If you’ve never heard of Daisy Ridley, the 23-year-old British actress who plays scavenger Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, don’t feel bad. Why? Well, because Star Wars: The Force Awakens is her big screen debut. That’s right: her first movie is the most colossally anticipated film, possibly ever.
And yet, when we sat down to talk to her at the end of a very long press day at the Los Angeles Convention Center, she seemed totally at ease and excited. She was feeling under the weather; you could hear it in her voice and in the way she didn’t extend her hand when we started chatting (understandable since she’s been out promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens for months now). You could still sense that she is thrilled – thrilled to be in a movie at all, thrilled to be in a Star Wars movie, and thrilled to be an empowered icon for young girls everywhere. (Trust us when we say, she will be a true inspiration after this movie opens.)
We talked about all of this, plus why she listened to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan to get into character, what she thought after seeing the film, and her favorite Star Wars toy.
You just said that listening to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan would pump you up.
I just really love that song, and it makes me feel empowered. There are days when you feel tired and you need to get the energy up, and that’s when I would listen to it.
What about that song speaks to Rey?
She’s a girl trying to find her way in the big bad world. Obviously, the two stories are very different. But that sequence and that song, of her finding her strength, it’s really powerful.
In the press conference, you mentioned that you didn’t grow up a Star Wars fan. Since going on this whole journey have you become more versed?
I have. I feel like I’m representing some people who haven’t, because there are some people who aren’t huge fans. And as an actress I feel like it’s nice to have that distance, because ultimately I’m just an actress in a film. To be a part of that is fantastic, but to remember that it is just a film is also great.
When you got the part, you were excited.
Yes, when I got it, I was excited that I was going to be in a film. Then you add on all of the extra stuff, and that only adds to that excitement, but ultimately I was like, “Oh my gosh, I get to work on something for longer than two weeks.”
You’re about to be in a hugely iconic film. Do you think about going from never being in a film to being recognized on the street?
I think it’s weird; the thought of being recognized and stuff isn’t something that I ever really wanted. But if I’m recognized because Rey had a meaningful impact on their life and they love Rey, or their kid loves Rey, or young women can see something in Rey that they don’t see so much in cinema, I can only see that as a good thing.
Is there one action figure you love more than the others?
I’m really excited about Disney Infinity coming out.
Have you seen the film?
Take us on your emotional journey while watching it.
Gee, if I knew what to tell you, I would. Oscar saw it last night and he reacted the same way I did. It’s very overwhelming. It’s difficult to process. I’m excited to see it again, so hopefully I can take more away from it. Me and John haven’t even had a chance to talk about it. He rang me after he watched it because we didn’t watch it together, but it would be nice to talk to him about it.
Is everything you wanted to do with the character in that final film?
No. I’m proud of Rey’s contribution, and the story and the writing is stunning. But I didn’t love myself in it.
You’ve talked about the physicality of these characters. Did that help you a lot?
What was funny was when I was working with Simon Pegg, because he’s in heavy prosthetics. And I was talking to him for ages and then he took his head off and I was really shy, because it’s like, “You’re not who I was talking to. I was talking to this other character and now I feel very odd.” It was really weird. I think that goes to show how much practical effects can help. Because I didn’t feel like I was talking to him.
But Lupita’s character is completely computer-generated. What did you think when you finally saw her in the movie?
Well, it was interesting because we had seen sketches of Lupita as we went along, so working with her we had an idea of what she was going to look like. It does have an impact. It would be weird if we had no idea what she was going to end up looking like. It was good to know the overall sense of what she would be. But to see it finished was crazy amazing. It’s also crazy because obviously it’s computer generated, but she’s under there somewhere, she brought that to life. The technology is just incredible.
You get to work with one of the breakouts of the movie, BB-8. How would you describe your relationship with BB-8?
Rey and BB-8’s relationship is really lovely. He is the first thing that ever interacts with Rey on an equal level. So that, I think for Rey, is really wonderful. He’s along for the journey that she and Finn go on. It’s just pure and wonderful. And I love BB-8. So it’s all good.
There are so many strong female characters in this movie. What is it like adding to that legacy?
It’s amazing. To be guided by Kathy Kennedy and obviously for Rey to be written by J.J., who has created so many incredible female roles in everything he’s done. So that’s wonderful. And to be a part of something, not for the sake of it, but being a strong story that Rey carries through—she has a genuine impact. So to be a part of that is absolutely amazing.
Do you feel bad when something goes wrong in a take?
Yes, I corpsed in Abu Dhabi. I was working with Simon Pegg and the part he plays is just incredible. And he did something with his face, and it was so funny. I full-blown laughed. Of course the terror is there, because I always used to laugh in school in the middle of really important service sand stuff, and I was thinking about this when I laughed. And then J.J. said, “Don’t worry about all of these people in their really heavy costumes.” It was so, so hot. And I did feel awful. But it was also amazing.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrives in a galaxy near you on December 18.