Anya Taylor-Joy Interview: Emma Home Release | Screen Rant
Emma may not be as instantly recognizable as Pride and Prejudice, but it's been adapted nearly as many times. From modern updates like Clueless to painstaking recreations like the 2009 BBC miniseries, various filmmakers and actresses have taken a stab at the haughty but loving heroine in Jane Austen's classic.
Anya Taylor-Joy, who many fans are excited to see take on the role of Magik in the upcoming New Mutants film, brought the character to life in Autumn de Wilde's version of Emma this year. Not only was her performance captivating, but the nuances in both script and direction helped turn a familiar tale into an altogether new one.
With Emma now available through digital and Blu-ray, Screen Rant had the chance to chat with Taylor-Joy about the cosmic bond she feels with director de Wilde, as well as the various ways both women worked with screenwriter Eleanor Catton to let Austen's wit and Emma flaws shine through as they deserved.
I thought this Emma was really fascinating in several of its choices, which made it felt really different from most Jane Austen adaptations. Was there any moment that stood out to you, either when reading the script or when filming, as being in stark contrast to other period pieces?
Anya Taylor-Joy: I think it was the first time I met Autumn. I've been lucky to have this happen, and it really is the most magical thing, when you and the filmmakers get together and somehow have had the same vision. And then you start talking about it, and it just gets more and more fleshed out. I think the second that I met Autumn, I fell in love with her as a person. And then as she opened her mouth and told me more and more, I said, "Yes, absolutely."
It didn't even occur to me that we were remaking something, because it felt so fresh and warm and different. I think the fact that it was a decision that we came to within five minutes of meeting each other, where I was like, "Will I be allowed to play her as unlikable at she is in the books at times?" And she said, "Absolutely. I wouldn't do it any other way." I was like, "Okay, good."
It almost sounds cliché to say it now, but especially for the time period, we have so many lovable male rogues, or unlikeable male characters that get very easily forgiven. It's like, "He has his faults, but he's really great in other things." And I think Emma is probably, for the time period, one of the only characters we have like that. Where it's like, "Oh, she's a brat at times," but you love her anyway.
And she definitely grows up and is humbled by everything that she goes through. I don't think you get the payoff if, when you first meet her, she's the sweetest thing you've ever seen and couldn't hurt a fly. I think you only really get the payoff of Emma humbling herself and growing up in that way if you get to enjoy her naughtiness too.
It sounds like you and Autumn had a really great synergy throughout the film, which is very evident on screen. How did you find each other in the first place? I heard that she wanted you from the start. Can you describe the process of getting cast?
Anya Taylor-Joy: Yeah, it was really wild. I had been doing a photoshoot or something like that, and then as I landed, I got a phone call from the production company. They just said, "Hey, we know that you were wanting to do other movies. Can you just not say yes to anything else yet? For two seconds?" And then they called me back a couple of hours later, and they're like, "We want you to do Emma, and we're flying this woman in who wants to meet for lunch tomorrow." And I was like, "Okay."
Which is crazy. I mean, I think I said yes to a bunch of things and didn't overthink it too much, because it was just too wild. I met her, and we joke about it all the time - but I do not remember say yes to making this film. It was just happening. I think that fated-ness was really wonderful, because we fell in love and Autumn had this incredible box.
She had her pictures for the movie in this gorgeous handmade box that had all these images, from the people that she wanted to play to the color palettes and everything. The first person she pulled out of the box is Mia Goth, who she didn't know had been my best friend for a couple of years. And she's like, "You guys just look like you'd be best friends." I'd been talking to Mia maybe like an hour before I met Autumn, and I was like, "This is really exciting, I'm going to go meet about Emma. It might go really well, hopefully." And then she pulled Mia out of the box. So, it felt really fated.
Speaking of Mia, I loved how genuine the friendship between Emma and Harriet was in this version. How did you guys approach that dynamic? The scene where you said, "I'm doing this because I want to keep Harriet for myself" was the most I've ever believed any Emma ever.
Anya Taylor-Joy: Oh, thank you. I think it was that we talked about multiple love stories and layers. I think a more simplistic way of looking at it - and I'm not saying that it's wrong, it's just not the way that we wanted to do it - is "boy and girl fight all the time, and are in love but don't realize it until the end."
I think the reality is, there's deep love within multiple relationships. There's the love that Emma has for her father, which dictates that she does not want to get married because she does not want to leave him. She wants to stay there. And then there's the relationship with Harriet. Emma's been around adults her whole life, and the closest thing she's had to a mother or friend is Mrs. Weston, who has now moved away.
Harriet - and this is really lovely to be able to talk about with a female director as well, because she knew exactly what I was talking about. I think there's something very specific in female friendships when you're maybe 12 or 13 or even older, and you're falling in love with your best friend, but you're not in love with them. You just want to be around them all the time. They're everything that you think you've ever had, and you almost feel like they are an extension of you. And I think that's the relationship that Harriet and Emma have. It gets too controlling, but you're right, it's the most honest thing that she says.
Something that was really helpful to me in getting into character for Emma actually had a lot to do with Harriet. Again, at some point you can say, "Emma doesn't want Harriet to get married to Robert Martin because he's not wealthy enough." But it goes so far beyond that; it comes from a deep place of loneliness. Harriet is of a lower social standing than I am, so if she marries someone who's wealthier and lives close by, I get to keep Harriet forever because it's acceptable for her to be my friend. It's even more twisted in a way, but Mia and I had so much fun doing it.
Honestly, I think it would have been very different if it had been somebody I didn't know as well, because we had such a shorthand of how to communicate with each other and how to take care of each other. It was great to do it with her.
On the other hand, you and Johnny Flynn also made sparks fly as Emma and Knightley. What do you think draws Emma to him, and what makes him the perfect candidate for a woman who doesn't need marriage?
Anya Taylor-Joy: It's a beautiful relationship, because they truly are each other's equals. That kind of fuels everything else, because Knightley might be the only person who can stand up to her and also take it from her and dole it out in equal measure. Johnny and I had so much fun doing all the argument scenes, because they're kind of the courtship scenes. You can tell that they both admire each other's brains so much.
I think Knightley even says at some point, "Better to be without sense than to misapply it as you do." That's a perfect representation of what's going on. He admires her intelligence so much, but because she's using it incorrectly, it absolutely infuriates him. [Mr. Knightley is] a bit of a mansplainer, but he's doing it because he just wants Emma to grow. And I think the reason that they suit each other so much is because they will literally never be bored. They will argue and debate about everything until kingdom come, and just spar consistently. It was fun to do that performance.
One particularly fun scene was the nosebleed. I read that you literally bled, which is mind-blowing to me. What was the inspiration behind that moment?
Anya Taylor-Joy: It was in the script from the beginning, and that was one of the things that I really loved. Because it's so human; we all have that moment. Maybe it wasn't a nosebleed, but we all have that moment where it's the most romantic thing that has ever happened, and then all of a sudden you get something caught in your eye. And you're just like, "Damnit, body, do not betray me. I've got to keep it together!"
Yeah, it was already in the script. And if I could explain it, I would, but my body does something weird when I belong to characters and other people. I had a proclivity for nosebleeds when I was a kid, I haven't had a nosebleed in years - absolute years. And then the morning that we were doing the scene, I woke up and had a nosebleed. I was like, "Okay, that's weird." Autumn and I joked about being possessed by Emma and then moved on with our day.
We weren't going to do the blood until it was my coverage. Then, obviously, it was my coverage over Johnny's shoulder and we [were prepping] for it. And then my nose just started bleeding; it just happened. The spookiest thing about it is was that Autumn had traced on my face where she wanted the blood to go, and completely seriously, the blood followed it and stayed there.
It was the weirdest situation; it was so magical. It definitely gave a different kind of energy to to the day. It was quite pungent.
What aspect of Emma is easiest for you to play, and which part is most difficult for you to understand?
Anya Taylor-Joy: It's a combination, actually, because I think the thing that we share the most is probably one of my sorest and most private parts. I'm very close to my father, like, I really love my dad. I could really connect with that, and Bill and I very quickly formed a very strong relationship.
That's one of my favorite things about her relationship with Knightley - the fact that he is so accepting of this very important relationship in the woman that he love's life, and he's not threatened by it and actually want to be a part of it. Which is really wonderful. That's something I really connect with.
Something more difficult is, and Autumn and I discussed it a lot after filming ended, that I was very bullied as a kid. I have never been the bully, and it doesn't feel good even when you're playing a role. It's funny actually, because I've played a psychopath before - a proper psychopath. And the whole time I was playing, I defended her completely, because you have to be in their headspace if you want to justify their choice. You just do. And at the end of filming, that's when you realize what a terrible person she was.
But with Emma, I was very hyper-aware that she was a good person who was acting like a bully. And that made those moments much harder to do. I would go up to Autumn and be like, "I don't like Emma right now." I've not had that with a character before, and I think it's because she's a good human; she's just not treating people with the respect that they deserve.
Aside from Emma, which is your favorite Jane Austen novel or character?
Anya Taylor-Joy: Aside from Emma? Not necessarily a book that she published, but a book that I really thoroughly enjoy is Jane Austen's Letters to Her Sister Cassandra [and Others]. Which is real letters that Jane Austen wrote to her sister.
I find them fascinating. They're truly fascinating, because it's talking about her life and what she's experiencing, and her wanting to be a writer. And the world not being built, really, for women to succeed at all. It's wonderful to have a very intimate insight into the mind of such a brilliant human.
Emma is now available on digital as well as on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand.