Daisy Ridley Tells Us What It's Like To Hug Chewbacca

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith. ©Lucasfilm 2015.
It would be reasonable to assume that after landing a coveted role in the most anticipated sequel (perhaps) ever, a young actor might want to live it up. Throw a rager. Treat everyone she knows to shots. At least pop open a bottle of champagne.

Daisy Ridley did none of the above. When the London-native learned that she had been cast as Rey, one of the leads in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she didn’t so much as indulge in a bit of fist-pumping in the privacy of her own bedroom. “I didn’t celebrate,” she says. “I thought I was going to lose the part the whole time. Honestly, I was like, they’ve made a terrible mistake. I went for brunch the next day with my agents, and they were celebrating. I just felt sick and, like, I didn’t want to be there. It’s just so much to process.”

At just 23, Ridley is about to travel through the hyperspace of fame at speeds the Millennium Falcon would strain to reach. Before Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams cast her as Rey — a desert scavenger from the planet Jakku who's been fending for herself since childhood — Ridley's résumé consisted of a few bit parts on British television. Even today, as she chats with us in a New York hotel restaurant just two weeks before the movie blasts into theaters on December 18, Ridley is still wrapping her head around her career's jump to light-speed. She's warm and engaged, frequently breaking into the joyous smile that has led many to compare her to Keira Knightley. By her own admission, she is a bit “terrified” of what’s to come, but she’s also determined not to get lost along the way. “How I am now, nothing’s going to change massively,” she says. “My best friends are still the same, my family’s still the same. Nothing like that is going to change. It might just be that people know what I look like, going forward.”

Oh, maybe a few hundred million people, give or take. No big deal.

Everyone has asked you how you got the part. But I’d like to know what you remember about the first audition — even just what was going through your mind when you went in to read?
“It’s definitely the most nervous I’ve ever been for an audition. And I was there an hour early, so I went to, like, sit in a coffee shop, and then I still got there half an hour early. I mean, I must have gone for a wee a million times. Then I’m pretty sure they told me to go away and come back, and I was like, Oh god! Just really nervous. It felt like a huge deal. And it’s funny, because Star Wars was not that huge in my life [growing up] at all. The whole way through, even though I was riddled with doubts and I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job in the auditions, I’d had this feeling that something was going to happen from it. So it’s that weird thing of both being driven on by something and being terrified by what that might mean.”

J.J. Abrams has said that he remembers seeing you in the waiting room and that you were “alight.”
"[Laughs] That’s not true. No, I was there, like, probably sweating. I was alight because I was almost on fire I was so hot. That’s kind of him to say.”

You recently saw The Force Awakens. Were you happy with your performance?
“No. No. No. Not that I’m not happy — it’s just very weird. It’s weirder than I ever could have imagined. I was talking to Harrison [Ford] yesterday, and he said he said he still doesn’t enjoy it, watching himself. He was saying, 'It’s creative, so you enjoy the process, not the result.' And I was like, yes! Obviously, to see the finished result and see everyone’s work that’s gone into this incredible thing — that’s amazing. But I’m looking forward to watching it again when I feel a bit more distant from it.”

Photo: Courtesy of Film Frame. © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM.
John Boyega and Daisy Ridley in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Speaking of Harrison Ford, who of the original core cast has given you the best advice about joining the Star Wars family?
“None of them have really given me advice about that. Harrison talked to me about anonymity, and he mentioned it last night. I never really asked them anything, 'cause I wanted to feel like I was just, 1) not bugging people, and 2) kind of just doing my own thing, which I don’t know if it was the best thing to do. And now, it’s like, I’ve got all the questions and I don’t know if I’ve got time before it comes out! [Laughs] But they were all an example of how to behave on set and how important this has been in their lives — the way they came back [to do The Force Awakens] with such enthusiasm and such love for it. So I guess their way of being would be advice for how to keep going. They’ve gone through this crazy thing and they still just love the work and love what they’re doing.”

They went through it at such a different time. Hollywood was a different place, and there was no social media. It’s hard to compare what you and your co-star John Boyega are going through to even Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio after Titanic, because that was before social media, too. Has that been daunting?
“Well, I was kind of loathe to go on social media. I find the trolling unacceptable and I never wanted to look like I was someone who would accept that. But the 99 — no, I would actually say 100% of the people [who've interacted with me on social media] have been so wonderful so far. My life is real average, and it’s nice to share that with people. And to see people’s conspiracies and their theories, that’s fun. It’s really fun to be part of.”

What are the craziest theories you’ve heard?
“The Kylo-Luke thing. [Ed. note: There is widespread speculation among fans that in the new film, Luke Skywalker is in fact the villain Kylo Ren.] I’m like, Kylo Ren is Adam Driver! Luke Skywalker is Mark Hamill! It literally makes no sense. To me, that is crazy. I have no idea where it comes from.”

That’s been dispelled, no?

“Well, no. I’m still being tagged on things in Instagram, like ‘Who thinks this is gonna happen? Twelve days until we find out if this is true!’ And I’m like, we’ve announced the cast!”

Any others?

“That [Luke] is not going to be in the film. He’s Luke Skywalker!”

The original trilogy was pretty male; Princess Leia was the only principal female character. This one feels different, with you, Lupita Nyong’o, and Gwendoline Christie in key roles. Is it exciting to be a part of a
Star Wars with a much bigger female presence?
“The comparison is so difficult, because I know what I experienced and I know that Kathy [Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy] is the head of the whole thing, and she is, like, the most powerful woman in the world! So, I never felt like anything was being done for the sake of it. It’s simple: Women represent half the population…so it just feels as it should be. Other people have made me realize the importance of it. You think, oh yeah, all the kids who maybe don’t have someone to look up to in a film who is not over-sexualized and not that eye candy or whatever, and who’s more than how they might first appear. The best thing about it is that it wasn’t like, this [movie] is so important to women. It was just like, I’m playing a cool role and it just so happens I’m a woman. That’s probably the best way it could be.”

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia was my childhood hero.


You’re about to become the hero to a new generation of fans — especially little girls. How does that feel?

"[Smiles] It feels nice. Firstly, it’s cute because all the kids are dressing up in Rey costumes, and I’m like, that’s amazing! A lot of people have found something in Star Wars that they might not find in other places. The movies are like people’s family, people’s friends. Obviously, it’s never gonna answer the world’s problems, but all those people who might be feeling lonely and then think about all the characters that they share some similarities with — for that to be some kind of buoyancy in someone’s life is incredible.”

Photo: Courtesy of Film Frame. © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM.
Ridley and Boyega in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

There are photos and behind-the-scenes footage of you sitting next to Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. You got to pilot the Millennium Falcon!

“I did. [Smiles] It was cool. It’s difficult. They had me in [motion] simulators, so it’s like, blarh! blarh! [She makes a nauseated face.] That’s actually the first time I was like, oh my gosh, I have to look like I’m flying a spaceship. And it’s really iconic and I have to do the acting — that was difficult. But it was great."

Did you get to hug Chewbacca? Please say yes.

“Of course.”

What’s it like?

“Imagine if the guys who played Chewbacca were like, 'Get away from me!' No, both Peter [Mayhew] and [his stand-in actor] are so lovely. And they’re so tall! It’s quite wonderful. So it’s like, eeeeee!" [She mimics hugging a Wookiee.] [Ed. note: Peter Mayhew has played Chewbacca since the very first movie in 1977. For The Force Awakens, a second actor stepped into the furry suit for some action scenes.]
Do you speak Wookiee now?
"[Shakes head] Someone asked me to do an impression. I’m not good at impressions, anyway. John’s great at impressions."

Of course you can tell me everything about your character. There are no secrets.

“I can tell you a lot of stuff! I think the crux of Rey’s story is that she begins alone and she is thrust into this adventure and reaches new possibilities and heights — heights, ha ha ha, in a spaceship — that she never believed she could have done. She’s pushed beyond her limits; she meets people and forms relationships she never imagined was possible. And everything she does exceeds everything she could have ever imagined. So it’s a really wonderful story. Her story is so relatable — if you take away space and everything. She’s just a young girl on a journey trying to do the right thing.

Back to those theories out there. Is she Han and Leia’s daughter?

“Are you asking me?”


"[Smiles] You’ll have to wait and see."

How much does your family know about the movie? Have they tried to bribe you for plot details?

“Oh no, not at all. They’re excited to see me in action, but no. It’s, like, my mum’s work friends who ask her questions and stuff. She’s like, 'I don’t know!' She’s really got no idea.”

You and Carrie Fisher seem like you have a nice bond.


In the piece you did together for
Interview magazine, she joked that you were going to ruin Keira Knightley’s career. Do you get that a lot, that you look like her?
“This is one thing that I’m actually so ugh about. It hasn’t really happened with John [Boyega], and I don’t think it’s because I’m a woman. But it’s like, why do I have to be like someone else? People have always said that I’ve looked like Keira Knightley, and obviously Carrie was joking in that interview. But it is actually really frustrating. Keira Knightley is wonderful and has her own thing. I just think to compare a 23-year-old girl to anyone else is — it’s so unnecessary. So yeah, people tell me I look like her, but then actually people said that it becomes less, as you get to know me."

I didn’t understand the joke when I first read it, to be honest. I didn't see the resemblance at first.

“I just think every single person in the world has their own thing going on. And I just want to be me.”

So you haven't celebrated this life-changing role, but surely the premiere will be a fun party.

"Exactly — the London premiere because my family are gonna be there. I'm really excited. It’s actually the thought of people talking to me about it afterward that I’m like, euuuhh! That thing of having to talk to people after they’ve just watched you in something. It’s just weird. So it’s gonna be nice to have a few drinks, and hopefully they turn the music really loud! The reason I love clubbing so much — even though I don’t go enough — is I love that you don’t have to have conversations with people. You’re just having a good time, having a dance. So I’m looking forward to that."

This is the first in a series of three interviews focusing on the women of
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Click here for our chat with Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o and here for our sit-down with Game of Thrones' Gwendoline Christie.

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