Star Wars hero­ine ‘so freak­ing ner­vous’ on Ori­ent Ex­press

Daisy Ri­d­ley says she was too anx­ious to truly ap­pre­ci­ate hu­mour in all-star re­make

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRYAN ALEXAN­DER USA TO­DAY

Ken­neth Branagh had a bril­liant twist for a piv­otal Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press scene in which Daisy Ri­d­ley, as beau­ti­ful Mary Deben­ham, con­fronts ob­nox­ious fel­low pas­sen­ger Ger­hard Hard­man (Willem Dafoe).

The di­rec­tor thought space age for the mo­ment with Star Wars break­out Ri­d­ley on the op­u­lent 1930s train.

“I said to Daisy that she could cer­tainly pull out a lightsabre and toast him where it hurts,” Branagh re­calls.

Ri­d­ley, 25, says she was too ner­vous to truly ap­pre­ci­ate that hu­mour early in the re­make of the 1974 mys­tery movie based on Agatha Christie’s beloved crime novel. Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press (in the­atres Fri­day) was only Ri­d­ley’s se­cond ma­jor movie role after ex­plod­ing to univer­sal fame in her film de­but — as Rey in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens.

That con­fronta­tion was Ri­d­ley’s first scene in front of an act­ing en­sem­ble that in­cluded Sir Ken­neth (as Christie’s famed de­tec­tive Her­cule Poirot), Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Ja­cobi as fel­low Ori­ent Ex­press pas­sen­gers (and mur­der sus­pects).

“I hon­estly had no room for jokes in my mind that day. I was so freak­ing ner­vous,” Ri­d­ley says. “My hands were fully shak­ing, I thought, ‘I can­not do this in scene with ev­ery­one around.’ ”

Not to worry; Branagh knew Ri­d­ley could han­dle it. To en­sure that Ri­d­ley had the force beyond Star Wars, he had asked her to au­di­tion for the part in per­son.

The ac­tress only found out much later that fel­low stars such as Les­lie Odom Jr. (who sent an au­di­tion tape) and Josh Gad (“Josh was like, ‘I knew I could han­dle it’ ”) had by­passed that vet­ting. But Ri­d­ley un­der­stood.

“I mean, ob­vi­ously, I had done only one thing. I had to prove my­self to be part of any­thing like this. So I was very happy to (au­di­tion),” Ri­d­ley says. “I know I’m a real new­bie.”

She nav­i­gated the au­di­tion the way Rey han­dled the Mil­len­nium Fal­con in The Force Awak­ens.

“She had this intelligence and a twin­kle in her eye,” Branagh says.

Ri­d­ley be­came an in­te­gral part of the fa­mous train crew, hang­ing with Dench (“I made a video for her grand­son,” in char­ac­ter as Rey) and play­ing along as Gad grills her for Star Wars spoil­ers in a se­ries of videos he shot and shared dur­ing film­ing.

In be­tween scenes, she lis­tened to the drama leg­ends swap sto­ries. “I had noth­ing to of­fer. I was just a lucky girl who got a lucky break,” says Ri­d­ley, mod­estly. “I mainly kept still.”

Ex­pe­ri­ence won’t be an is­sue again as Ri­d­ley picks up her lightsabre for real in her third ma­jor film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (in the­atres Dec. 15). This time she’ll be act­ing along­side the orig­i­nal Jedi, Mark Hamill, after Rey finds Luke Sky­walker.

Ri­d­ley has also com­pleted the ti­tle role in the drama Ophe­lia (ex­pected in 2018) and zipped back to Mon­treal after last week’s Ori­ent Ex­press pre­miere in Lon­don to re­sume work on the dystopian drama Chaos Walking (2019).

“I’ve re­al­ized that I’m re­ally tired, I haven’t stopped work­ing,” she says.

“Now I’m gen­uinely ex­cited to sleep be­fore fly­ing around the world talk­ing Star Wars.”

“I mean, ob­vi­ously, I had done only one thing. I had to prove my­self to be part of any­thing like this. So I was very happy to (au­di­tion) . . . I know I’m a real new­bie.” DAISY RI­D­LEY AC­TOR

NI­COLA DOVE

Daisy Ri­d­ley stars in Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox’s Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press.

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