The Super Mario Bros. Movie's Anya Taylor-Joy On Finding Peach's Voice [Exclusive Interview]

It's-a-time for "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" next week! Audiences will join Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), Mario (Chris Pratt), Toad (Keegan-Michael Key), Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), and all their friends as they battle Bowser (Jack Black) and try to rescue Luigi (Charlie Day) to save the Mushroom Kingdom. Of course, you've probably saved the Mushroom Kingdom many times over by playing all the Nintendo video games featuring the little Italian plumber. Still, this time you get to feel like you're right inside the game without having to start over when you fall.

I recently got a chance to chat with the multi-talented Anya Taylor-Joy about playing an updated version of Princess Peach who isn't in need of rescue, finding her voice, improv, recording in a closet during the pandemic, and more. 

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'I only want to do it if she is a modern — not only princess, but ruler'

There is a big change in Peach from the video games, which is really cool. She's got an ax now. Can you talk about your approach to this version of the character?

When I was first approached about playing Peach, I was, A) extremely honored, but B) a little bit hesitant just because in my head, before I met everybody, I thought, "Oh, I really want to do this, but I only want to do it if she is a modern — not only princess, but ruler." She's really a leader in this. I felt like we could create a more three-dimensional character that had her own agency. 

I was so thrilled when I first met everybody that everyone was on the same page. We all wanted to do the same thing. That just made for a very exciting process because there are moments where I did want to call back to the original game and have that fandom payoff in that way. But also, it wouldn't have worked for the whole of the movie. She's a three-dimensional character now. You have to have colors in her voice. I just feel very grateful that I was supported every step of the way and that there wasn't any pushback.

Speaking of her voice, it's really cool because, in the game, she's very breathy and high. But your voice gives her more gravitas. How did you go about finding that pitch for her?

Well, I'm rather fortunate that I do have a big range in the way that I can sound. That's usually something that, for any character, animated or not, that's something that I start deciding to pitch. There are certain characters of mine that definitely sound a lot more soprano and others that lean in a heavier direction towards more of the alto part of my voice. But I think I was so lucky with the script that it naturally lends itself to that undulation. It naturally lends itself to moments where that gravitas is important and commanding. Then, other moments where it serves to be softer. It serves to be a bit breathier.

There's now a trend of video game projects. For so long it was, "Oh, don't do a movie about a video game." But now, every video game project is great. What do you think the change is due to?

Potentially, that it's fans making movies for fans, if that makes sense. At least, that's the way it feels in this film. Everyone's a fan. Everybody wants to deliver that fan experience that I think they're looking for themselves. If you're making movies in that way, if you're making movies in a way to ... I don't know, fulfill some need, then, naturally, people are going to love it.

'They do an open track where you can try whatever you want to in that moment'

Did you play the games as a kid?

I didn't play as a kid. My first memory of it is my brother playing and saying, "This is my game." I was like, "Well, okay. Fine, I'll go play outside with the cats," or whatever. But I am very fortunate that this opportunity made me have a second childhood with it, because I got to play games as research and as homework, which is pretty great. Now, I'm lucky to have this new shade in my life.

I love that. Keegan was saying that Jack Black is the best at Mario Kart now. How do you feel about that?

I mean, I think Jack Black's the best at whatever he decides to be the best at. I love that man. I'm such a fan. It's not even funny. Whatever Jack wants, just give it to him.

I know Keegan said that he did a bunch of improv. How much improv did you actually get to do with this? Or how much did you stick to the script?

No, I was really allowed — I think we all were allowed the liberty of, you do the lines and then you say, "Hey, I think I'd like to do this," or, "I think I'd like to add this at the end of it." They do an open track where you can try whatever you want to in that moment. I was surprised at how much of it actually makes it into the movie. I think you start to form a bond with your character where you start thinking in their voice. The directors are really open to that, which I think is really great leadership because it allows you to bring something of yourself to it, which is usually my favorite movie-making.

I also had read that a lot of the cast didn't know the full plot. Did you actually know that?

Here's the thing with animation: Sometimes things change. You come in, and you're like, "Wait, where is the scene? Where does the scene go? Or where were we coming from?" I knew the basic plot lines of the story. Then, you read the new pages that come in that iron things out. I don't think I was surprised by much. There's an additional character in this that I didn't see coming. It brought me so much joy. He's a little existential star. He or she. Unclear. They are a little existential star, and I am obsessed with them. [The character is called Lumalee and is voiced by Juliet Jelenic.]

'She will do anything to protect them. I find that really peaceful'

In the press notes, you mentioned a lot about game references in the film. There are so many. Are there any that you're really excited for people to see?

I mean, I'm not sure it's much of an Easter egg, but the Rainbow Road sequence is extraordinary. It's extraordinary. It's so beautiful to look at. It's so much fun to watch. I mean, I was having the time of my life on that, the Rainbow ride.

We get a little bit of Peach's history in the film. It does seem to make it clear why she's so open and welcoming when Mario comes into the kingdom. Is there anything that you can tell readers about her and her past?

The first thing that she remembers is arriving. She remembers just suddenly being placed here. I think it brings a lot of context as to why she feels so strongly about the Mushroom Kingdom and the toads. They really accepted her and brought her up as one of their own. She will do anything to protect them. I find that really peaceful.

There's a great obstacle course scene. Peach is obviously really good at the obstacle course. But it's a lot of visual stuff. Did you have any idea what was going to be happening on screen while you were recording that?

I did. The directors are very good at painting a picture for you when you go into it. But obviously, everything in the film ends up being so much more elevated and so much better than you could have ever imagined. I think that's part of the fun of making an animated film for an actor, is you then sit down and watch it. You go, "Wow! That's what it is. This is a real world. This little avatar of mine is actually interacting with it. That's so cool."

If there's a sequel, because this is very much left open, even though the story is a complete story, what would you like to see for Peach?

More than Peach, I'm going to be a bit self-centered and make it a me thing. I would love to work with everybody in the same room. That would be so much fun, because it adds a whole other element to it, I think. I hope if we get the opportunity to do this again, we can be together in this. It doesn't have to be all the time, but at least some sessions where you get to be face-to-face with somebody and interact with someone in that way.

So you didn't have any of that on this?

No, it was peak Covid. Everyone's very busy. I mean, I personally filmed this on three different continents ... it's tricky.

Were you recording this in your closet? I know a lot of people, during the pandemic, had to record their stuff in closets.

I think I did ... wow. Sorry. You're really stretching my memory here. I think I did. I think I did it maybe once or twice, a whole little vocal booth set up in my room, which is crazy if you think about it. Yeah.

"The Super Mario Bros. Movie" will hit theaters on April 5, 2023.