Why A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Director Switched to Acting for The Queen’s Gambit

Netflix’s critically-acclaimed series The Queen’s Gambit sees Anya Taylor-Joy in the role of Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy struggling with drug addiction and an obsession with the game. Filmmaker Marielle Heller, whose recent directorial feature A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks was welcomed warmly by critics and audiences, turned actor in the role of Beth’s adopted mother Alma. In an interview with IndieWire, Heller revealed her reason for switching to acting from filmmaking.

“When I said yes to doing The Queen’s Gambit, I was feeling burned out on directing and movie-wise wasn’t sure what my next big project was going to be. So I said yes to doing this very different type of project that required a different skillset from me, sort of just to shake things up if anything. The production designer [Uli Hanisch] is so talented. The sets and the costumes were incredible. It’s fun to look back with hindsight now and realize that it was sort of a last hurrah before our major shutdown. I look back on it and think, ‘Oh my gosh, how wonderful that was to get to go have a last adventure.'”

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In the role of Alma, Marielle Heller plays a different version of the typical evil stepmother from the movies. While struggling to connect with her adopted daughter, Alma is nevertheless supportive of her decision to play chess. Beth is no ordinary child, and Alma almost treats her like a grownup, with the two using chess tournaments to travel the world and escape the dreariness of Alma’s loveless marriage and Beth’s disinterest in school and her fellow students. For Heller, one of the main appeals of playing Alma was tracing the evolution of her relationship with Beth.

“Part of what I loved on the page about the role was this relationship, which I found really complicated and hard to understand at first. I liked the way it built, that the relationship wasn’t easily won, that it took a lot of work to get to a place where the two women trusted each other. They’re like feral animals who have both been in isolation and then suddenly are forced to live with the other person and are like sniffing each other out for so long before they decide to really trust each other. And I thought that would be fun challenge to play, to get to really build a relationship in that way.”

Reviews for The Queen’s Gambit have been largely positive so far, with the performances by the actors, mainly Taylor-Joy and Heller, coming in for particular praise. There is no word out yet for whether there will be a Season 2 for the series, although the first season ended on a positive note that felt like a completion for Beth Harmon’s journey to becoming a chess champion.

Streaming now on Netflix, Queen’s Gambit features Anya Taylor-Joy, Isla Johnson, Bill Camp, Moses Ingram, Christiane Seidel, Rebecca Root, Chloe Pirrie, Akemnji Ndifornyn, Marielle Heller, Harry Melling, Patrick Kennedy, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Marcin Dorocinski. This news comes from IndieWire.

Neeraj Chand

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