The Queen’s Gambit: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Netflix Series

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit

In the fall of 2020, Netflix introduced one of its most popular shows of the year and one of the streamer’s biggest series to date in the form of The Queen’s Gambit. Over the course of seven gripping episodes, millions of viewers fell in love with Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon, a child chess prodigy who became a trailblazer and driving force in the world of competitive chess, but only if her personal demons didn’t stop her first. But long before the show found its way to Netflix and became a great distraction from the mad world outside our television screens, The Queen’s Gambit was long a passion project for all those involved.

Below, we will break down some of the most fascinating behind-the-scenes facts from the making of The Queen’s Gambit, some of which go all the way back to the days when Walter Tevis wrote the book on which the series was based in the early 1980s and all the steps that were taken to bring this fascinating story to a large audience.

Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Queen’s Gambit Was Originally Going To Be Heath Ledger’s Directorial Debut

Ever since securing the rights to The Queen’s Gambit in the early 1990s, the Netflix show’s co-creator Allan Scott has come close several times to turning the story of Beth Harmon into a reality, including in 2007 when he approached the late Heath Ledger to see if he would direct a film adaptation. When speaking with The Independent in late 2020, Scott revealed that Ledger, who had just completed his work on The Dark Knight, was passionate about the project and was immediately drawn to the story.

The original plan was to have Heath Ledger direct the film, which could have potentially featured Elliot Page as Beth, at some point in late 2008. Those plans, however, were brought to an abrupt stop in January of that year when Ledger died of an accidental overdose in a New York City apartment.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit

After Several Failed Attempts To Adapt The Queen’s Gambit Into A Movie, Scott Frank Decided To Try It Out As A Miniseries

Scott Frank, who wrote and directed all seven episodes of The Queen’s Gambit, had spent about a decade of his life off and on with the property and could never get a movie off the ground. But something changed in him when he was working on the Netflix limited series Godless in 2017 and this revelation led to him and Allan Scott to turn away from the idea of making a movie and instead turned their focus to a miniseries.

In the documentary short Creating The Queen’s Gambit, Scott Frank and Allan Scott both pointed out that extending the scope of the story to be told over the course of a miniseries, as opposed to a movie, presented them with more freedom the extend the narrative while also providing other challenges, namely making it to where the audience would remain invested in Beth Harmon over multiple episodes.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit

Anya Taylor-Joy Was Approached To Play Beth Harmon Before The Script Was Even Completed

When the producers were beginning to put together The Queen’s Gambit cast, Anya Taylor-Joy was approached so early a script wasn’t written yet and all the actress had to go off of was a copy of Walter Tevis’ novel. During an interview with Netflix Queue, Taylor-Joy revealed that as soon as Scott Frank gave her a copy of the book, she was sold, saying she knew she wanted to play Beth Harmon immediately after reading the book but had to push her away so that she wouldn’t get wrapped up in the character before being cast in the role.

The Queen's Gambit cast

Chess Consultant Bruce Pandolfini Came Up With 350 Hypothetical Games For The Queen’s Gambit

To make it appear as if the actors in The Queen’s Gambit were actually playing chess throughout the show’s various matches and training sessions, chess consultant Bruce Pandolfini was brought on to draw up hundreds of hypothetical games and scenarios. During an interview with IndieWire, Pandolfini, who had been connected to The Queen’s Gambit as far back as the writing of the original book (but more on that later), revealed that he helped create 350 different positions by the time production wrapped, a big jump from the original 92 he started with when planning alongside the script. To put this into perspective, Pandolfini explained that when he worked on Searching for Bobby Fischer, he only came up with 100 games.

Harry Beltik in The Queen's Gambit

Some Of The Matches In The Queen’s Gambit Were Based On Actual Competitions

In addition to featuring hypothetical games throughout The Queen’s Gambit, the show also used moves and scenarios from historic competitions, adding another level of reality to the series. A New York Times article on chess in the show pointed out that the match in which Beth Harmon beats Harry Melling (Harry Beltik) for the Kentucky State Championship was from a game played in Riga, Latvia, in 1955 and that the final match in the series finale was actually played in Biel, Switzerland, in 1993. The speed chess match between Beth and Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) was played at the Paris Open in 1858.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit

Anya Taylor-Joy Was So Exhausted By The Time She Started Filming The Queen’s Gambit She Became One With The Character

If Anya Taylor-Joy and her character appeared exhausted throughout the duration of The Queen’s Gambit, it’s because she was. Prior to the start of production, Taylor-Joy had just completed back-to-back shoots on Emma and Last Night in Soho, and the level of exhaustion she experienced played a toll on her, but for the best, as she revealed in a Variety interview:

My relationship with my characters, they’re all very varied but they’re intense, and they’re all incredibly real for me. By the time I got to Beth, I had no energy to put a boundary up between myself and the character. I would wake up in the morning and go, ‘Oh, I feel awful. What is this feeling?’ And then realize, it’s her. And you’re just going to be this for the next 18 hours. That was wonderful, because it meant I was never reaching for any emotion. I’ve never had a performance before where there was no trying. It was there.

Earlier in the interview, Anya Taylor-Joy revealed that although The Queen’s Gambit was the third leg of an acting triathlon, she couldn’t stop thinking about Beth Harmon on the sets of the other two movies while she prepared.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit

Hair And Makeup Artist Daniel Parker And Anya Taylor-Joy Decided To Make Beth Harmon A Redhead After Reading The Script

Nowhere in The Queen’s Gambit script does it describe Beth Harmon as being a redhead, but after reading into the character, hair and makeup artist Daniel Parker and Anya Taylor-Johnson both thought (separately) that the show’s main character should have fiery red hair that would make her stand out. In the Creating The Queen’s Gambit documentary short, Taylor-Joy said the character needed to have red hair so that she could be completely identifiable in a crowd even if Beth didn’t want to stand out. When she found out that Parker felt the same way she said they got off on a really good foot.

Marielle Heller in The Queen's Gambit

Scott Frank Wanted Someone 'Like Marielle Heller" For Mrs. Wheatley Before Finally Just Casting Marielle Heller

When Scott Frank was planning out The Queen’s Gambit, he kept telling people that he was looking for someone like Marielle Heller to take on the role of Beth Harmon’s adoptive mother Alma Wheatley and felt that someone like her was best suited for the role. In Creating The Queen’s Gambit, Frank revealed:

For the role of Mrs. Wheatley, I had been telling [Executive Producer] 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.

Scott Frank’s hunch was right and Marielle Heller went on to provide one of the most dynamic performances of the entire series.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit

Anya Taylor-Joy Learned Each Of Beth Harmon’s Moves Just Minutes Before Shooting Match

Anya Taylor-Joy received a great deal of training when it came to preparing for The Queen’s Gambit’s chess sequences, but she didn’t learn the intricate matches and all the flashy moves into minutes before shooting each scene, as revealed during a Marie Claire interview. With the moves fresh in her memory, Taylor-Joy would add those little touches and flashes of excitement to the moves, pulling off what she described as “cool choreography” with her fingers. Her trainer would later tell her he had never seen someone play chess in that manner but told her to keep it up and make it part of her character.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit

Bruce Pandolfini Helped Walter Tevis Write The Queen’s Gambit Novel And Even Came Up With Its Title

Remember Bruce Pandolfini, the chess consultant who helped create 350 scenarios for The Queen’s Gambit? Well, his contribution didn’t end, err begin with drawing up hundreds of hypothetical situations. In fact, his ties to The Queen’s Gambit go all the way back to the humble beginnings of Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel. In the November 2020 edition of U.S. Chess Magazine (via IndieWire), Pandolfini revealed that while helping Tevis put the finishing touches on the novel some 40 years ago, he inadvertently came up with the book’s title in addition to some other changes. After reading the published work, Pandolfini said none of his changes made the final cut, well, except for his title: The Queen’s Gambit.

As you can see, the stories behind the creation of The Queen’s Gambit are just as interesting as the drama that unfolds on the screen for Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon. It won’t be long until we find out if Taylor-Joy can recapture that magic in Last Night in Soho, one of the most anticipated movies left on the 2021 movie schedule.

Philip Sledge
Content Writer

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.