'The Queen's Gambit' star Anya Taylor-Joy explains it was important for substance abuse scenes to 'be different'

Raechal Shewfelt
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·2 min read

There's a reason that Anya Taylor-Joy's portrayal of someone struggling with drugs and alcohol on The Queen's Gambit was unlike those on other TV shows and movies.

"Much like we always wanted to make the chess scenes very different," Taylor-Joy said during a virtual conversation with the cast hosted by the Paley Center for Media, "it was incredibly important for the substance abuse scenes to be different, because we wanted to show what it is that she was getting out of it or what it was that she was trying to get out of it. And the thing about substance abuse is that it works for a period of time, that’s why people do it. It works. And then eventually it stops working and then it completely derails your life."

The characters played by Harry Melling and Anya Taylor-Joy face off in a game of chess in the second episode. (Photo: Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection)
The characters played by Harry Melling and Anya Taylor-Joy face off in a game of chess in the second episode. (Photo: Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Taylor-Joy, who won a Golden Globe for playing chess prodigy Beth in the Netflix drama, said she and series co-creator Scott Frank discussed the subject at length.

"In a lot of films I’ve seen that tackle substance abuse," Taylor-Joy said, "usually something really bombastic and loud happens and it’s like, this is your rock bottom."

But that's not always the way it plays out in real life.

The actress recalled a "beautiful, heartbreaking line" that the character of Harry Beltik (played by Harry Melling) says to Beth, out of concern for her. It comes in the sixth episode, as he's explaining that he watched his father struggle with alcoholism. He remembers, "He wasn’t mean or anything. He just got quiet and fell asleep in his clothes."

Taylor-Joy appreciated the realism.

"That reality of what it is to live with addiction and that it’s not this big, rock and roll, you know, I got drunk on a plane and woke up in Las Vegas," she said. "It's not that. It's like, no, it's you locked inside your house. Like, it's that. And I think having that respect for the quiet sadness of it and the quiet despair, I think, potentially people haven't really seen that much of that. And it shone a light in a different way."

Watch the full Paley Center panel discussion with the cast of The Queen's Gambit below:

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