When Daisy Ridley sat down at a crowded Montreal wine bar in late October to do her interview for Rolling Stone’s Last Jedi cover story, she had been in Canada for three long months, on a “chaotic” shoot for the Doug Liman sci-fi movie Chaos Walking. She hadn’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet, but she spoke about many things – including, memorably, how the franchise combines social relevance with “fucking lasers and shit,” as well as her reluctance, at least in that exhausted moment, to play Rey after Episode IX (she pulled back from those sentiments weeks later). Here’s more from the conversation.
It’s easy to forget that viewers didn’t really know that Rey was the protagonist of the saga before they actually saw The Force Awakens. There was a bit of misdirection there.
It’s interesting because someone yesterday said to me, “Oh, did you feel a bit smug and stuff in interviews?” But none of us lied about the importance of any roles. I was surprised that people were surprised.
Wasn’t the idea to preserve the power of that moment when you grabbed the lightsaber out of the snow?
The lightsaber moment! At The Force Awakens premiere, when that happened, John [Boyega] was so funny. He was in front of me and was like, “woo-hoo!” It was packed with people and John was going crazy. It was amazing.
There’s obviously a lot of symbolism in that moment of a woman grabbing the lightsaber for a first time. What does that mean to you?
I can’t begin to understand how it feels for a woman of 40 who has watched cinema for years – and obviously there was Alien and everything, and then a big chunk of time with no one. And I can’t know what it is like to have a daughter and not be able to say to [her], “go into a toy shop and pick whatever you want.” And what I do think is amazing, too, is, it wasn’t a woman that did it. Michael [Arndt] and J.J. [Abrams] and Larry [Kasdan] wrote it. Three men. For me that is also part of the remarkable thing. It’s not like it’s a woman doing women things.
I also think it is easier to look at someone else’s situation objectively. It’s incredible to see how people are with John. It’s really opened my eyes more to what isn’t in films. I will go to something and be like, “Oh, this is an issue.” Or I will go to a play and be like, “Oh, it’s an entirely white cast.” It has opened my eyes to the discrepancies.
What’s it like to have Kathy Kennedy in charge of this whole thing?
She is awesome, so I love being around her. And then things like her speech at the Women in Hollywood thing a few weeks ago. It’s not like I don’t ever not realize her amazingness – she’s so smart, so wonderful and kind. I do obviously know that she has had a massive impact on what has been going on. So I am thankful to her, but she’s also not like, “I’m doing this amazing thing.” She just does the thing.
Was there a moment when all of this started to really hit you ?
One thing was, we landed in Korea and there was a little girl dressed like Rey [before The Force Awakens came out] and I was like, “Oh my God.” I took a picture with her and then the picture was everywhere and it was like, oh!
Has the relentless speculation about Rey’s parents bothered you?
No, but for me this whole thing is not necessarily about where any of us come from. It’s about where we’re going.
You once said that you thought the answer was totally clear in Force Awakens, right?
Yeah, I did! After the premiere, I was with my agent, my lawyers, my hairdresser who is also my really good friend, and my publicist. And they were all saying stuff and I was like, “Wait, what?” I was so confused, because again, as someone who already knew the answer, I was so confused by their questions. But who am I to say what people should and shouldn’t be interested in?
When I talked to Mark Hamill, he had a lot of praise for you.
What was he saying?
He loved working with you, and was impressed with your focus and the extent to which all the the stuff around it hasn’t shaken you.
It shakes me occasionally, but for the most part, yeah.
What was your mood like on set this time?
I remember saying to [director] Rian [Johnson], “I am so fucking neurotic on this one. The first time around, it was all so insane. And the second time around, it was kind of that thing like, I am going to fuck this up. How do I do that thing? And then you are trying not to think about that, because you can’t work like that.
What’s the difference between working with Rian and J.J.?
There are different energies. J.J. will come in and he will be like, “Here’s the thing.” With Rian, you would do a take and you would look over and he would be like [waves hand]. And he would come strolling over and I’m like, fuck. He would be like, “Ummmmm” – and you would be like, “No! Be enthusiastic.” [Laughs] It wasn’t that he wasn’t. It’s just that Rian says fewer words per minute than J.J., so I would always be like, “Uh, what am I searching for?” But I think that worked for this film, because the story has more breadth in terms of Rey. Very much so in terms of narrative and the emotional implications of what has been going on.
It must have been strange when you heard Colin Trevorrow was out and were waiting to hear who would end up directing Episode IX.
We had an amazing experience on Jedi, and Kathy – whose decision I guess it is it is – she knows what she is doing. She knows how to make everyone feel safe and secure, where everyone is working for the right reasons. And obviously it is super unfortunate that it did not work out with Colin, but it’s nice occasionally to be like, “Okay you guys do your thing and we will be there. And you just tell us what to say and where to say it.”
Do you have Star Wars dreams?
Like actual dreams at nighttime? I don’t think so. My dreams are never coherent. I am sure Mark has been in [one]; Carrie has been in [one], Harrison has been in [one]. Like, my sleep is mental. I have night terrors. I wake up and I scream.
It seems like you have been getting so much non-Star Wars work, and typecasting doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem, right?
My agent is fucking amazing and she reads absolutely everything so we don’t miss anything. After we finished VIII I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t have anything lined up.” I think I had already read Chaos Walking, which I thought was cool but knew it was a ways off. And then when I was in LA she was like, “Do you want to audition for Murder on the Orient Express?” “Yes!” I almost canceled it because I had been flying back and forth and I just felt like shit. I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of Kenneth Branagh. My agent was like, ‘No, no, go and do it.’ And I went and I still thought I didn’t do a great job!
Is there ever a sense that you have to go in there and just overcome any preconceptions based on Rey?
No, I think it has paved the way. For the most part people are very, very kind and anyone I have met has gone, “You have done a great job.” And they move on. I certainly would not be in the room if I wasn’t in it, but I don’t think I have been shortchanged by any of it. People have been very open to that, which is great. And it’s no bad thing for a studio or whatever it is to think about the kind of women they are writing for. I feel very lucky that I am in a fortunate enough position to be like, “That’s not a well-written character, so, no.” Maybe that will make someone think like, “Oh fuck, maybe we should … .” I am not only going to play strong characters, but I do want to play three-dimensional women.
People refer to “strong” and “bad-ass” female characters in a way they don’t for men.
People do talk about the strength thing a lot and I don’t really understand what people mean. Rey is just a young girl going through something. My favorite thing about [her] is that strong moral compass. Even having grown up quite lonely, she meets people and immediately tries to do the right thing. BB-8 is a hilarious annoyance, [but] she is going to take down two guys to try and protect him. But anyone I know would do that! If you meet someone and they’re alone and then someone else tries to steal them, you’re obviously going to get involved. It’s just what people do.
If they said there is another trilogy and Rey can be in it, is that something you would want?
No. For me, I didn’t really know what I was signing on to. As far as I was concerned I was signing on to some films and like, I hadn’t read the script, nothing. But [from] what I could tell, there were really nice people involved so I was just, like: awesome thing to be part of. Now I think I am so lucky, even luckier than I knew then, to be part of something that is so … it’s like coming home now. Like last year, I was coming home, being on the set feeling so comfortable.
So was that a yes?
No, no, no. I am really, really excited to do the third thing and round it out because ultimately, what I was signing on to was three films. So in my head it’s three films. I don’t know what the story of IX is, but just right now I think it will feel like the right time to round it out.
How about in 30 years?
Who knows? I honestly feel like the world may end in the next 30 years, so if in 30 years we are not living underground in a series of interconnected cells … then sure. Maybe. But again, it’s like who knows. Because the thing I thought was so amazing, people really wanted it. And it was done by people who really love it.
I feel like we are planning out the next 30 years for you.
How old will I be? 55. Fuck. I can’t think that far ahead. I don’t know what I am doing in two weeks time.