'The Queen's Gambit': Beth Harmon Actor Anya Taylor-Joy Reveals What the Show Is Really About (It's Not Chess)

The Queen’s Gambit and the show’s central character, Beth Harmon, are taking Netflix viewers by storm. All over the world people are sitting in their living rooms shocked at how enraptured they are by a show about chess. Well, if you ask Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth, she’ll tell you the miniseries isn’t actually about the two-player strategy board game at all. And that’s why it’s so captivating.

What Anya Taylor-Joy wants people to know about Beth Harmon in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

In an interview with TV Insider on Oct. 16, Taylor-Joy said she has “such an intense romantic relationship with [Beth]. I fell in love with her completely.”

She wants viewers to know that Beth operates in a different way from everyone else. Not only is she brilliant, but she’s also very far removed from what a “normal life” is supposed to look like.  

“Beth is not somebody who finds interactions with human beings particularly easy or enjoyable whilst she desperately seeks them,” said Taylor-Joy. “And in seeking a world in which she can understand a little bit more, chess takes that position very firmly. And she finds a lot of security in that. She’s a bad*ss. But she definitely has her flaws as well.”

Beth Harmon’s separateness from society, while lonely, is also a great advantage in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ 

Particularly in the beginning of the series, there’s a lot of attention on the fact that Beth is a girl. Taylor-Joy says Beth’s bafflement at the focus on her gender just goes to show how silly it is to need to categorize people in neat little boxes.

“One of the most beautiful things about Beth is she’s so distanced from society and society’s expectation of her that she is genuinely baffled that people speak about her gender more than they speak about — especially at the beginning — how excellent she is at the game.

“And that level of bewilderment is so wonderful to bring into it because it shows you how ridiculous it is that people would even question… like, ‘Oh, you can’t be glamorous and a chess player.’ She’s like, ‘What are you talking about? This is just my expression.’”

Taylor-Joy says Beth’s expression (with fashion) is something she, creator Scott Frank, and costume designer Gabriele Binder worked to make a focal point of the show.

“We sort of wanted to show you a really complex human being and say, ‘Look, just because she’s a brain doesn’t mean — if she wants to wear sweat pants, sure, fine,” she said. “But she also happens to love fashion at the same time. And you can’t categorize people in a way that makes you feel comfortable. You have to be accepting of all of their intricacies.’” 

What ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is really about

The Queen’s Gambit certainly heavily features the game of chess. But Taylor-Joy says the game is really just a vehicle to show the personal story of Beth Harmon, a person who’s trying her best to figure out how to move through the world.

“The separation between, she’s not a perfect person, she’s working on herself,” said Taylor-Joy of Beth’s journey in the show. “It’s like, yes, we are all human beings desperately working on ourselves. If you’re not growing you’re not alive anymore. You’re supposed to confront your flaws and grow from them.”

“It is of course about a woman who’s brilliant at chess and that rises to the top of a male-dominated field. But like pretty much every field is male-dominated,” she continued. “So it’s more about a really brilliant person who struggles with herself and overcomes that internal struggle. That’s really what it’s about.”

Taylor-Joy thinks Beth is the perfect underdog. Because that’s what The Queen’s Gambit is about at the end of the day — a story about an extraordinary underdog.

“We’re working, hopefully, toward a society where your gender doesn’t define what your dreams are allowed to be,” she said. “And I think Beth is a really beautiful representation of that because, yes, she’s a female underdog. But she’s also an underdog period.”

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