kid. I felt so isolated that I created this story in my head about lonely was bad, being alone was bad.
“That can be quite an impactful feeling, especially if you’ve taught yourself to fear it.”
But Anya discovered she did fit into the modelling world when she was walking outside Harrods in London at the age of 16 and Sarah Doukas — the same scout who spotted Kate Moss — approached her.
The next day she was signed to Storm Model Management and it was the stepping stone that Anya needed to get to where she really wanted to be — the world of acting.
She was helped by having a photographic memory, which means instead of spending hours learning lines, she only needs to read a script once to memorise it.
She quickly landed parts in movies, including horror films The Witch in 2015 and Split in 2017.
BBC drama Peaky Blinders followed in 2019 before her first leading role, in Emma, which was released in February this year.
When she was offered the role of Beth in The Queen’s Gambit she knew instantly she wanted to play her, and says that out of all the characters she has portrayed, she has understood Beth the best.
She even worked to convince producer Scott Frank that she should be the star.
Anya said: “It was pretty instantaneous. I read the book in about an hour and a half. And I’ve never run to or from a meeting before. I don’t run, I don’t exercise that way. But I ran to meet him.
“I felt like I could really understand that sense of loneliness and just trying so desperately to make sense of a world that didn’t come naturally to Beth and that dependency on chess.
“She comes from a background where every person she has ever met has let her down in some way, or abandoned her. She doesn’t trust people, and so she’s desperately trying to find a place to fit in. And as a kid I certainly had elements of that, so I was obsessed with her pretty immediately.”
Set mostly in the Sixties, The Queen’s Gambit follows a lonely orphan’s quest to become the world’s greatest chess player while struggling with booze and drug addiction as a teen.
Anya finds her character’s intense love of the board game both sexy and cool — but she had never played it before she landed the role.
She said: “I knew there were pieces, I knew there was a board, but that’s actually what was kind of awesome about getting to do this, that I got invited into a very secret world that’s super-cool and really interesting.
“A lot of the chess, especially the speed chess, was my favourite part of filming.”
She added: “Anything you bring an intensity to has the power to be sexy or cool. I think chess is very cool, personally.
“It’s something people are willing to dedicate so much work and passion to. I find that very sexy and cool.”
And Anya has “really enjoyed” getting to explore her character’s sexuality and love life.
Fans discovered Beth may be a lesbian when a beautiful naked model called Cleo, played by Millie Brady, is seen waking up in her bed.
‘SEX IS INHERENTLY QUITE FUNNY AND AWKWARD’
And when Beth loses her virginity to a boy, she remains fully dressed throughout the awkward encounter — giving him a pat on the shoulder at the end of the encounter. In one interview, Anya said: “Sex is inherently quite funny and awkward.
“The first time Beth does have sex with somebody, I added a pat in.
“Any time she’s played a game of chess, she’s always shaken hands with somebody. So she feels like she needs to close the chapter on whatever just happened.
“She’s like, ‘Well done. You tried. Thank you’.”
Anya’s own love life has not been straightforward either.
She is now with straight-talking celebrity photographer Ben Seed, but she has told how her confidence has been “skewered” in the past and that “toxic relationships really affect you”.
The Queen’s Gambit has been the top-rated show week after week since its release on Netflix on October 23.
It details how Beth’s drug addiction helps her concentrate as she imagines a chessboard on the ceiling to study a variety of openings, defences, and gambits.
But later she becomes hooked on alcohol.
Anya said: “I’m glad Beth’s addiction shows it’s a problem for everybody. There’s a reason that you pick up that first drink or take that first sedative.
“It’s that it does work, at the beginning, but the issue with those substances is they will eventually stop working and they will drive you crazy or kill you.
“Whatever that addiction is that you’ve been keeping, once that is thrown off, when it goes off the rails, that’s when you have to figure it out.”
Anya has now been cast in the lead role in Mad Max spin-off Furiosa and in upcoming horror film Last Night In Soho.
And as befits her new status as a lead actress, she is not afraid to stand up for herself.
She said: “Recently a producer was treating me like a little girl, like I didn’t know what I was talking about.
“So I sat him down in his office and, even though I was afraid that he was physically stronger than me and that he could affect my career, I said, ‘I’ve made more films than you have, so actually, I really do know what I’m talking about’.”
And despite what she may say, it seems she may be learning to accept the most people see her as a beauty, too.
Anya said: “I have made it a practice in my life to not turn down compliments.
“If somebody says I look pretty today, I just say thank you.”