Dream Team: Last Night in Soho's Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy on success, horror, and getting in sync
New Zealand native Thomasin McKenzie, 21, and London-raised Anya Taylor-Joy, 25, are two of the most sought-after actresses of their generation. Though, if we're splitting hairs, Taylor-Joy is on the cusp of Millennial-hood and Generation Z, while McKenzie is firmly planted in the latter. Birth years aside, both women have been steadily rising in the industry at parallel speeds, and are only now getting the chance to work together.
After just a couple small parts, Taylor-Joy caught the attention of Hollywood during the 2015 film festival circuit with her unsettling but fierce performance in Robert Egger's The Witch, playing a young girl witnessing her colonial, puritanical family be torn apart by terrifying events in the 1600s. McKenzie, though active in the Kiwi film space since 2012, had her breakthrough performance a few years later in director Debra Granik's 2018 indie darling Leave No Trace as a teenager living deep in an Oregon park with her survivalist father (Ben Foster).
Since then, it seems as if every auteur of the moment wants to work with them. For McKenzie, those names included David Michôd (The King), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), Liz Garbus (Lost Girls), and Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog). For Taylor-Joy, Sergio G. Sánchez (Marrowbone), Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds), Autumn de Wilde (Emma), and Scott Frank (The Queen's Gambit) came knocking. Not to mention both leading ladies already have a filmmaker in common, M. Night Shyamalan, who directed McKenzie in Old and Taylor-Joy in Split and Glass.
With Last Night in Soho, their paths converge as they add another illustrious director to their impressive résumés.
Playing Eloise (or "Ellie," as she's also known) in Edgar Wright's psychological thriller, McKenzie stars as an aspiring fashion designer with a psychic gift who moves to London's Soho district for school. She rents a flat and finds herself transported to the 1960s through her dreams. But when she becomes supernaturally entwined with a singer of the age (Taylor-Joy's Sandie), she finds herself heading deeper into a nightmare she can't seem to wake from.
Sitting down (remotely) with Entertainment Weekly, McKenzie and Taylor-Joy discuss how they navigated success in Hollywood at a young age, channeling Wright's '60s soundtrack for Last Night in Soho, choreographing their complex dream sequences together, and what's next for them.
On navigating fame
THOMASIN MCKENZIE: I just really took on Ellie's struggles and I found it quite difficult to separate myself from my character. I think that had an effect on my performance because there were points I really felt like I was going through what Ellie was going through. Ellie was a young fashion student coming from a small town to London for the first time and with lots of naivety and hope and excitement for what's to come. I was on that journey coming from New Zealand and traveling the world and seeing these new places with big hopes and excitement for these amazing projects that I get to do. I've gotten to a point where I've been able to take stock of things and slow down and appreciate what's happened and just try to find the joy of what I'm doing and not let the stress take over because I love what I do. I want the love to be the driving force.
ANYA TAYLOR-JOY: I was actually just saying to my friend, I'd forgotten about this memory entirely. You know how suddenly memories just pop up in your brain? I suddenly remembered exactly where I was when Robert [Eggers] called me to tell me that we had gotten into Sundance [for The Witch]. I knew so little about the film industry that I was like, "Cool! Is that a good thing?" He's like, "Yeah! It's a great thing. We're in competition." I was like, "Oh, fun! I hope that goes well for us." I look back with a lot of love at where everything really started because it did feel like I went to Sundance and I just didn't really go home after that. The thing I'm most grateful for is all of the success of [The Queen's Gambit, for which Taylor-Joy won a Golden Globe for her performance as chess prodigy Beth Harmon] has really embedded into me what I already knew: I'm in this industry for the work. It's not because I'm ungrateful for any of it. It's so wonderful and really, really exciting. But at the end of the day, I just can't wait to get back to work. That's my driving force. I think I've fallen more in love with my work, if that was even possible.
On working with Edgar Wright
MCKENZIE: First and foremost, he gave me a list of around 50 or so films to make my way through, all horror and psychological thriller films from around the '60s: Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, Don't Look Now. That really allowed me to get an idea of the mood, the visuals, the psychological thriller that he wanted. He had a lot of storyboards. Every single shot in the entire film had been storyboarded. When we completed each shot, he'd rip the storyboard off and throw it into a box with all the other completed shots. He just knew exactly what he wanted. He had a mood reel for each character, where he stitched together a whole bunch of clips that he really liked, drawing inspiration from a whole range of films.
TAYLOR-JOY: I'm a big believer in fate, and I feel like the people I'm supposed to work with end up doing it in a weird way. I didn't chase Scott Frank. We were supposed to make The Queen's Gambit together. I met Edgar for the first time straight after The Witch, and that was the first time that he told me about Last Night in Soho. So, we've been talking about this project for years. I'd only done two films at that point and only one of them was out. He had me cast [in McKenzie's role of Eloise] as the audience's viewpoint, and then Edgar and I thought it would be more fun to be the slightly audacious type [as Sandie]. Edgar is a huge film buff and he definitely loves the horror genre and he wanted to pay homage to that. But I do think the very nature of the story that we're telling, it's so in the characters' heads and you really invest in Thomasin's character. You get engulfed into her literal dreams.
On channeling the '60s
MCKENZIE: I'd never done anything that had so many factors to take into account. In terms of character, I spent a lot of time studying fashion, reading and learning about the '60s, doing the accent, doing the dance choreography. It was my first time doing stunts. So there was just a lot. I think one thing that informed my performance a lot was the relationship that Ellie has with Peggy, her grandma. I've lived with my grandma my entire life. Our bedrooms are right next door to each other downstairs. In a way, I was doing this film as a tribute to my love of her. My grandma's a grounding force to me.
TAYLOR-JOY: The first music that I fell in love with was the music of the '60s. My playlists for both Sandie and Beth [from The Queen's Gambit] was the playlists of my teenage years. It was all the music that I listened to when I was growing up. [Edgar and I] both share a deep love and appreciation of The Kinks. We spent many, many an hour discussing them and their brilliance.
On finding their rhythm
MCKENZIE: One of the biggest challenges of it was the timing. The movie really moves to the rhythm of the songs that are playing in the background and those songs tell your own story and become your own character. There was music playing in the background and sometimes if it wasn't music, it would be metronome beats. You'd hear the "tick" and you'd have to be exactly on that beat. The continuity on this film was unlike anything I'd ever done before. I had to be so precise, which to be honest, I struggled with 'cause I'm not a natural dancer. Another part of my preparation was doing dance lessons in Wellington.
TAYLOR-JOY: I love that Edgar directs in beats because I have a background as a ballet dancer. I naturally see scenes in beats. When I'm going through it in my head, I'm almost dancing a bit. And Edgar does the same thing with directing. Every one of my projects has presented me with a different kind of challenge or a different way of getting into character, and being able to be directed lyrically was a real pleasure for me. It melded both of my loves of dance and acting. I'm so proud of how much of our film is practical effects. We tried every different angle of how we could do it practically, and that, for the two of us as actors, was just so much fun. We just had a very sisterly bonds pretty immediately. There were many scenes where if Thomasin couldn't move, I couldn't move. If I don't move, Thomasin can't move. Getting into that almost meditative state with another actor where you're not just aware of what's happening in your body, you're acutely aware of what's happening in theirs, that was really fun for the both of us. We also just enjoyed having a sister in arms. We did a lot of night shoots on this very big movie. We were pretty tired most of the time. Having a friend to lean on was a good thing.
MCKENZIE: A big part of the rehearsals with our choreographer Jenny White were those scenes in the trailer walking down to the Café de Paris. It's the first time Ellie enters into one of these dreams. The second [Ellie and Sandie] lock eyes, they're in sync and they are each other. Those were very cool and quite mesmerizing to do, to be able to mimic someone so closely that every movement, every head tilt is the same. Anya is a beautiful dancer. I learned a lot from her to see her fluidity and confidence.
On what's next for them
MCKENZIE: I'd really like to do more stunt work. It's something that I really, really enjoy. I had to do a bit of that on Life After Life [the upcoming series], as well. I like the challenge of making it look as real and as intense as possible. I had to punch someone in Life After Life. I'm not tooting my own horn, but it was a pretty bloody good fake punch. Everyone was very excited about it. I promise I'm not violent person. I always say I want to play a fairy. I want to play a little tiny person. I'd like to do more animation. I have something in the works. My top, top goal is to voiceover work for a Hayao Miyazaki film. So, I'm just putting that out there.
TAYLOR-JOY: [Furiosa director] George [Miller] is incredibly generous and so passionate. I love working with him already. He's just the best. I think my preparation is just about becoming strong enough to be able to carry this film. That's what it is. It's emotional strength, it's physical strength, it's mental strength. I cannot wait. I'm so excited. It wouldn't be Mad Max, if there were not vehicles of some sort.
Last Night in Soho is in theaters this Friday.