Daisy Ridley reveals why she needed to “take a breath” after her divisive Star Wars finale and why she took herself off social media.
Last year’s coronavirus-induced movie shutdowns came at a strange but pivotal time for Daisy Ridley.
The UK actor had already spent the first few months of the year in a very reflective mood after her final Star Wars film playing the orphan-turned-Jedi Rey, The Rise Of Skywalker, was released in December 2019. It proved to be a hugely divisive farewell to more than five years she spent in that galaxy far, far away, with lukewarm reviews and lower box office takings that its two predecessors, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Among the criticism and the fan backlash demanding a do-over, Ridley had already been “taking a breath in January and February” trying to fathom a life without the franchise that had put her squarely in the spotlight. So. when the global movie industry ground to a halt almost entirely in March, she didn’t feel completely at sea. Like so many others, she spent her time baking banana bread and baguettes and contemplating an uncertain future.
“I think because January was such a shift and I’d had my whole adult life with Star Wars, it was like ‘OK, who am I after this?’,” she says over the phone from her locked-down London home. “I think because I’d already been having that sort of life questioning it didn’t become so much of that. I think the biggest taking stock was being a self-employed person come March.”
REY OF LIGHT
For the record, and when the benefit of a bit of hindsight to reflect on the Star Wars journey that took her from being an unknown actor to a household name and role model to fans the world over, she has nothing but love for the entire experience. She was excited to tune into The Mandalorian as both a fan and part of the extended family, scanning the credits for her former colleagues.
“I feel wonderful about it. It felt like sort of growing up – I feel that early 20s time is a big change in anyone’s life,” she says. “I feel amazing that I was surrounded by incredible people and I can’t believe I got such an amazing opportunity. I loved everyone I worked with, I loved the experience and I just had the most amazing time.
“I couldn’t be more grateful and I will always think of it so lovingly. I am really good friends with John (Boyega, who played Finn). Everybody got on so well but meeting John was such a highlight because I just got to be with my friends for six or seven years and got to see the most amazing places.”
Ridley is now champing at the bit to get back to work and excited to be talking up a movie she shot nearly four years ago. Chaos Walking, which also stars Tom Holland, is based on the young-adult science-fiction book trilogy of the same name, with Ridley playing a character who has crash landed on a planet where all the women have disappeared and the men are afflicted by “the Noise”, a phenomenon by which their thoughts are put on display. She says she didn’t think twice about signing on to another sci-fi property with franchise potential, even though she was still making Star Wars at the time.
Rather, she relished a levity in her character Viola that she didn’t get to explore with Rey, and was both fascinated and appalled by the Noise.
“It would be absolutely awful,” she says of the idea of her inner most thoughts being seen and heard by all. “I guess the thing is, we have social media and a lot of people post a lot of the time. I remember my grandparents used to say – and a lot of people still do – ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. And I feel like that just got wiped out with social media. People just say whatever they want now.”
Ridley famously took herself off social media years ago. At the time it was speculated that her decision was a reaction to the sometimes extreme fan reactions in the Star Wars world as well as some of the hate directed to colleagues including Boyega and Kelly-Marie Tran. But Ridley says it was far more prosaic than that – she just didn’t think she was very good at it.
“It was made out to be something that it wasn’t really,” she says. “I just thought ‘you know what? This isn’t for me’. Some people do it really well – people who are super smart and have a lot to say – and I just don’t really have that much to say … ‘Hey, I made my banana bread’.
“I feel like the pressure is off because there is a thing of trying to look a certain way, and what people on social media are showing themselves to be and what they actually are, and I found that very difficult. John does it amazingly well – he uses his platform in such a wonderful way. But it’s just not for me.”
Ridley met Spider-Man star Holland for the first time after they had been cast together in Chaos Walking, and the two hit it off immediately, sharing a common experience of both being a part of huge film franchises with passionate fan bases. But although Ridley is four years older than her co-star, former child actor Holland has been in the spotlight for longer and she says he handles the adulation like a true professional as the focal point for a key pillar of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“He plays Spider-Man in Spider-Man and I always felt part of a team,” she says. “I guess the Avengers are a team, but his films are just him as Spider-Man. Also, he deals with it a lot better. I get quite shy and a bit flustered when people come over and he is just really calm and he’s much better at the interacting thing. I’m better at it now, but he’s just very in himself. He’s younger than me but he seems older because he just deals with it really well.”
Ridley says she has several “exciting” projects in the pipeline she can’t talk about yet, but her next confirmed role is as Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle, a former Olympic gold medallist who in 1926 became first woman to swim the English Channel.
“It’s really an amazing story,” she says of the biopic, Young Woman and the Sea. “What she did is unbelievable in a time where basically if she failed, women’s sport was essentially going to be obliterated. She essentially said ‘I am not being taken out of this water until I reach England’. Be that dead or alive. She just loved to swim but it became a lot bigger than what she ever thought. And it’s still the biggest parade for a returning athlete in New York, and it really changed the face of women’s sport.”
Chaos Walking is in cinemas from March 4.