Daisy Ridley talks at 100 miles an hour, and she’d tell you so herself—in between apologizing for waffling (her words, not mine!) and regaling you with delicious little anecdotes about Barbra Streisand or Harrison Ford. Beaming at me through my laptop screen at 10 a.m. on the dot, the British actor’s high energy is matched only by an equally high, super-tight ponytail. Barefaced and glowing and wearing a maroon Adidas sweatshirt, she manages to carry off a look that could only be most accurately referenced as Sporty Spice. Her attire isn’t the A-list norm for a press interview IRL. As she is the former female lead in the Star Wars franchise, we’re accustomed to seeing Ridley on the red carpet in Oscar de la Renta gowns and sharp Alexander McQueen suits with perfectly preened hair and flawless makeup, but we don’t live in normal times. Straight after our call, Ridley will be doing her daily indoor workout that she developed for herself at the beginning of lockdown last year. “I always had loads of energy,” she says, half-joking that it was the reason her parents shipped her off to boarding school when she was 9 years old.
Photo:Stephanie Galea; STYLING: Hermès vest, shirt, and skirt
That same energy, however, can sometimes be misunderstood. Recently, a story about Ridley simmered away on the internet after she spoke of a director labeling her on-set energy as “quite aggressive” and a makeup artist telling her that she was “intimidating.” It occurs to me as soon as we start talking that this just might be the tired trope of other people’s insecurities coming to the fore in the presence of a self-assured, no-BS kind of woman. Ridley is forthright and spirited but entirely charming. “I’m pretty sure my response was, ‘I don’t know that that’s to do with me?’ ‘Cos I don’t think it is,” she says of the interaction with the makeup artist. “I think it is to do with other people. I know I’m very direct, more direct than other people probably. I probably ask uncomfortable questions because I prefer if there’s any sort of strangeness between friends to talk about it and get it over and done with rather than just let it lie.” As for the director’s comments, she didn’t necessarily take them as negative, but they were, nonetheless, difficult to process, and Ridley found herself questioning how she came across. “The thing I find as well is that people are very comfortable telling me how I am. People are always like, ‘You’re the honest one.You’re this one. You’re that one.’ Maybe directness comes across as confidence or something, so then, people think you’re willing to take that critique. You would never say to someone else, ‘Oh, you’re just really unconfident! How you are is super passive!’”
Would the same kind of personality from one of her male colleagues be so scrutinized? Perhaps not. Although, Ridley doesn’t like to divide the sexes up into such monochromatic stereotypes. “I found it when I met—sorry, name drop—Barbra Streisand!” she says. “The way she has been referenced as being controlling and what have you, like, she’s amazing. She’s am-a-zing. And I’m sure on-set she knew what she wanted. When she was directing, she knew how to get it, and that was it.”
No woman is one-dimensional, and despite the strength she presents, Ridley is equally candid about her weaknesses. She tells me that she didn’t “like herself” for a very long time but that a quote she heard about evaluating yourself by the five people closest to you resonated enough for her to start on a journey of self-appreciation. “The five closest people to me are fucking awesome, so I was like ‘I must be alright!’” she says. “If you can’t love yourself… what a waste of time. You’ve got a whole lifetime of you living with your own thoughts.” So now Ridley can, without embarrassment, say, “I quite like who I am.”
Photo:Stephanie Galea; STYLING: Louis Vuitton trench coat; Perfect Moment leggings; Alexander McQueen boots
The fact is, without this powerful combination of enthusiasm, intensity, and focus, Ridley might not have landed one of the biggest movie roles in one of the biggest film franchises of all time. If you Google it, you can watch one of her many audition screenings with director J.J. Abrams, where both her urgency and ability to emote are plain to see. But last year, that five-year, three-blockbuster journey ended, and she was left with a rather galactic void to fill. Following the premieres, press junkets, and chat-show circuit, she recalls staying in a hotel and being unable to sleep. “I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’” She spent much of January 2020 feeling a little bit lonely, a little bit weepy, and a little bit unlike herself. “I guess it was sort of like grieving. These relationships and this amount of time had come to an end. It really felt like I was letting go of something emotionally,” she says. She hadn’t been home properly in years and had to recalibrate to the “massive quiet” of not necessarily having a crazy schedule or being surrounded by dozens and dozens of others.
I couldn’t help but wonder what a busy person like Ridley, who “loves to be at work regardless of what it is,” has coped with the lethargic pace of the past year. Any projects that were slated to begin filming were put on hold, while others were slowly finished. At the start of our conversation, Ridley implied she had done almost nothing but watch TV shows for “research” throughout the entirety of 2020 (The Undoing and The Americans are the two she rated), but it turns out she may have been selling her pandemic accomplishments a bit short. By the time we ended our chat, I learned that she had also trained to be a doula and had weekly dialect coaching sessions to hone her American accent, which she used to record voiceovers for the upcoming adventure video game Twelve Minutes in a socially distanced studio with James McAvoy on one side and Willem Dafoe on the other via Facetime. Oh, and she’s on a 280-something-day streak learning French on Duolingo.
Photo:Stephanie Galea; STYLING: Alexander McQueen suit and boots
After a year-long (and impressively productive) pause, Ridley is ready to enter the next phase of her acting career, beginning with the sci-fi thriller Chaos Walking with Tom Holland. The adaption of the Patrick Ness novel is gripping, fast-paced, and timely. Ridley plays Viola, a person seeking a better land and life whose spaceship crashes onto a planet infected by a disease called The Noise. The Noise only affects men, broadcasting out loud their innermost thoughts for everyone to hear—every innermost thought. It’s an allegory for our reality in terms of a rogue virus wreaking havoc, but it also puts a mirror up to social media, where every comment or whim can be unleashed in an instant. Ridley quit Instagram back in 2016 and hasn’t looked back. “I think people use it really well. It’s an amazing tool for connection, particularly now. It’s just not for me.”
Chaos Walking is indeed another out-of-this-world story, and as it is her first major follow-up to Star Wars, one could easily think the actor has been forever typecast in the sci-fi/adventure genre. Not so. Ridley’s future slate includes two period dramas set in and around World War II, including the recently announced A Woman of No Importance in which she plays American spy Virginia Hall. After riding the superhighway of Star Wars, she is looking forward to veering off-road into uncharted territories. She’d love to do something “really British” or be part of a cult TV water-cooler moment, but for now, she’s going with the flow. “I don’t have a plan of ‘I want to do this, now I’ve done this, [and] I want to do this,’” she explains. “There’s a lot that I’m hopeful for if I can pull it off.” With her aforementioned drive and focus, I think she’ll be just fine.
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