Daisy Ridley is running on fumes. She’s just flown in to snowy Utah from the U.K. for two days of screenings and promotion around Sometimes I Think About Dying, her new film premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, before flying back to begin filming on Magpie, a thriller she’s producing and starring in that was written by her now-husband, Tom Bateman.
“I’m so tired, I’m not sure if I’m making any sense,” offers Ridley, ever the self-effacing Brit. (She’s making perfect sense, by the way.)
You’re probably aware of Ridley’s origin story. After a series of bit parts, including in the underrated comedy masterpiece Toast of London, she was bartending when J.J. Abrams “discovered” her and cast her as Rey, a budding Jedi master and leader of the Resistance, in the new Star Wars trilogy. The twenty-something was immediately elevated to global-star status, though the last of the films, 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, ran afoul of critics and certain areas of the fandom for retconning the messaging of the previous entry, The Last Jedi.
She’s now 30 and charting a new path — sans lightsaber. In Sometimes I think About Dying she plays Fran, a woman who does data entry in a nondescript office in a quaint coastal town in Oregon. Fran is guarded and dismissive of her coworkers; in her spare time, she fantasizes about her body lying dead in a forest. In lieu of connecting with those around her, she feels like disconnecting entirely. It is a devastating turn by Ridley, who imbues Fran with quiet courage, while Rachel Lambert’s film (which Ridley produced) sharply captures the fraught nature of office socializing and what it’s like to emerge from an emotional fog.
Ridley sat down with Rolling Stone at Sundance to discuss her new film, social anxiety and life post-Star Wars.
It’s a quiet performance but there’s a lot brewing underneath the surface. Was a dense character study like this something you were looking hard for?
It’s funny because I’m not that sort of… strategic. And to be honest, I think some people are strategic and it works well for them, but I read a lot of stuff and I like what I like. In the past year and a half, I’ve made three wildly different movies. I did think — and this is kind of hilarious — oh, this is the first film I’ve not run in! I just got to sit down. Lie down. It was great.
By the way, I can’t help but notice the ring. Did you get married?
Yes! I got married.
Congratulations. In the film, your character Fran is in a great deal of pain, but has trouble vocalizing it. Is that something you could relate to as someone who deals with chronic pain?
I feel a huge amount of empathy for the character. I’m not the most social person. I find social interactions a lot of times quite difficult, unless there’s a reason. Work meetings are fine. If there’s a purpose, I’m fine. But otherwise, I’ve always found social interactions difficult. And coming out of the pandemic, there was this one dinner. I thought, this is really, really hard to just be with people. I think many people put so much weight on work, where if you’re not working you think, oh no, what am I going to do? I like to be part of things. Fran is a little obnoxious sometimes, like, oh, I’m sort of above this, but then also desperately wants to be a part of things. I understand that, in a smaller way. I see it. I see people who really struggle to be around people and think they’re masking it, but they’re masking it badly. It must be exhausting. I drew on myself and also others I’ve seen.
Yes, you mentioned the pandemic, and when things began getting a bit closer to normal and people started interacting together in person again, those first social interactions seemed quite alien and awkward.
I think in general she does not feel worthy, which a lot of people understand. Occasionally, I think, why would people want to hang out with me? People are constantly questioning where they fit into the landscape of the world, and if they’re doing enough to be a part of things and connect. It’s gotten a lot more intense, and it’s going to be so long until we’ve fully rectified that.
The early scenes in Fran’s office reminded me a bit of the TV show The Office. I’m curious: Do you lean more British Office or American Office?
I got through the American Office faster because I have a real cringe factor. The U.K. one, I’d watch an episode and go, “OK, I can’t watch anymore of that right now.” And it was the same with Extras.
I still think about that episode with Daniel Radcliffe in a boy scout uniform carrying around his little condom on set.
Oh my god! And Kate Winslet? So fucking funny. I think I would go U.K. It’s the founding! But the American one was very uplifting, and I watched it in lockdown. I was like, this is delightful to watch and just be a part of a nice group of people.
You said you can sometimes struggle with forced social interactions, and I’m curious what it was like to be in that massive Star Wars maelstrom, where you were surely being forced to go to all kinds of chaotic events and things.
It’s strange, because the attention in that way is very different, but in terms of the social thing, whenever I went to things, I was with people I loved and I knew. So, it was weird. On the one hand, I was like, yeah, I know all these people, it’s good, and on the other hand, there’s this massive influx of intense energy. But I didn’t feel alone because there was a group of us. I went to my friend’s birthday, and I’ve been friends with her for ten years. I was like, oh my god. I only knew her and didn’t know anyone else going, and I was fucking terrified. So scared. This was last year. By the end of it, I had such a nice evening and thought, “Oh, that was so nice.” It felt like a small, but lovely, victory.
You came off three of the biggest movies of all time, and then we were hit with a pandemic. That all seems quite disorienting. What was it like getting off that crazy ship and moving forward with your career?
I feel like I was… not starting again, but in a way, I’d joined something that was always bigger than I ever was. It’s this huge thing that I slotted into, and when it was finished it was a real time of recalibration. I was like, whoa. It wasn’t just, oh, I have to say goodbye to all these people I’ve worked with for years and years, it was also about the schedule and structure and knowing I had a job. And then there was lockdown. And, like so many other people, I was trying to figure out what I was without work. I know a lot of people worked in that first year of lockdown, and I didn’t work till the end of the year. It was nice to return to work, because I’m so grateful for the opportunity. And for me, Star Wars is joyful. I know they bring up a lot for other people, but for me it was joy. Not always — it was difficult — but overall, I loved my experience. I worked with amazing directors and actors that I respect, so it was an amazing beginning of a career. I feel like I’m not having to start over, but it’s a different path now.
I spoke with your co-star John Boyega a few months back about the backlash he’d received being in Star Wars, and I think the women and people of color in the cast certainly received a disproportionate amount of crap. I know you’d taken a social media hiatus for a number of years around this time, so I was wondering what all that was like for you.
The funny thing is, because I don’t read stuff and wasn’t on social media for a while, when I was referring to how people can have big opinions about it, random people in the street would be so open with their opinions and I would be like, I’m good. I don’t need to hear that. Cool. Great. As a person, whether I liked a film or not, I would never go up to a person and go, “I hated your film.” Because I’m a human being. It was probably more gendered than I was aware of.
It was pretty shocking. I wrote a piece praising your character in The Force Awakens and the feminist direction the film was taking and got some pretty wild hate mail over it. And that was just for writing something about it.
Yeah. Luckily, I did not read anything. I think there’s so much vitriol out there that I didn’t need to read it. I felt for Moses Ingram recently, and felt that in comparison it was so much worse for other people. I don’t just think it’s fandom. Everyone feels they need to say everything they’re feeling, and I don’t know that everyone does.
There is a lot of sexism in fandoms though. I remember when they rebooted Ghostbusters with an all-women cast and people lost their damn minds. It’s like, why are you so offended by this? Who cares?
Yeah. And it’s one of those things that’s like, there’s no point in having an argument about it, because people will think what they think. So for me, I’m going to carry on doing work that I think speaks to people, men and women, and if people don’t like it then they don’t like it.
How did you feel about The Rise of Skywalker and the way the films ended? Because that film retconned almost all of what transpired in The Last Jedi, as far as Rey’s parentage and a bunch of other things. The message of The Last Jedi appeared to be that anyone can be extraordinary. But then that message was erased in the final film.
Well, J.J. [Abrams] was the one who was like, she is of no one, so it wasn’t just The Last Jedi where that was the message. What was interesting about the last one, for me, was that you can be a hero and not come from anywhere or you can be a hero and come from literally the worst person in the universe. You’re not your parents, you’re not your grandparents, you’re not your bloodline and you’re not the generations before you. So, I always was like, sure. But it’s beyond my pay grade. I say the words, do the thing. I do love the version of, you can be anyone you want to be, but I also love the version where you can rectify wrongs and can’t help what you’re born into.
Sometimes I Think About Dying is the first film you’ve produced. And we’ve seen a lot of women over the last decade move more into producing their own projects, and setting up production companies, so that they get the opportunities they deserve.
I’m literally starting a film on Monday that I had the idea for, my husband wrote and I have produced it fully from the ground-up. That was really because I wanted to make this film and I’m like a turbo engine, so I was like, let’s fucking make this thing happen. I’m EP on the Disney film I did last year, Young Woman and the Sea, because when I came in I had a lot of feelings about the script. It was a really wonderful thing of not coming in in a producer-ly way, but also being embraced by, like, Jerry fucking Bruckheimer. That was so cool.