Creating the Queen's Gambit (2021) - full transcript

It's not about a game, it's about the cost of genius. Take a deeper look into how Scott Frank, Anya Taylor-Joy, and the team behind The Queen's Gambit brought this acclaimed series to life.

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[pensive music playing]

[man 1] What really struck me
about The Queen's Gambit

was that it wasn't at all about chess.

It's not about a game.
It's about the cost of genius.

[woman 1] It's a story
about how you survive in a world

when you have a very specific gift
that makes you harder to understand.

I think she looks to chess
as very much an escape.

[man 2] Although it tells that story

about a child genius
working up to a world level,

it's actually still more about her demons.

[music intensifies]



That's right, I can still…
Can I still move another piece?

-[man 3] No, it's touch-move.
-[all laughing]

Scott sent me the book to read
before I met him,

and I devoured the book in about an hour.

I fell in love with Beth immediately,
and there was a really strong kinship.

[man 1] This character is, you know,
essentially, her own antagonist,

and I was fascinated.
I'd never read a character like this.

Somebody who is so brilliant
and so self-destructive,

and in a world that she was already
kind of not a part of.

-Are you sure you wanna do this?
-I'm sure.

We don't have a women's section.

Back in the 1950s, there were 
very few females turning to chess.

They weren't given the opportunities.

Beth trying to make her way
in a male-dominated discipline and world



is something that's quite distinctive
and unusual.

Tevis was writing with an understanding
of the next century, almost.

It's quite brilliant.

How old are you?

Never mind.
Don't answer that. It'll just depress me.

-Mm. I'm 36.
-[chuckles]

She's so centered
in how intelligent she is

that she doesn't necessarily think
of herself as a woman first,

and I do think
that there is something to that,

because you're experiencing the '60s
through her

in the way that she just
automatically assumes that she is equal.

Am I good enough now?

To tell you the truth of it, child…

you're astounding.

[crew 1] Mark-up.

[Frank] And action!

Almost ten years ago,

Bill Horberg had brought up the book to me
as something that I might wanna do.

We briefly flirted
with doing it as a feature,

and Allan Scott had written
quite a nice script,

and nothing ever came of it.

It was very hard
to get a movie like that made at the time.

Then, right after I finished Godless,
I had this revelation,

and I said to him,

"What about The Queen's Gambit
as a miniseries?"

The overriding interest I've always had
is to make it powerfully emotional.

And I think when you extend something,

you get the time
to follow all kinds of paths

and all kinds of themes.

What I really wanted to focus on,

and the challenge
in turning it into a miniseries, for me,

was making sure that
what you're really invested in is her.

Someday, you're gonna be all alone,

so you need to figure out
how to take care of yourself.

[Taylor-Joy] She's come from a home life,
and just a lot in life,

that has left her feeling very unstable.

She doesn't really know
where she's going to end up.

What's that game called?

It's called chess.

Will you teach me?

I think Beth's first true connection

is with Mr. Shaibel.

It's with somebody
who she feels understands

not only her gift,
but how her brain works.

Also, somebody who can tell her "no."

-You have resigned the game.
-You didn't tell me that in the rules.

It's not a rule.

It's sportsmanship.

And then I think she's got
a wonderful friendship with Jolene,

and that comes from a place
of both understanding

that they're very different, and yet,
have come from the exact same place.

Most of us are lifers.

Been here a long time.

I would say she's kind of like
a mother to Beth,

in her own little way.

They're not adopted
for the majority of their lives,

so they kind of do need
to depend on each other in that place.

[man 4] Green's to even your disposition.

Orange and brown's for building
a strong body. Take 'em both.

In the early '60s, late '50s,
it was very common to give…

children in orphanages tranquilizers

to make them easier to handle.

So, yeah, she becomes addicted
to tranquilizers

and sedatives when she's nine.

Well, the trick with addiction,
with drinking or drugs or anything,

is making sure
that you empathize with the character,

and still tell a compelling story.

Sleight of hand, for me,
was humor sometimes.

[pills clattering]

There's a long sequence
where she steals the pills,

and that was as funny as it is harrowing.

Elizabeth!

[crash]

As she gets older,
she forms many addictions.

She discovers alcohol when she's about 15.

[coughs] It's good.

And consummates that relationship.

['60s guitar music playing]

Anybody who's dealing with problems
of addiction is their own worst enemy.

She keeps self-destructing along the way.

[grunts]

There's a moment when she's been
on a particularly tough bender,

and she meets
the first person that she ever played,

who's another girl called Annette Packer.

I-- I knew you were going places,
and that meant something to me.

That whole exchange
was really, really tricky and rough to do,

because I just had to be in this state
of "everything is falling apart."

"And you looked up to me,
and now I have to carry that shame."

Like, she was just--
She was an angry bird.

I'm worried about you.

What on earth for? [scoffs]

For me,
the whole story is organized around that.

Is she gonna lose hold of herself,
or is she gonna be able to make it?

"She shows the assurance
of a player twice her age."

That's national recognition, dear.

She's also addicted to winning.

[thrilling music playing]

She's addicted to feeling
like she is in control.

Chess is the one thing
she feels like she can control,

that, on that board, she's in charge.

Whenever she's moving those pieces around,
she's at home.

I'll win.

I have every confidence.

You do feel for the relationship

that both Mrs. Wheatley and Beth
have together.

And Mari played her with deep empathy,
and, I think, sympathy.

For the role of Mrs. Wheatley,
I had been telling Bill Horberg

that it's someone like Marielle Heller,

and Bill said to me,
"Why don't you just cast her?"

And as you can see, she's extraordinary.

Things are beginning to happen.

Beth is very obsessive, full stop.

Like, I think that is just something
that is intrinsic to her.

Harry, it'll be check once the pawn moves
and the knight trades.

-Can't you see that?
-No, I can't.

-I can't find it that fast.
-Well, wish you could.

When your brain works that quickly,
it can drive you a bit mad.

But I also think that she is aware
that her gift makes her special.

[woman 2] Sometimes, people find patterns
or meaning where there aren't any.

What does that have to do with me?

Well, creativity and psychosis
often go hand in hand.

[camera clicks]

I do think she's, like, consistently
worried that she's a bit crazy.

Beth has visions
of seeing a chess board on the ceiling.

This is in the book.

She looks up to the ceiling

and imagines the position
and the places of the pieces.

Did you ever go over games in your head?
I mean, play all the way through 'em?

Doesn't everybody?

The person that she feels closest to,

I think, in terms of the way
that her brain works, is actually Benny.

There's a little bit of a reflection
in each other,

even though they're vastly different.

But I think he enjoys
getting into mind games,

into other people's heads,
and he sees that in Beth.

-I don't know if I'm good enough.
-You're the best.

His reassurance
kind of makes her feel a bit more calm.

But I do think that she's juggling
a very fine line of, like,

"Am I insane or am I a genius?"

And I've been watching your games, you…

You attack like Alekhine.

You can reach for your best,

but it only really matters
if other people see it as well.

And I think Benny appreciates
Beth's talent when he sees it

and finds that attractive from the get-go.

[Frank] And action!

[Frank] To make chess cinematic is…
is impossible.

And I realized I want the chess
that we do show to be accurate enough,

but I really am focusing
on the stakes around the games

and the players themselves.

Beth Harmon, in particular,
and the idea, for me,

visually, was to get inside her.

I found the strongest points is just being
on people's faces and their reaction.

Even if you don't understand chess,
you know the seriousness

and the drama that they're going through.

-[chess clock ticking]
-I resign.

[crew 2] Cut!

-[crew 3] Cutting!
-[crew 4] And one.

Steven Meizler is quite good at shaping
just very little light,

and very natural light,

and-and finding little spots
that create its own drama.

Sweet dreams.

The show really shifts along
with Beth's perspective.

Every time I got to go onto a new set,

I was always completely blown away
by the way that it looked.

[thrilling orchestral music playing]

[Frank] Uli Hanisch is a genius.

I came to Berlin
because I wanted to work with him.

But we've shot Mexico City here,
and Las Vegas,

and Paris, Russia, pieces of New York,
and Lexington, Kentucky.

Well, now.

[chuckles]

What Beth does is traveling, uh,
and playing chess at tournaments,

and so we have, like, hotel rooms,
airplanes, hotel lobbies, restaurants,

ballroom kind of situation
for each tournament.

So, it was our target to, um--

-To repeat, but… [laughs]
-To repeat.

-…make it different.
-Yeah, exactly.

I asked for a pleasant room,
and I believe they gave me one.

-[warm orchestral music playing]
-[Mrs. Wheatley laughs]

This here is a pretty special location
in Berlin.

It's the Haus Cumberland,
and we turned it into a hotel in Paris.

What will you have, then,
for your one drink?

Must be special if it is your only one.

-[crew 5] Awesome.
-[crew 6] That's a cut.

[Frank] For me, every set I would walk on
would be a fantastic place to shoot.

The whole crew would come on the set,

and you would hear 50 people, 100 people
oohing and aahing about these locations.

Benny's apartment was interesting
because we shot the exterior in Toronto.

[light switch clicks]

[Frank] And then Uli designed
this basement apartment that was amazing,

and, right away,
I started changing the scene

because of so many good things in the set.

-…what you thought.
-[Taylor-Joy] I love it. It's so good.

The cinematography, the costumes,
the production design,

they're all, for me,
part of the same thing.

We spend a lot of time talking about
where Beth is at in the story.

We had so much fun
coming up with the look for this

because, again,
we got to grow up with Beth.

When I first read the script,
I had in my mind that Beth was a redhead.

Funny enough, Anya also felt this.

[Taylor-Joy] When I first read it,
I was like, "She needs to have red hair,

because I want her to be
completely identifiable,

even if she doesn't want to be,"

and he had thought the exact same thing,
so we just started off on a good foot.

It was all wigs. I couldn't--

I was very happy
to dye my hair, but I just couldn't…

There were days when we were going
between five different ages in a day,

and that's just not possible
with your own hair.

So, we had baby Beth, we had sexy kitten,
and we had glamour-puss.

To sell the age,
the younger, the less makeup,

and then you slowly add
very, very small adjustments

until you start seeing her older.

She basically gets more
of these eyelashes.

So, her eyes become sexier.

Wow.

Thanks.

Beth has a thing for flare,
as you can see in the show.

She, um…
She likes the finer things in life.

She-- She starts
to really, really like clothes.

With the costume designer, with Gabriele,
her wardrobe is just amazing.

She would have a pallet book
and all of the dresses,

and the different wardrobe
that Beth would be wearing.

But more than that,
we'd spend a lot of time

talking about where Beth is at
in the story.

In the beginning,
Beth is always determined by other people,

by her mother or dresses in the orphanage,

and later on, she is alone,
and she discovers more her body.

She has power being feminine.

[Frank] As we go forward, you know,
she's more and more glamorous.

There's a point where she dresses up
like a pop musician

that she sees on TV
for a brief period of time.

She experienced that searching for cool
is difficult

because the cool doesn't exist,

and her search for cool is,
actually, her search for herself.

[Frank] At the very end,

when she's kind of finally comfortable
in the world of chess,

Gabriele found this beautiful,
long, white coat,

with this white hat from Moscow,

and you realize
she looks like the white queen.

[Taylor-Joy] What's fascinating
about watching her grow up is…

she puts on
all of these different personas.

Who the hell are you?

It is incredibly sad,
because it's basically just saying

that she just doesn't feel
like she's enough without them.

You are very beautiful.

-I don't see myself that way.
-Then you are blind.

It's not a physical loneliness
that she's suffering from.

It's an emotional and intellectual one.

I think this is why the miniseries
is becoming more prominent,

because you can explore these richer,
more complex stories.

Having the opportunity
to spend time with Beth in this way,

and not just see all of the wins,
but all of the hard work

with the sacrifices
that it takes to get to the wins.

I think, hopefully, that just builds
a lot of empathy for somebody who…

I, selfishly, really, really care about.

-[crowd cheering]
-[orchestral music playing]