To play the extraordinarily intelligent Casey—a survivor with a dark past of her own—filmmakers of Universal Pictures’ new suspense thriller Split turned to Anya Taylor-Joy, one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming stars.
Audiences first learned of Taylor-Joy’s extraordinary talents following her breakout role in the 2015 horror film The Witch. Director M. Night Shyamalan says of her performance, “She had this amazing rawness. I felt very lucky she said yes to Split.”
For her work in The Witch, Taylor-Joy was selected by The Hollywood Reporter as their “Next Big Thing,” and praised by Tthe Guardian as an Oscar® contender. Vanity Fair said, “She holds the camera with an ethereal, but slightly menacing, energy. She could be destined for big things.”
Starring James McAvoy, Split is an original film that delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind. Though Kevin (McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities—each with unique physical attributes—to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey (Taylor-Joy), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him—as well as everyone around him—as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.
Before joining the cast, Taylor-Joy had the opportunity to first see the script. “Initially, they wanted me to sign on without having read it, but I pleaded to get a copy,” says Taylor-Joy. “I was shocked and amazed by the story; it occupied my brain for days.”
Taylor-Joy quickly found a path into her character as she easily related to Casey’s outsider status. “That quality of not fitting in could be her saving grace, which is such an intriguing idea,” she says, adding that she also admired Casey’s resourcefulness and strength. “She’s tough because she had to survive experiences no one should go through, but that background gave her the exceptional ability to break down problems by seeing the situation as it is, not how she wants it to be.”
Shyamalan’s distinct directing style was an asset for Taylor-Joy, especially during the supernatural thriller’s most terrifying scenes in which her character went head to head with one of Kevin’s alters. “I’ve learned there’s such a thing as generalized fear, panic or despair, and these feelings can’t be generalized—they must be specific to the character,” she says. “In a scene where I’m acting overwhelmed or terrified, Night would say, ‘I don’t know who that was, but that wasn’t Casey.’ And he’s always right.”
The writer/director also worked to make each take unique by having actors approach a scene with a different thought on their minds. “As actors we’re feeding off each other: If James does something different then I’ll respond differently,” says Taylor-Joy. “It was fascinating to see how the scenes played out. James is one of the best actors of our generation and watching him up close was a master class.”
Intense scenes prompted McAvoy to become protective of the young actress. “It would have been difficult, and perhaps psychologically affecting, to do this role with a method actor,” says Taylor-Joy. “Fortunately, James wanted me to feel as comfortable as possible, and would often joke between takes to lighten the mood.”
Opening across the Philippines on January 18, Split is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.