Anya Taylor-Joy shared the stage with the Beach Boys at Reunions 2011.
Photo: Chris Connell ’71
The ‘Queen’s Gambit’ actress said she credits the experience as her big break

There were good, good, good, good vibrations that May night at Reunions 2011 when the Beach Boys blasted their surfing anthems in Holder Courtyard for the Classes of 1961 and 1971 at their respective 50th and 40th reunions. No one seemed to be enjoying it more than 15-year-old Anya Taylor-Joy, who was up front, belting out lyrics to pop songs her Anglo-Argentinian father, Dennis A. Taylor h’61, played back home in Buenos Aires, and later, in London. The teen was on the cusp of an acting career that would bring her global acclaim, including a mesmerizing turn as chess prodigy Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit miniseries.

She was just a Beach Boys superfan that night, but she credits the experience as the break that made it all possible. She recently told the story on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon when he asked why she felt she partly owed her successful career to the band:

“I grew up listening to the music of the ’50s and the ’60s — that was just like my literal jam — and they were playing, and I just … ran to the very front and was singing my heart out. And Mike Love [an honorary member of the Class of 1971] stopped the concert and said, ‘I understand why all of you know all the words to the songs, but there’s a literal child that is singing every single song. I’d like to invite her up on stage,’” she recalled. “He handed me a guitar, and I said, ‘I don’t know how to play the guitar.’ He was like, ‘No, no. Just go for it,’ so I air-guitared like crazy.”

A member of the band kept her video camera rolling and the teen wound up with a treasured video of her “performance,” which she later showed to agents when seeking acting auditions. She ran the tape and asked what they thought of her guitar skills. “They were like, ‘Yeah, you’re shredding it!’” With a grand, sweeping gesture, she explained to Fallon, “Acting!”

Taylor-Joy was at Reunions that year because her father had taken classes at Princeton on a scholarship during his junior year abroad in 1960, when he was a student at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He calls it an experience he never forgot. “I took every single course I could lay my hands on, even astronomy,” he says.

I grew up listening to the music of the 50s and the 60s that was just like my literal jam and they were playing, and I just ran to the very front and was singing my heart out.

— Anya Taylor-Joy

His classmates listed Taylor on the class roll in the Nassau Herald and made him an honorary member. He later became an investment banker as well as a leader of the British expatriate business community in Buenos Aires. Queen Elizabeth II honored his services, making him a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) and an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). He’s also won world championships for professional powerboat racing.

He reads Princeton Alumni Weekly, kept his class blazer, and attended one previous reunion. The 50th “was a big one for us. I took my wife and daughter, who was wondering what there was around the world, and one of the things I wanted to show her was the university where I’d had such a great experience,” he says.

“I told Anya, ‘Come on, we’re going. It’s a fun event.’ She enjoyed the dressing up and all the colors and everything else.”

She gave no thought to applying to Princeton, or anywhere else, instead moving to New York City to pursue her acting dreams after finishing her basic schooling. But Anya did have one further brush with the Ivy League — in the movie Barry, she plays the cool girlfriend of a young Barack Obama after he transfers to Columbia for his final two years of college.

“She was very amused by that,” says Taylor. “She said, ‘I’m going to take this part, but I think [it’s] the wrong college.’”