Actor of the Week: Anya Taylor-Pleasure


THE ACTOR | Anya Taylor-Joy

THE SHOW | Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit

THE CONSEQUENCE | “Episode 4: Medium Game” (October 23, 2020)

THE PERFORMANCE | In her early episodes, Taylor-Joy Beth Harmons delicately portrayed steadfast, almost robotic quality as the child prodigy shot from tournament to tournament, mowing opponent for opponent. (Aside from her ability as an actress, who better than Taylor-Joy with her Keane Eyes if you want to get someone to think about chess pieces for minutes?)

But episode 4 of the series was a turning point in many ways for Beth as she really started exploring this thing called life – and a thing called death – and that’s where Taylor-Joy put it in a higher gear.

At this stage of her journey, Beth nudged classmates from junior college where she was learning Russian. As she partied into the night with them, she learned about letting go as well as her first lesson in the unsatisfactory “tower trade” (after her sexual curiosity was kindled by … a dildo candle). The next morning we got our first feel for Beth’s ability to be independent as a young woman when she was shopping and cleaning for these strangers (while juggling a spliff and lots of waves).

But it was her trip to a tournament in Mexico City that was going to change so much for Beth. While Mrs. Wheatley spent the days and nights with pen pal Miguel (“I’m pretty sure you’re king,” her congregation dryly remarked to the twins), Beth studied diligently for her first duel with Borgov. On the way, she saw herself in a Russian child prodigy and asked the friendly boys questions she’d never asked herself – like, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” One of Taylor-Joy’s finest moments, it could be argued, was when Beth said to the boy (after defeating him), “You’re the best I’ve ever played” because you saw the award of Praise to both means so much of them.

Then came Borgov … and Beth’s first loss to him. Beth then decompressed in her room and berated herself at her mother. She wondered how she fell for such “obvious” and “bureaucratic” movements. But the biggest blow of the trip was still to come when Beth noticed that her mother had died and was actually lying lifeless in bed. In the following scenes, in which Beth dealt with her mother’s drinking and a mindless Mr. Wheatley, Taylor-Joy made our hearts break with Beth’s – all the way to her plane toast a Gibson to her suddenly missing mother.

AWARD | At one point we thought the biggest compliment we could give to Austin Amelio of Fear the Walking Dead was no longer loathing Dwight, the vicious character he spawned in The Walking Dead. But since we crossed, Amelio actually made us love Dwight. The way he plays the former Savior’s determination to do what is right is righteous and makes it impossible for him to resist. And in Alaska, while struggling to secure buddy Al’s reunion with her beer lady, actor Dwight revealed a cutie who couldn’t even cover his scars. When it turned out that he was seeing his long-lost wife again, we cried even harder than she did, proof of the remarkable change that Amelio Dwight brought about.

AWARD | This Is Us’s Milo Ventimiglia shouldn’t be able to wow us all over again with a moment from flashback to the day Kate and Kevin were born. After all, the show has repeated this terrible incident several times in the life of the young family: what else could there be to say? Many, it turns out, thanks to Ventimiglia’s gripping depiction of a frightened Jack alone in the hospital chapel. Ventimiglia showed us exactly how angry his character was at God – and how deeply he was afraid that his wife and babies would die. The bitterness with which the actor pleaded with God to answer his prayers only once gave the character, who had hitherto been sociable, an interesting advantage and once again proved that Ventimiglia knows Jack Pearson inside out.

Which performance (s) blew your socks off this week? Tell us in the comments!

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