Los Angeles: Daisy Ridley may not be as brave as her character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but she’s close.
In her first-ever film role, the 23-year-old British-born actress plays Rey, a pilot and scavenger at the centre of the action in the hugely anticipated Episode VII.
The hardest thing about the job, Ridley said, was overcoming her own fears.
“It’s one thing for other people to see potential in you and it’s quite another for you to understand that and see it in yourself,” she said. “So of course everyone else being wonderful helps, but there’s a certain level of growth and stuff you have to do as a person... It’s just like life times a million.”
Right now, that life is a sniffley one that includes lots of airplanes and interviews. The film’s nonstop promotional schedule has left Ridley with a cold that has her wrapped in a winter coat on a recent warm Southern California day. But even illness doesn’t weaken her resolve when it comes to keeping the film’s hotly guarded secrets.
Though co-star Harrison Ford has said Rey wields a lightsaber in the film, Ridley deflected the question when asked directly.
“Finn and Kylo have a fight with a lightsaber,” is all she would say, referring to co-stars John Boyega and Adam Driver, whose tussle has already been shown in the film’s trailers.
The actress did undergo months of physical training to prepare for her role, a regimen that included weightlifting, climbing and “staff training” — footage shows Rey running and fighting with a staff. How much different could a lightsaber be?
“I had to look like I could look after myself in the desert and drag and scavenging things across sand,” she said.
The youngest of five, Ridley appeared in small roles in medical and crime television dramas in the UK before capturing director J.J. Abrams’ attention in her audition for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The film’s set transported Ridley to the Star Wars, where Abrams and the cast helped allay an initial feeling she describes as “terror.”
Ridley had heard that the filmmakers were seeing not just famous actors and she lobbied her agent to get her an audition. She auditioned five times for Abrams.
“I think they were just seeing many, many girls because obviously, if they weren’t, then I would never have been seen.” D
“Luckily, to have J.J. there, who is so kind and considerate and encouraging, and to have a crew of people who made me feel safe and not rushed and not pressured, that is precisely what took the pressure off.”
So did bonding with Boyega. The two would sing songs from “The Lion King” before shooting their scenes and explored the markets of Abu Dhabi on their one shared day off.
“We got on so well,” Ridley said. “It was so much fun all the time, and to have him with me through this whole thing, both in filming and afterward, has been incredible.”
Casting an unknown was entirely deliberate, Abrams said recently. “That’s something I remember loving about the original trilogy: not having seen these people before,” he told Elle magazine. “It was exciting but also terrifying because we knew that there was going to be a certain level of scrutiny and expectation on who these people were going to be. So they needed to be actors whom the audience could discover as these characters, not as actors they’d seen elsewhere. Ideally, it needed to be people like Daisy — somewhat experienced, but mostly new to the game.”
“It’s incredibly funny but touching and the story obviously is character-led, so there’s all of the fun stuff,” Ridley said.
“And then there’s just a wonderful human story at the centre of it.” Ridley was one of the few people who had seen the film ahead of its premiere. She said her reaction after was unexpected.
“I pretended that I was fine for about an hour and then got in the car and wept the whole way to the airport,” she said.
“Many, many tears.”
One thing the actress isn’t prepared for is the level of fame she’s likely to experience. She tries not to think about it.
“The fame side of things is a weird twist that I’m not kind of interested in,” she said. “If I was going to be recognized for anything, ‘Star Wars’ is all right.”
Ridley does, however, have an idea of how she’d use the Force in real life: She’d move people standing on the wrong side of the escalator at the subway station.
“In the tube you have to walk on the left and stand on the right,” she said. “People are so annoying, they always stand on the left. So I’d use the Force to shift them over to the right.
“This shows how great I am, because I have not talked about the problems of the world,” she laughed. “I’ve talked about how annoying people are on the tube.”
How do you feel now that the new “Star Wars is finally coming out and that you are set to become a mega star?
I’m feeling very odd. I’m nervous for people to see it. I’m excited for people to see it. I feel many many things. I’ll never be used to that type of phenomenon. And yes it can be overwhelming, this is a huge part of my life now. I am making sure that what is important in my life stays important. One of my favourite things is to walk around London. Maybe three people have recognized me in the street in the past year, so we’re all good. I understand that I’ll be more recognisable but people in London have their own stuff going on.
Do you understand the Star Wars phenomenon?
Not really no. You could say it’s the themes, it’s the force, it’s the lightsaber. There’s just something in this that touches people and I don’t think you can summarize that. Whatever it is that George Lucas did, it made magic.
How difficult was it to maintain the secret around the new movie?
I told my mum, “you can’t tell anyone else because I haven’t told anyone else.” That was difficult, because for three months I couldn’t tell anyone I was cast. I had been working in a pub and I had stopped. So people were like, “what are you doing every day?” or, “why are you so muscly?” My family and friends aren’t huge fans, so they don’t ask anything. Whatever I say will not describe the amazing visual storytelling that The Force Awakens is.
Do you recall when you first met Star Wars director J.J. Abrams?
I auditioned five times over several months. My first few auditions I felt like I was not good at all. The last one I had just a day to learn five scenes. It was the first time the scenes they gave me were from the film, and something clicked. It went fantastic. At the end of that week, he told me [I was chosen] and I started training.