Celebrity interview: Star Wars' Daisy Ridley
PUBLISHED: 09:57 30 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:08 05 January 2016
From Tring Park School for the Performing Arts to a galaxy far, far away, Daisy Ridley has gone interstellar with a lead role in the new Star Wars film. We spoke to the actress about being part of the world's most successful fantasy franchise
As first film-acting gigs go, Daisy Ridley hasn’t done too badly. For her feature debut, the 23-year-old landed a lead role in one of the most – if not the most – anticipated films of the decade, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens alongside Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Cue fansites, Twitter meltdown and global fame, and that was before the film had even opened in cinemas on December 17. Clearly, things will never be the same for her again.
Ridley decided to audition for the part of Rey, a gutsy survivor on a desert world in the science fiction epic, in April 2014 after experiencing what she called ‘a really weird feeling’. She said, ‘My first few auditions really didn’t feel good but my last audition suddenly felt like something clicked’.
As is to be expected for such a mammoth production, the audition process was by no means quick and simple – she underwent four auditions over a seven-month period. ‘It was a very emotional time,’ she recalls. ‘I was kind of used to things not happening, so I just felt the whole way through that “I’m going to lose the job. They’re going to find someone better than me”. You’re so desperate to get a role. But I felt even if I didn’t get it, I did a good job and I’d done myself proud.’ So what was her reaction when she finally got the call to say she would be in the biggest movie franchise in the world? ‘It was the greatest day of my life, of course!’
Until last year, Ridley had no real idea of the diehard fandom that Star Wars inspires but since being thrust into its fantasy world she says she has acquired a more profound understanding of why it resonates so deeply with audiences. ‘Star Wars tells individual stories, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,’ she explains with a new-found insight worthy of Yoda. ‘It’s not Han’s story. It’s not Luke’s story. It’s not Leia’s story. All of them have stories that connect together. They all influence the other, and J.J. (Abrams, director at the helm of the seventh Star Wars instalment, set 30 years after the events of the first trilogy) has continued that.’
Ridley had watched the movies but hadn’t bought the t-shirt and was by no stretch an ‘uberfan’. ‘I’d obviously seen the films, but I don’t know that this alien said this in Episode III, so I think that helped because I was just trying to do a good job and J.J. is obviously so aware of the expectations and what people want. But we were just trying to do a good flick – taking everything on board and then pushing it forward and going in new directions that maybe people aren’t expecting. I felt, of course, the pressure but it was more “Oh Daisy, please be good! Be good!” It just felt exciting.’
Westminster-born Ridley grew up in London with her bank communications manager mother, photographer father and two older sisters before heading to Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in 2015. She spent five years there, specialising in musical theatre. So where did her acting talents originate? ‘Both my parents are creative. My dad did act when he was younger, but they’re both very creative.’ Her great-uncle, Arnold Ridley, was a professional actor too. ‘He was in Dad’s Army (as Private Charles Godfrey). It was a hugely popular show and they’re redoing it as a film. Michael Gambon, who played Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies, is playing the role my great uncle played.
‘I went to Tring because initially I was very naughty and my mum thought if I was busy I’d be better,’ she smiles playfully. ‘I ended up having an incredible drama teacher, so he was probably the first person who made me think I could do it as a profession. After I left school I went travelling. I went to India for a few months and then I started auditioning.’ She admits she wasn’t confident. ‘My sister asked me, “Why do people want to be actors?” I had no answer. I’m not totally sure of my capabilities. I felt like a total novice compared to everyone I worked with. It still feels weird to me.’
Those first auditions were fruitful however and she scored a slew of small parts on British TV shows including Casualty, Silent Witness, Mr Selfridge and Toast of London, and was featured in two short films, Lifesaver and Blue Season. Add to this an appearance in the video for Wiley’s Lights On, and you’ have the full extent of Ridley’s modest – until now – CV.
Having leapfrogged from the small to the big screen in a relatively short space of time, without taking on any kind of middling roles how did Ridley prepare herself for her role in the latest Star Wars epic?
‘Rey is so universal and brilliant,’ she explains. ‘She’s frightened but she faces up to what she needs to. She’s brave and smart and you see an entire emotional spectrum of her throughout the film. She’s not a superhero. She’s a normal girl thrust into extraordinary circumstances, so it’s very relatable. It’s an emotional story about a girl on a journey, but the story is a lot more than that.’
Her new job has certainly encouraged members of her family to swot up on the Star Wars franchise. ‘Last year when we were filming, everyone came round and we had dinner and watched Episode IV, A New Hope, which was super cool,’ she says with a laugh.
Ridley is still living at her parents’ home and enjoys a relatively hassle-free life but she understands she will soon find herself trying to navigate the choppy waters of fame as The Force Awakens makes her a global star (ticket sales for the film are being estimated in the billions).
Does she have a plan of action? ‘I want to follow the example of an actress like Carey Mulligan (An Education, The Great Gatsby and, last year, Suffragette). She’s done an awful, awful lot, and the roles she’s taken are absolutely incredible, but her life is private.’