‘Queen’s Gambit': How Chess Novice Anya Taylor-Joy Nailed Those Tournament Scenes

A version of this story about "The Queen’s Gambit" first appeared in the December issue of TheWrap magazine.
Beth Harmon, the chess prodigy who played Anya Taylor-Joy in Netflix's breakout hit "The Queen's Gambit," knows how to properly perform a perfect fork maneuver and beat any unsuspecting newbie with a fellow scholar. But before Taylor-Joy could feel comfortable with either thing, she had to take a crash course in all of the chess areas of the hypercompetitive players the series revolves around.
"I had never played chess before," she said. “I knew the chess community was very passionate and I applaud that. It was very important to me that I understood the chess theory really well. "
Taylor-Joys Harmon is a Cold War orphan who, after becoming addicted to tranquilizers at a far too young age, takes up the game under the guidance of Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), a caretaker at the orphanage . After Beth realizes that she has an innate talent for the game (a talent that is at least partially due to her hallucinating chess boards on the ceiling, thanks to the pills she “practices” with in bed), Beth begins her search become the top ranked chess player in the world in the fight against drug and alcohol addiction.
Also read: As Netflix 'The Queen's Gambit' captivated fans, chess app downloads doubled
Of course, without having played any of the centuries-old games, Taylor-Joy had to study with experts such as the Russian grandmaster and former world champion Garry Kasparov and the experienced chess trainer Bruce Pandolfini. Taylor-Joy said they had about three competitive players on set when they were filming these scenes. "Understanding the theory and being able to do it in a real game are two very different things," said Taylor-Joy. “There was no way I could remember a Rolodex with 350 unique chess sequences. I just had to learn it before the game, do it, execute it, and then move on to the next one. "
The show was heralded for its accuracy in terms of competitive chess. This is one of the reasons why "The Queen's Gambit" - named after Walter Tevis' 1983 novel and an actual chess opening move that is one of the oldest in the world - was a hit in the world. "At least for me as a beginner, it was so wonderful to have all these details that I never thought of," said Taylor-Joy. "Do you know how the room smells when a whole bunch of guys sit over boards and sweat for eight hours? How does it feel to adjourn and then come back?"
Taylor-Joy played a 17th century puritan The Witch and a wealthy 19th century English celebrity in "Emma" and is used to portraying characters from a bygone era. But Beth Harmon was different. "I've never had an experience like that in which I was," she said. “Her feelings came up every day. And I said, 'Is that mine? Is that yours? How do I react to that? '”
Also read: Barack Obama names "Soul", "Nomadland", "The Queen's Gambit", "The Boys" among the favorite films and TV shows of 2020
In fact, she was excited about the role from the moment she read Tevis' book and heard that co-creator Scott Frank wanted to meet her. "It's really difficult to explain the compulsion that comes with having a character meant for you," she said. “In the end, I ran to the meeting. I'm not running anywhere. And I ran to meet this man. And I didn't even say hello, I just stormed into the restaurant and thought, "It's not just about chess." And she has red hair. She must have red hair. '”
"The Queen’s Gambit" was one of the biggest new hits of autumn - and one of the most surprising when you consider that on the one hand you can rely on the films and TV shows that are about competitive chess. The series debuted on October 23, just before Halloween and in the middle of a chaotic news cycle between the ongoing pandemic and the weeklong election night. "It's impossible not to tell when people are really enjoying something," said Taylor-Joy. "It's been a tough year. I'm glad that people are excited about something and that art has brought comfort."
Read more from the documentary edition of TheWrap Awards Season Magazine.
TheWrap Magazine Oscars Documentary Edition
Read the original Queen's Gambit story: How novice chess Anya Taylor-Joy nailed those tournament scenes at TheWrap
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