Daisy Ridley Interview – Star Wars: Episode VII
LONDON – Daisy Ridley is living the dream of so many aspiring actors who hope to find a role that helps pay the rent and gives them the kind of exposure that leads to more work down the road. However, never did she dare imagine that her first major film role would come in STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS, the seventh episode in the legendary film franchise created by George Lucas and now directed by J.J. Abrams. She’s making the same kind of quantum leap that transformed the lives of actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford when the first Star Wars film was launched in 1977.
And if that were not enough, Ridley’s character Rey is both the female lead and the main character in The Force Awakens, a staff-wielding scavenger leading a desolate life until she is suddenly thrust into the Star Wars saga.
Ridley establishes herself as an instant movie star whose debut performance recalls similar screen breakthroughs by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Kristen Stewart in Twilight. For the 23-year-old Ridley, the anticipation building up to the release of The Force Awakens this month is almost unbearable.
“I’m very excited and very impatient – I really want it to be out,” Ridley says. “I’m very proud to be part of this film and what’s been accomplished by everyone involved. It’s almost impossible to describe how it feels to have had this opportunity to work on Star Wars. It took up nine months of my life and I enjoyed every single moment of my experience. I can’t wait until audiences can see the film and I hope people will like it.”
Despite the massive advance build-up to the release of The Force Awakens, Ridley is not letting herself feel overwhelmed while on the cusp of galactic fame: “I don’t really feel pressure – I just would like people to think I did a good job.”
She carries herself with the determined and happy-go-lucky air of a young woman on the verge of a sensational new chapter in her life. As a teenager, she trained mainly as a dancer and singer at a performance arts school before a theatre coach inspired her to shift her ambitions towards acting.
Virtually unknown prior to being hand-picked by director J.J, Abrams, Ridley thrived on playing Rey and enters into screen mythology as a dynamic and intrepid woman within the traditionally male-dominated Star Wars universe.
Q: Daisy, you’re about to become part of a legendary screen franchise that has so much mythology surrounding it. How does it feel?
RIDLEY: I’m living day by day. I’ve been enjoying all the travel involved in promoting the film and it’s been an interesting experience. It was also incredible to see how involved and devoted the fans of Star Wars were when I was at Comic Con (in San Diego this summer – ED). Star Wars is like a religion for them.
Q: Ironically, you were never a big Star Wars fan yourself?
RIDLEY: I had seen the films as a child but I wasn’t a massive fan. I remember seeing Episode III in cinema and ever since Star Wars has been a part of my subconscious. Growing up I was always aware of the mythology surrounding Star Wars because it’s such a pop-culture phenomenon.
Q: What did it feel like when you found out that you won the part?
RIDLEY: It was the greatest day of my life. I did five auditions over a period of seven months and I never dared let myself believe that I was going to get the part. I didn’t feel that I had been doing a good job during the auditions but at some point I had the feeling that I might be in the running but I didn’t want to let myself get my hopes up.
But a few days after my final audition, which was the first time I got to read a scene from the film, J.J. (Abrams) called and told me that I had the part.
Q: That must have been an incredible moment for you?
RIDLEY: Of course. I was so happy, but also terrified. It was the kind of thing where you feel it’s not real and I spent the next few months worried and thinking, “Oh, no, they’re going to realise that I’m a fraud!” It was like riding a roller-coaster.
Q: What can you tell us about your character, Rey?
RIDLEY: She’s scavenger on the planet Jakku who’s picking anything she can find from the wreckage of old spaceships from battles that took place back in time. Rey is a loner and then she and Finn (John Boyega) cross paths quite unexpectedly and then they begin their adventure together.
Q: Is she a very exceptional woman?
RIDLEY: She’s an ordinary girl who finds herself in extraordinary situations and she’s the embodiment of a strong and independent woman. Rey gets pushed beyond her limits and meets people and gets drawn into this great journey where she exceeds her own expectations and wants to do the right thing. She’s afraid at times but she learns to overcome her fears and face up to some very difficult challenges. Audiences are going to relate to her more in terms of her overall human qualities and character than her femininity.
Q: Are you proud of playing a strong female character in a major film franchise like this which millions of young women will be seeing?
RIDLEY: It’s important that more films are made where women are shown telling their own stories and that neither the female character nor her story is dependent on the male character. Rey has her own story and she’s doing her own thing in the film. We need to have more films where you have the female lead responsible for her own journey and where you see the story told more from her perspective.
I’m also very proud of the way the women in The Force Awakens are portrayed and apart from me and Carrie Fisher you also have two outstanding young actresses like Lupito N’Yongo and Gwendoline Christie involved.
Q: How did you family react when you told them that you had the part?
RIDLEY: My sisters were jumping with joy while my mother was kind of like, “Ah, OK.” When I told my father (whom she woke up to give him the news) he went back to sleep and when he woke up the next morning he thought he had been dreaming. The most frustrating thing was not being able to tell any of my friends for three months. At least now I can share everything with them and take them on the red carpet for the film premieres.
Q: During the filming process, were there any particularly frightening moments dealing with the stunts or the action sequences?
RIDLEY: There was one scene where Kylo (Ren) is running towards me with his huge red light sabre and that was pretty scary at the time. Adam (Driver) who plays Kylo is a pretty big guy (6’3″ – ED) and he’s wearing this big costume and heading towards me very fast and that was fairly intimidating. (Laughs)
Q: Did you solicit any advice or try to talk about the previous Star Wars films when you were on set with Carrie Fisher or Harrison Ford and other returning cast members?
RIDLEY: Not really. I didn’t want to ask them those kinds of questions because I had the sense that they didn’t want to be seen as legends or be treated any differently from the other actors. Also, I was more worried about doing my work as well as possible.
But they were all incredibly friendly and the best part of being around them was simply being able to chat with them very normally and benefit more by seeing how they conduct themselves and appreciate their presence and professionalism. But I loved being able to see how happy they were seeing each other again after so many years and how much enthusiasm and love they still had for their work. That was probably the biggest lesson I learnt from being in their presence.
Q: Carrie Fisher was turned into a sex symbol in the original Star Wars films thanks to her fabled bikini outfit. Do you think something of a similar nature will happen to you after The Force Awakens comes out?
RIDLEY: Absolutely not! There are a lot of films where women are being oversexualised but this was not at all what happened in my case. I don’t consider myself to be a sex symbol and J.J. (Abrams, the director) had no intention of treating my character that way.
Q: Are you at all worried about how your performance will be received?
RIDLEY: I’ve got it all worked out. If my reviews are bad, I’ll spend Christmas crying on my sofa!
Q: Obviously this film is going to have a huge impact on your life. Have you already started to feel that your world is very different now?
RIDLEY: Nothing much has changed so far. I’ve been able to meet a lot of very talented and interesting people and I’ve enjoyed getting to visit a lot of different cities recently. But I can still ride the bus and train and nobody recognises me or stares at me. That’s going to change, of course once The Force Awakens is released. Maybe I’m going to have to buy a hat and sunglasses. We’ll see! (Laughs)