Anya Taylor-Joy talks M. Night's Split, The Witch and her role in horror so far

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Jan 16, 2017

WARNING: Mild spoilers for Split.

Tragedy struck early the morning I was scheduled to interview Anya Taylor-Joy, star of M. Night Shyamalan's latest genre bender, Split, which tells the story of a man with multiple personalities and the insidious reason why he would kidnap three young women. The plan had been:

1. Have Anya and I wear adorable animal ears
2. ...
3. Profit

The ears fell out of my pocket in transit. Noooooooo! But a man with a velvet blazer and heart-emblazoned cardigan should never be deterred from cuteness, and so I told Anya about the ears and offered her the option that we could pretend we were wearing them anyway.

"What ears did we have?" Anya asks, equally undeterred. The options, for the record, were Cute Pink Kitten and Adorable Brown Bear.

"I am the bear. I am going to take the bear." That was Anya's answer, and that was kind of the role she played in our interview.

I was nervous, as a pink kitten might be in meeting a brown bear, because Taylor-Joy is, in a very short time, becoming one of the more notable names in art house horror. The Witch made quite an impression last year, with Morgan carrying similar buzz. Now with Split out this week and Marrowbone on the horizon, Taylor-Joy is solidifying herself as a breakout star in this, our creepiest of genres.

How did it happen? "I've been shooting six movies back to back," she says. "I didn't seek the genre, but I followed the characters and the stories that really spoke to me, and they all just happened to be dark."

Doing a number of horror movies in a row can carry with it a title: Scream Queen. Well-known horror actor Barbara Crampton recently wrote a fascinating piece called "Don't Call Me a Scream Queen," so I asked Anya how she felt about the moniker.

"I don't feel any negative connotation to it. That might be because it rhymes and I like things that rhyme."

But there's more to being a woman in the horror world than a single term. And so we also talked about a specific element of Split which (spoiler alert!) does involve the three captured women in the movie being forced into various stages of undress. I wanted to know -- how did Taylor-Joy feel about that during filming? Was there a moment where she questioned this specific element of the visual narrative?

"Going in because I'd already done movies where I'd been in really weird situations, I knew I was safe. It was all my friends and people I really admire. So you feel safe in that environment. However, there was a moment in the tunnels where I became aware of how skimpy my clothing was and I kinda took Night aside and said, 'Are we making a misogynistic movie, because I need to know right now.' Because I couldn't see what was on screen and I didn't know. And having seen the movie now, it's not. Yes, it's an element. It's strange. I almost think that Casey, because of what she's come from, that she's so shut down and that she's put so many layers on that you can see that represented in her clothing. And as the film goes on she starts to see that her vulnerability might be her ticket out."

This is hardly the first time Taylor-Joy has been in a position where a feminist lens would be applied to her work. I told Anya that, for my money, The Witch had the happiest ending of 2016, which earned both an "I agree" and a hearty high-five. "Such a happy ending. She's liberated from her oppressors. You can even see it in the clothes. Going into the house and you can feel the weight of the clothes as they come off."

As for Split itself, Taylor-Joy got the most exciting play out of working through her character Casey's personal issues with James McAvoy's character, Hedwig. "I was really intrigued that this chick has a relationship with a little boy that's living inside of her captor's body," says Taylor-Joy. "I think she's quite sympathetic toward him. He's a little boy who will never grow up. Hedwig breaks her a little bit because she realizes that in order to get through to him she's going to have to remove a lot of hardness from her."

It should come as no surprise that Split does have a major twist as is the M. Night way. Anya and I were told not to talk about it, but I had to know -- did she have an emotional or physical reaction to Split's twist?

"I was completely silent with my mouth hung open and thought, damn, Night's smart."

We'll be talking about that ending soon enough and how smart Night may be very soon. Split opens on January 20.