The Golden Globe-winning actor is captured through the lens of his artist wife, Sam
When Aaron Taylor-Johnson first visited Los Angeles from his home in the suburbs of London, he thought, “Fucking hell, this is what paradise is.” He was 12 years old. Already an actor for six years, he came to Hollywood for the El Capitan Theatre premiere of the 2003 action film Shanghai Knights, in which he starred with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. “It was me and my mum. Being a kid here was really exciting,” recalls Taylor-Johnson, now 26, over a leisurely, profanity-laced breakfast at Estrella restaurant in West Hollywood. “You can go to the beach in February. I was in Santa Monica swimming in the ocean.”
Taylor-Johnson—who pulled off a stunning win at this year’s Golden Globes for his supporting role as a West Texas psychopath in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals (2016)—wasn’t so enchanted by the city when he returned on his own three years later. At 15, he lived in L.A. for a year, going on auditions, renting short-term rooms (“from agents’ assistants’ assistants,” he says) and being driven around town by a screenwriter who needed cash during the writers’ strike. Making the Hollywood rounds felt like a chore. His reward was winning the breakout lead role in 2010’s Kick-Ass, a superhero black comedy that built a cult following. “I wanted to be in London. At that point, I was able to go in and out of clubs in London and do whatever the fuck I wanted,” says Taylor-Johnson, his blue eyes bright and unguarded, and dressed in jeans, a Double RL denim jacket and a Gucci flannel shirt with two embroidered snakes on the collar. His demeanor in person is low-key and sweet-natured, a marked contrast to some of the hard-edged roles he pulls off on-screen, including Quicksilver in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. In May, he stars in Doug Liman’s psychological thriller The Wall, playing an American soldier pinned down by an Iraqi sniper with only a crumbling wall as shield.
It took having kids of his own to make him fall for L.A. again. While filming Oliver Stone’s marijuana drama Savages (2012), he and his wife—the photographer, artist and Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson—rented a house in Los Angeles for themselves and their brood. “Our kids would run around naked outside in the garden and jump in the pool from morning on. It was just like a revelation to me,” says Taylor-Johnson. “We went back to London after and it’s piss-pouring rain. I remember them sort of banging on the windows to go outside and not wanting to wear coats.”
For the kids’ sake and also because so many of their projects film on the West Coast, the pair moved out west permanently, buying a 1920s Spanish house in the Hollywood Hills three years ago, where they live with their two daughters, Wylda, 5, and Romy, 7, plus Sam’s two daughters from her previous marriage to London art dealer Jay Jopling, Jessie, 10, and, when she’s home, Angelica, 18, a freshman at Stanford. He loves being a father so much, he typically takes on only one film project a year. “It’s gotta be fucking brilliant to pull me away from something I already love doing,” says the actor, who, in said day job, can be seen dropping off the kids at school in shorts, flip-flops and a hoodie.
Last year, that one project was Amazon Studios’ The Wall, co-starring John Cena, which shot for two weeks in Southern California with the Lancaster/Palmdale area standing in for the Iraqi desert. “Aaron flew himself to New York, showed up in my office and said ‘I want this part,’ and auditioned for me,” says director Liman, who remembers Taylor-Johnson’s commitment to the role early on. “Not only was he showing extraordinary talent, but the energy he put into getting the part—given the kind of part it was going to be—it really meant something to me. He was going to be holding the whole movie together shooting under the most inhospitable conditions.”
Taylor-Johnson prepares heavily for his roles. For Nocturnal Animals, that meant watching documentaries about serial killers, drinking hard liquor, smoking and spending time in Texas to pick up the right accent. For his new film, he added 30 pounds to his normal 160-pound frame and chewed Copenhagen Wintergreen tobacco. “A lot of these guys dip tobacco. You’re out there and gotta be focused for hours on end. It’s a stimulant,” he says. He also spent four days in a sniper program at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas and trained with ex-military sniper Nicholas “The Reaper” Irving on set. “He got his nickname because in his first three months of deployment he had 33 confirmed kills,” says Taylor-Johnson, who gets up from his chair and stoops down near the side of the table to show off iPhone snaps of himself in sniper training. Irving was impressed with the actor’s skills.
“He’s just a natural—he was pulling off shots on target at 800 meters. That’s eight football fields,” Irving says. “I’ve trained [everyone] from Finnish special operations to the snipers who patrol the Super Bowl, and Aaron was the fastest I’ve ever seen do that.”
Taylor-Johnson isn’t sure what his one movie project for 2017 will be, though he’d like to work with his wife again on a film, something he hasn’t done since 2009’s Nowhere Boy, the project on which the two met. He was 18. She was 42. They were engaged within months, and Taylor-Johnson first became a dad at age 20. The couple married in 2012. Eight years later, they’re poster children for the idea that age has no meaning when it comes to matters of the heart. (In March, the actor got his latest tattoo; her name inked on his left pec.)
Together they optioned a book that they are developing as a feature film with the idea that he’ll star and she’ll direct. “I feel like this is gonna be the year where Sam and I get to really work together as a team in a professional way. Not only is she my wife, my soul mate, my love and my friend, I want to be that kind of working partner, too. I mean, we spend every second of the day together.” That includes family trips all around California. “You’ve got the beaches in Laguna. We go to the desert to Joshua Tree. One of my favorite places on earth is Big Sur. We’ve skied in Lake Tahoe. California is such a beautiful state,” he says.
Asked if he feels the need for a man cave given he’s the only male in a family of six, Taylor-Johnson—who posted a shot of himself on Instagram recently wearing a sweatshirt that says “Male Feminist”—says he doesn’t have one. Then, thinking it over more, says: “Actually, it’s funny: My man cave, I suppose, is the garden. It’s pretty epic.” He has five raised beds in total, two of which are 24 feet long, and he tries to grow most of the vegetables the family eats. He also has six chickens. “The kids plant with me and it’s really lovely,” says Taylor-Johnson. “If the kids are happy, I’m fucking happy.”
Photography by SAM TAYLOR-JOHNSON
Styling by ALISON EDMOND
Written by DEGEN PENER