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Daisy Ridley: from Tring Park School to Hollywood stardom

PUBLISHED: 11:04 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:04 05 February 2018

Rey confronts the new dark power in The Last Jedi (photo: Lucasfilm Ltd)

Rey confronts the new dark power in The Last Jedi (photo: Lucasfilm Ltd)

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She may be one of the biggest stars on the planet right now, but Daisy Ridley is as grounded as the day she first began studying her craft at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts

Her cinematic debut was big by any standards. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in late 2015, ranks as the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Yet Daisy Ridley remains the same – bubbly, grounded and infectiously relatable.

‘Everyone keeps asking me how I have changed, like it was this guaranteed expectation. Was I supposed to? I don’t feel any different,’ says the 25-year-old.

Most newcomers who land a breakout in a box office smash trot out similar lines at a press junket – but rarely follow through, and find themselves consumed by ego. But since we last spoke to the actress, who honed her theatrical skills at Tring for five years before graduating in 2010, Daisy displays that same poise and humility which made her so relatable. When asked how she is coping with superstardom, she scoffs: ‘I wouldn’t know, I’m very far from a superstar.’

Daisy Ridley with Manuel Garcia Rulfo and Leslie Odom Jr in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express (© 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)Daisy Ridley with Manuel Garcia Rulfo and Leslie Odom Jr in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express (© 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Despite her protestations, she has achieved a phenomenal amount in such a short space of time. Her character, Rey, in the universe’s biggest space opera franchise, is an abandoned scavenger on a desert planet who overcomes the odds in the fight for good. She has become not just a favourite for the notoriously finickity Star Wars fans, but also a feminist icon and champion for the working classes. And while latest instalment Star Wars: The Last Jedi released in December has split opinion like a lightsaber through a jam butty, it seems Daisy’s status as one of today’s brightest young stars will be elevated even further this year.

‘This is where it proves that I am not the centre,’ Daisy explains of the film. ‘It’s not based around my character – it’s so much bigger than me, that’s an understatement... I’m like a cog in the machine,’ she says.

So she’s definitely not prone to the odd diva demand? Or employing bodyguards to evade stampedes of ardent fans?

Rey (photo: Jules Heath/Lucasfilm Ltd)Rey (photo: Jules Heath/Lucasfilm Ltd)

‘Definitely no stampeding!’ she giggles. ‘Nothing has really changed – well, personally it hasn’t. Professionally, it’s been brilliant. The people I’m getting to work with and the places I’m travelling to – places I never thought I would get to see at this stage in my life. Sometimes you have to stop yourself and think ‘How is this possible?’ It’s madness. And I’m lucky, I think, in that I will never stop being wowed. It’s all astonishing to me.

‘Outside of that, life remains pretty normal. I don’t have to wear a baseball hat or wigs or big glasses. Sometimes people come up to me asking for pictures and they’re always so nice about it.’

Last year offered another professional breakthrough, with the London-born beauty taking on her first major film role outside of Star Wars, in Kenneth Branagh’s decadent retelling of the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient Express. Playing the mysterious Mary Debenham, Daisy exuded haughty charm and 1930s glamour, to prove she is capable of sophistication as well as ferocity. Standing out in an ensemble cast which includes Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz is no mean feat, and when asked which of the stars she enjoyed working with most, she practically explodes with raucous glee:

Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) (photo: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Ltd)Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) (photo: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Ltd)

‘Oh my god, are you kidding! Are you actually kidding? Seriously, if someone asked you who was your dream cast to work with, I don’t think I’d come up with a combination so utterly amazing.’

She may not like the inevitable furore which comes with fame, but success also brings a freedom to indulge both one’s artistic and altruistic sides. This brings the conversation around to what is Daisy’s first passion project, The Eagle Huntress, which she was delighted to be asked to narrate and executive produce. A startling documentary by Morgan Spurlock, it tells the beautiful story of a Mongolian girl, Aisholpan, attempting to become the first female eagle hunters in her country, bucking 2,000 years of tradition in the process.

‘I’m so proud to be involved and fortunate that the opportunity presented itself. And this is what I’m talking about when I talk about amazing stuff happening since The Force Awakens, and definitely wouldn’t have without it, because Morgan is part of the same agency I’m signed with.’

Daisy Ridley on the Skellig Michael set off the coast of Ireland with The Last Jedi director/writer Rian Johnson (photo: Lucasfilm Ltd)Daisy Ridley on the Skellig Michael set off the coast of Ireland with The Last Jedi director/writer Rian Johnson (photo: Lucasfilm Ltd)

An animal lover, it’s not difficult to see what drew her to the film, and you might also legitimately draw comparisons between the real-life Aisholpan and the fictional character Rey – two women who excel despite the odds against them. Morgan Spurlock declared the piece ‘an ode to girl empowerment’.

Daisy believes her personal empowerment is a combination of nature and nurture. Fiercely ambitious and optimistic, she credits the people who have helped her ascent, Tring’s tutors included.

‘I had so many great years there and Tring really opened my eyes to the breadth of performing. It crystallised a lot of things in my mind and gave me the confidence to tackle any project. I feel as a foundation it was absolutely vital, but the day you leave you realise, past that, it’s really all down to you. That was exciting and terrifying at the same time.’

She needn’t have worried - beautiful, talented and with a wisdom beyond her years, she always had the makings of a very modern star. That potential will play out further this year as she takes on the titular role in the upcoming interpretation of Ophelia, opposite Naomi Watts and Clive Owen, along with lending her vocal talents to the live action/animation extravaganza Peter Rabbit, voicing Cottontail, one of Peter’s sisters.

But no matter what heights Ridley’s career takes her to, you sense she will always remain humble and self-deprecating. It’s only when on the subject of how she manages to withhold all the juicy spoilers every Star Wars fan is dying to know, that we see her wicked side, as she purrs: ‘At first I found it quite tricky, keeping all these secrets. But now I quite like it.’

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