Looking back on 2019, Anya Taylor-Joy is quick to muse it was like a year of acting bootcamp. That is to say that other than a literal day off between finishing the Jane Austen adaptation, Emma., and beginning Last Night in Soho, Edgar Wright’s forthcoming time travel horror, her daily life was regimented by polar extremes in genre and performance discipline.
“There’s a few through-lines between the two characters—but not really,” Taylor-Joy says when we catch up with her ahead of Emma.’s release. “To go from Emma to singing as Sandy was a trip [and] I had to really think on my feet.”
Indeed, there appears to be little overlap between Taylor-Joy’s mischievous and quick-witted heroine in Emma. and what we know about Sandy in Last Night. One is a humorous, cutting turn for the The Witch star that finally realizes on screen how Austen introduced the character: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich” (director Autumn de Wilde tellingly refers to her as an “anti-heroine”). The other is a seeming ghost out of the past, as the Last Night in Soho logline merely describes Sandy as a “dazzling wannabe singer” in swinging ‘60s London.
Yet both roles allow Taylor-Joy to finally sing on screen, something she’s done at home all her life, which has earned her the nickname of “Duracell Bunny” from her parents and siblings. “They’re like, ‘Where do we find the button to switch you off?’ because I’m always singing and dancing, and being a general nuisance.” She even hopes to one day dedicate that energy toward professionally developing her own music.
For now though, she remains somewhat cryptic about how that talent translates to Last Night in Soho, teasing, “Sandy does her own rendition of a well-known song.” But Taylor-Joy is plenty open about the excitement of working with both Edgar Wright and co-screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who just received an Oscar nomination for her first feature screenplay, 1917. Like Taylor-Joy, they’re leaving their perceived comfort zones of a World War I drama or, in Wright’s case, genre-bending action-comedies like Hot Fuzz and Baby Driver.
“Krysty’s an absolute darling,” Taylor-Joy says, “I love her, and it’s been so wonderful seeing her get the applause she deserves for 1917. Just the two of them are very different in terms of how they are on set.”
Yet with Wright she found a filmmaker whose emphasis on narrative rhythm and meticulous details was liberating. He even appears to be continuing his Baby Driver trick of filming set-pieces in sync with the scene’s intended song.
“Something I really appreciate about Edgar is he’s very single-minded and he gets lost in beats… and coming from a dance background myself, I sort of act in beats. So it’s fun to be able to collaborate, because I feel like we had enough trust in each other, that he would play me a segment of the song and go, ‘By this point you need to be over here.’ And I would be able to choreograph a little bit of what I wanted to do and if he liked it, it’s in the movie. It was almost, for the amount of money that we had and for the scale of the production, there were elements of it that still felt like quite homegrown moviemaking.”
It’s also a departure from her performance in this month’s Emma. where the actor and her co-stars turn Austen’s felicity of language into a verbal boxing match. But there is again that musicality, even though Taylor-Joy is quick to stress that the scene where Emma sings an airy English folk tune on a pianoforte is Emma Woodhouse singing and not, strictly speaking, Anya Taylor-Joy singing.
“I was trying to do the most breathy, overdramatic, ‘Aren’t I pretty when I turn my head to the left?’ kind of performance of it ever,” she laughs. “But every time I watch it, I just cringe. I’m like, ‘Oh God, this is like watching an old home movie.’ It makes my skin crawl.”
Emma. opens in select cities on Feb. 21 and nationwide on March 6. Check back next week for our full discussions about the film, growing up with Austen, and more.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of both the Critics Choice Association and the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.