Few up-and-coming actors can pull off an intense, unnerving stare like Anya Taylor-Joy, so naturally she’s found herself playing a chess prodigy. Taylor-Joy stars in Netflix’s new limited series The Queen’s Gambit, based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel, which follows an orphan in late-1950s Kentucky named Beth Harmon who discovers that she has an incredible talent for chess. She also develops an addiction to tranquilizers, which were then used as sedatives for children. “Haunted by her personal demons and fueled by a cocktail of narcotics and obsession,” according to a Netflix synopsis, “Beth transforms into an impressively skilled and glamorous outcast while determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess.”
Scott Frank, of Logan and Godless, co-created, executive produced, directed, and wrote the series, with Allan Scott, who also co-created and executive produced it, and William Horberg, who executive produced. The rest of the cast includes the director Marielle Heller as a housewife who takes in Beth as an adopted daughter, Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster as a chess competitor of Beth’s, Moses Ingram as a fellow orphan who befriends Beth, Harry Melling as another chess player, and Bill Camp as a janitor who introduces Beth to the game.
Taylor-Joy, who was recently seen in Regency England in Emma. — and appears in New Mutants, which is somehow coming to theaters after an extensive set of delays — apparently studied her character’s subject in-depth in the process of shooting the series. “I learned more about chess than I ever thought I would in my life!” Taylor-Joy told Vulture in a statement. “I love a challenge and it gave me such a sense of accomplishment. I fell in love with the game. That was my main adjustment because I spend a lot of time in my characters’ heads and that’s where my research comes from for me. It’s about understanding them, but obviously, when you’re playing chess, you actually need to know the rules of the game and you need to know what you’re talking about. So I have lots of really niche knowledge on chess now that I’m very proud of.” You can watch Taylor-Joy deploy that chess knowledge when The Queen’s Gambit premieres October 23.