In which we learn that there’s so much more to Daisy Ridley than play­ing Rey in the new Star Wars films.

Daisy Ridley on the ups and downs of life as the star of a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar-box-of­fice fran­chise.

ELLE (Canada) - - Content - ByEm­maBrockes


Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens, Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey—Jakku scav­enger, desert-planet sur­vivor and fem­i­nist hero—went on holiday to an is­land off Croa­tia with friends from the crew. The ac­tress, who was 23 at the time, had been warned that af­ter the re­lease of the movie—num­ber seven in a fran­chise that has made more than $53 bil­lion—her life would dra­mat­i­cally change, and she was ter­ri­fied. This was, af­ter all, her first big-screen role. In restau­rants, she scru­ti­nized wait­ers to see if they were be­ing too nice to her; she won­dered if she’d ever be able to use the tube again. On holiday, her friends started call­ing her Linda, “as a jokey alias,” she says, “and then they started call­ing [her] Para­noid Linda” when she be­came con­vinced a man was fol­low­ing them around.

Two years later, 25-year-old Ridley is sit­ting op­po­site me at a res­tau­rant in Man­hat­tan, dressed in a shirt and cropped pants in clash­ing blue-and-white prints, her hair still wet from the shower. She’s brim­ming with the kind of en­thu­si­asm that reads on­screen as charisma, and that helps to ex­plain her meteoric rise from stage-school grad­u­ate with a few TV cred­its to one of the most rec­og­niz­able stars on the planet. Para­noid Linda still makes an oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ance, she says, but mostly she has man­aged to ad­just to life af­ter two Star Wars movies.

Ridley clings to the fact that fame doesn’t have to have a warp­ing ef­fect. It also fits in with her be­lief that the best way to sur­vive the pres­sures of high-volt­age ex­po­sure is to try to en­joy it. Ev­ery­thing is “amaz­ing” in her world, and every­one is “re­mark­able,” rang­ing from her mother (“a great per­son”) to Bar­bra Streisand (“a fan­tas­tic woman”), with whom she recorded a song in 2016, to Har­ri­son Ford (“awe­some”) to Olivia Col­man, whom she starred with in Ken­neth Branagh’s Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press and whom she found “in­cred­i­ble.” There is no hint of syco­phancy here; it ap­pears that Ridley is sim­ply joy­fully happy.

This cheer­ful­ness has been a use­ful screen to hide be­hind dur­ing the years since she made The Force Awak­ens. Now her char­ac­ter, Rey, is back for The Last Jedi, the new Star Wars film di­rected by Rian John­son. But Ridley found that this one came with more pres­sure than the first movie. “I sud­denly felt a much big­ger sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” she says. “I didn’t think I was good in the first film, and I was strug­gling with that.”

This is no hum­ble­brag. Ridley’s can­dour when it comes to her own per­for­mance is kind of star­tling. h

When she was a child, her gen­eral in­abil­ity to dis­guise her feel­ings oc­ca­sion­ally sent her into scat­ter­brained over­drive, an im­pulse that was, and still is, tem­pered by her lov­ing Lon­don-based fam­ily: her mother, who works in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, her fa­ther, who’s a re­tired photographer, and her two sis­ters—a model and a mu­si­cian.

At age eight, Ridley went to board at Tring Park School for the Per­form­ing Arts in Hert­ford­shire, U.K.—not, she says, from any de­sire to be an ac­tor but be­cause a friend of hers had gone to board­ing school and it sounded like fun. “I was such a grumpy child,” she says, smil­ing at the im­pli­ca­tion that she can still, now and then, throw a big tantrum. “I used to get su­per-dis­tracted—once I’d done my work, I would be an­noy­ing to every­one else, and my mum thought that if I was busy I’d be less dis­tract­ing. I al­ways sort of felt like I didn’t fit in.” This anx­i­ety wasn’t just a re­sult of be­ing a book­ish teenager; it also re­sulted from a feel­ing of un­readi­ness to go out and meet the world as an adult. “At 12 or 13, I didn’t know how to do makeup,” she says, “and I still don’t know how to do my hair. And peo­ple wore high heels at that age!”

Even now, Ridley re­tains some small sense of her­self as an out­sider look­ing in. How could she not? Her CV at this point is ex­tra­or­di­nary: As well as the Star Wars films, the ac­tress has starred in Ophe­lia op­po­site Naomi Watts and shot Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press along­side Judi Dench, Pené­lope Cruz, Sir Derek Ja­cobi and Olivia Col­man. It was on that last set that Ridley fi­nally cracked. “I turned to Ken, wiped away a tear and said, ‘I can’t be­lieve I’m here, thank you so much.’” She added, only half-jok­ingly, “Did some­one make you cast me?” (No, he said.) The self­dep­re­ca­tion is real. It’s not just the bur­den of fame or lame faux hu­mil­ity. There have been times in Ridley’s life, most no­tably af­ter the first Star Wars movie was re­leased, when she was lit­er­ally un­com­fort­able in her skin. At 15, she was di­ag­nosed with en­dometrio­sis, a painful con­di­tion of the uterus lin­ing that can re­sult in, along with other symp­toms, se­vere acne that is ex­ac­er­bated by stress. You know, the kind of stress that comes when you find your­self the star of the high­est-gross­ing film of all time. “I was in my flat go­ing nuts, and then my skin got re­ally bad with the stress of it all, and I hadn’t been well—I had holes in my gut wall and stuff—and we were try­ing to fig­ure out what to do with that be­cause I felt poorly.” She did what she al­ways does in times of stress and turned to her fam­ily, mov­ing first to her sis­ter’s house, a few streets away from their par­ents, and then to a flat she rented on her own in the same West Lon­don neigh­bour­hood.

Still, says Ridley, it was scary. It is dif­fi­cult to think of a more in­tense in­tro­duc­tion to Hol­ly­wood than win­ning a big role in a new Star Wars movie or a big­ger pro­fes­sional leap than hers, go­ing from small parts in the usual ros­ter of U.K. dra­mas and long-run­ning soaps ( Ca­su­alty, Silent Wit­ness, Mr Sel­fridge) to the first day of film­ing The Force Awak­ens in Abu Dhabi. She had only gone to the au­di­tion be­cause a friend men­tioned that she was go­ing too, and now here she was, on day one of the shoot, with a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant hold­ing an um­brella over her to keep the sun off while she looked around and “freaked out.” And then J.J. Abrams, the di­rec­tor, yelled “Ac­tion.”

Ridley will never for­get that first scene, in which she had to dis­mount from her Speeder bike and walk a short dis­tance with BB-8 while say­ing some­thing like “We’re go­ing to get you home.” Is it true that, af­ter she de­liv­ered her line, Abrams called her act­ing “wooden”? Ridley laughs. “It is true! Af­ter the first take, he goes, ‘Just a bit… wooden,’ and then we car­ried on. But J.J. is the kind of per­son who, be­fore a scene, says ‘Don’t fuck it up.’ So he said, ‘Just a bit wooden,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ But it got bet­ter.” She is still laugh­ing at the dis­crep­ancy be­tween how bad it sounds (quite bad) and how bad it was. “It’s only be­cause that word, ‘wooden,’ is so loaded. But it was just tense. And I thought, ‘Okay, loosen that shit right up and it’ll get bet­ter.’”

In fact, Ridley found Abrams and the rest of the pro­duc­tion crew to be in­cred­i­bly nur­tur­ing, to the ex­tent that she was rarely aware of the Star Wars “ma­chine.” It was a friendly set, she says, where she mostly hung out with John Boyega, the 23-year-old Brit who plays Finn and with whom she had the great­est num­ber of scenes, al­though her best friends were among the crew. Abrams had de­lib­er­ately hired hair and makeup for Ridley from the team who had worked on the Harry Pot­ter fran­chise be­cause, she says, “Aside from the fact that they’re amaz­ing, he h


knew that they had looked af­ter Emma [Wat­son], Daniel [Rad­cliffe] and Ru­pert [Grint] for how­ever many years. I felt very well taken care of.”

Har­ri­son Ford, mean­while, re­minds her of her dad (“They both have an ear­ring and are fuck­ing awe­some”), and the first time she shot a scene with him, he gave her a hug and said, “She’s so adorable.” She felt right at home af­ter that. (Mean­while, when her real dad vis­ited the set, he went up to Mark Hamill and, in clas­sic Dad fash­ion, asked, “So, who do you play, then?”)

In fact, the most dif­fi­cult thing about the whole Star Wars ex­pe­ri­ence has been rec­on­cil­ing the ter­ri­ble warn­ings she re­ceived about how life would change with the re­al­ity of what has ac­tu­ally hap­pened—that, and the anx­i­ety of shoot­ing the sec­ond film. In the first in­stance, “Every­one asked me, ‘Are you ready for your life to change?’ And that gets into your mind,” she says. Through­out this pe­riod, she tried to hang on to a piece of ad­vice given to her by the late Car­rie Fisher—to not shrink away from the suc­cess but en­joy it—“and that was won­der­ful.” Be­yond that, she threw her­self back into work. “At work, you’re nor­mal; you’re not the anom­aly, un­like in other sit­u­a­tions.”

Surely she has oc­ca­sion­ally been star-struck her­self? “Ab­so­lutely not,” she says. “I’ve never idol­ized any­one, re­ally. I never had a crush thing. So when I met Bar­bra Streisand, for ex­am­ple, I was blown away, not be­cause of her work but be­cause she’s a fan­tas­tic woman.” It was Abrams who rec­om­mended Ridley to Streisand, who was look­ing for a young star with a good voice to fea­ture in En­core, her 2016 al­bum. Ridley ended up singing with her on the song “At the Bal­let” from A Cho­rus Line and find­ing a new role model for her­self. “I went to her house and we talked about [psy­chi­a­trist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst Carl] Jung be­cause my dad loves Jung, and we were talk­ing about dreams, and I left and got su­per­e­mo­tional—not be­cause she’s fa­mous but be­cause she’s amaz­ing. Part of her rep­u­ta­tion comes from be­ing a woman. If it was a man be­ing ‘con­trol­ling’ about his ca­reer, peo­ple would just say he knows what he wants.”

One of the things Ridley has strug­gled with in the wake of grow­ing fame is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Rey be­ing a role model for young girls. She has been asked about fem­i­nism and has had to scram­ble, on oc­ca­sion, to form an opin­ion—not be­cause she is bland or apo­lit­i­cal but be­cause ev­ery­thing she now says has the po­ten­tial to come back and haunt her. For some­one strug­gling with self-doubt, this can have a par­a­lyz­ing ef­fect. It is a tes­ta­ment to Ridley’s se­ri­ous­ness that she has the sense to ac­knowl­edge it.

Of course, what­ever kind of at­ti­tude you have, be­ing a beau­ti­ful young woman in Hol­ly­wood means you are ex­posed to con­stant scru­tiny. Ridley, like Anne Hath­away and Jen­nifer Lawrence be­fore her, will have to weather the sala­cious in­ter­est that un­der­cuts any­thing she has to say. And if she seems less con­fi­dent than her peers, it is not only part of her charm but also, para­dox­i­cally, speaks to some deep-seated se­cu­rity that one as­sumes comes from Ridley’s fam­ily—it can take greater courage to ad­mit to one’s weak­nesses than to cover them up with bravado.

She has also learned to re­lax a lit­tle, al­though shoot­ing her sec­ond Star Wars movie, in which she had fewer scenes with her pal Boyega, made her briefly very stressed. “It’s not this big ad­ven­ture that I’m on with John [un­like in the first movie]. I was think­ing I did the first one be­cause I didn’t re­ally know what I was get­ting my­self into. I was hav­ing loads of fun, and sud­denly I’m re­al­iz­ing what this ac­tu­ally is, and I can’t fuck­ing do this.”

She says all this with a smile to ac­knowl­edge how neu­rotic this was. “I’m highly dra­matic. And Rian just said, ‘We’re go­ing to do this, and th­ese are the scenes, and this is how it’s go­ing to work,’ and fi­nally I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is work­ing.’ Some­times you’re not good at your job, and some­times you’re bet­ter.”

Hav­ing that kind of ex­pe­ri­ence helps, but Ridley still has mo­ments when she has to check her­self to make sure it’s all real. There was one night on the set of Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press when she found her­self sit­ting around play­ing cards along­side Sir Derek Ja­cobi, Olivia Col­man and Pené­lope Cruz and her hus­band, Javier Bar­dem, who had come to sup­port his wife. (Judi Dench had re­tired to bed.) The next day, she and Sir Derek sat around do­ing the cross­word. Even Para­noid Linda couldn’t worry the fun out of that one. n


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