Based on the novel by Jessie Burton, the three-part mini-series The Miniaturist (airing in the U.S. on Masterpiece on PBS) is set in 1686 and follows 18-year-old Petronella Oortman (Anya Taylor-Joy), or Nella, who shows up in Amsterdam with hopes of dreams of beginning a new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell). But after meeting his cold sister (Romola Garai) and their servants (Hayley Squires, Paapa Essiedu) and realizing just how many secrets they’re all hiding, and receiving a wedding gift that is a miniature replica of their home that seems to mysteriously predict the future in unsettling ways.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Anya Taylor-Joy talked about what attracted her to The Miniaturist and this role, how modern this story feels, the incredible miniatures that were custom built, the fun of playing a character who gets to find her own voice, and getting used to wearing a corset without suffocating. She also talked about working with M. Night Shyamalan on Split and Glass, and when and how she found out just what story they were telling, as well as why she loves her New Mutants character, and her desire to keep playing characters that feel real and identifiable.
Collider: This is such an interesting story. It’s so strange and bizarre, and yet still somehow feels very modern.
ANYA TAYLOR-JOY: Very modern. I think what’s interesting about it, and what we knew going into it and all became aware of as we were filming it, as we spent more and more time with the characters, and it’s my favorite aspect of the story, is that societies stop once the door closes. Within this house, they’re all continuously subverting their stereotypes and being oddballs. They’re all safe within this house, and I think that’s really wonderful.
Did you ever get to play with all of the miniatures?
TAYLOR-JOY: No. We were all fascinated because the cabinet hadn’t been made until we were about a third of the way through because, obviously, the craftsmanship was so intense. We were all so excited the day that it arrived, and then once we saw it, we were like, “Whoa, that’s really intense!” It was miniatures of us, and they looked just like us. They were brilliant, but at the same time, it was weird, holding your friends in your hands in tiny doll form, that were wearing the exact same outfit that you were wearing. You were just like, “Okay, I’m good now. I’m putting them away!”
Did you ever try to sneak away with one of them?
TAYLOR-JOY: No. We did have the conversation of, “Should we keep them? Otherwise, somebody would have little voodoo dolls of us, in a random cupboard or drawer,” but no. They were very meticulous with the miniatures because they were so tiny.
What were most excited about with this character, and what made you most nervous about playing her?
TAYLOR-JOY: I instantly heard her voice. That’s how I usually tend to get into characters. I was initially intrigued by the fact that she was excited to be married to a wealthy man in Amsterdam. She wasn’t like, “Who is this older dude?” She was just like, “Yes, I want to go to Amsterdam and fulfill this role.” What I found really interesting about her is that, in the beginning, her personality is what society’s ideologies have put on her. So, she’s quiet and reserved, and she’s going to be a wife and help out her family and perform her duties, beautifully and gracefully. And then, once she gets in that house, that completely gets wiped away from her and she has no ground to stand on anymore. She really creates her own personality, in a very short amount of time, and I was really excited to do that. She builds herself from the inside out, and I thought that was cool.
Did you ever have to wrap your brain around the fact that she seemed excited about essentially being sold to somebody?
TAYLOR-JOY: I did. If you take that in a modern sense, it’s awful and ghastly, and it should never happen, but in those days, it really was just common practice. I tried to think about it from her point of view, where she lives with her two little brothers and a terrible mum, and she’s desperate to make her own way in the world. She’s 18 and naïve, and Amsterdam is exciting. She’s never really experienced the world, and she’s getting married to somebody who’s traveled all over the place and spends the majority of his life on a boat. That’s exciting for her, even though it’s a naïve point of view.
What do you think she expected when she went there?
TAYLOR-JOY: It punches her pretty fast. It just knocks her down. Even though she’s very mature, and you can see her maturity in the first episode, she’s definitely a child and she has a child’s expectation of this beautiful, handsome man, loving her so much. She believes she’s going to look pretty, have so much money, and her life is going to be charmed. And then, from the second she meets Marin, she’s like, “This is not what I thought it was going to be.” She’s quite petulant, at the beginning. She’s a grown woman, and I think that’s really interesting. She has reflexes like a cat. She’s very malleable, and as every situation arises, she shifts and she’s very curious, which often gets her into trouble. Everything is new, so she’s trying to find a patch of ground where it’s steady underneath her feet, rather than just continuously shifting.