Once upon a time, Daisy Ridley spent a Christmas working at a shopping mall, playing an elf. When she was upgraded – to a Princess! – she was over the moon. So imagine what she felt when she landed one of the top roles in the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.
The 23-year-old London-born actress has pulled pints in pubs, worked in retail, appeared (hanging upside down) in a short film, travelled to Australia and New Zealand, and seems (apart from the upside-down film) to have both feet firmly planted on the ground. And she’s determined that the fantasy adventure epic that opens here on December 17 won’t change things.
To that end, Daisy said she’d received some helpful advice on how to stay real from an unexpected source. Emma Watson.
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Star Wars superstar: British actress Daisy Ridley
More from Baz Bamigboye for the Daily Mail…
The pair went for a drink and some tortillas in Covent Garden recently, and Daisy asked Emma – who was just 11 when she was hurled into the public orbit when she made the first Harry Potter film – what to expect, and how to deal with it.
‘I asked her some stuff that I hadn’t been able to ask Harrison (Ford) and Carrie (Fisher),’ Daisy told me. ‘She said: “Be yourself!”’ We were out in Covent Garden, and it was so chill — and she was so sweet!’ Daisy said, of their meeting last month.
They talked about Emma’s work on the HeForShe equality campaign. ‘She’s doing amazing things,’ Daisy said. ‘And I am not.’
Well not yet, but give it time. Daisy believes eventually she will be able use the Force of Star Wars for good and ‘be able to have a voice’ — and to lend that voice to causes involving young women and self-esteem issues. ‘That’s something I’d really like to work with,’ she says.
But first things first. ‘I just really want to be an actress, and I don’t know if that’s a bad thing — just to be an actress. I would love to be able to do so many other things as well. But I’d love to have a great career as an actress.’
Soon after she started filming the movie for director J.J. Abrams, Daisy was signed up by a major Hollywood agency and taken on by the publicist who has guided Kate Winslet’s career for several years.
Often, when I meet newcomers who’ve become instant ‘names’ they’re insufferable. Cocky. Bad mannered. Daisy’s the complete opposite. She is polite; genuinely curious, with a ready laugh. I can’t vouch for her acting abilities, though I did watch a short film she made when she was in her teens. ‘Oh don’t!’ she cries. ‘You mean the one where I end up hanging upside down?’ She adds quickly: ‘I’m proud of everything I’ve done — but I was so young.’
She won the role of Rey in The Force Awakens after five auditions, and didn’t think for a minute she’d get the part.
She was at a performance of Oedipus Rex at the Tristan Bates Theatre in the West End and couldn’t tell the friend she was with why she had to miss most of the first act — because she was outside trying to return a call to from Abrams. She finally reached him and was elated when he told her the news.
‘I remember kicking this bottle. I could hear the traffic, and the play going on inside. You think time is going to stand still or something, but it doesn’t. Life just carries on. Obviously, something monumental had happened in my life, but no one else knew. It was weird. I saw the rest of the play, and then went home on the Tube.’
She told her parents and two of her sisters who were living at home. ‘It took a long time for it to settle in. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.’
Not long after, she found herself seated between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. ‘J.J. introduced him to me as Harrison Ford and he said: “No, it’s Harrison.” I said: “Oh my God! My Mum loves you!’ and he was like: “Really?” And I realised it was something that made him feel older,’ she said.
Rey is a young woman who has spent her life scavenging on the rubbish dump planet of Jakku. Unwittingly, she is pulled into an adventure, along with a stormtrooper called Finn, played by John Boyega. (She described their onscreen friendship as ‘gorgeous and pure’.)
Daisy added that people have been reading too much into rumours about her background in the film. There is a twinkle in her eye as she swats away talk that she’s the secret love child of Han Solo and Princess Leia.
Rey, she says, has a ‘nice temperament’. But ‘she’s a young woman by herself, so of course she has to protect herself. So of course that would make someone feisty.’
New friends: Daisy’s new pal Emma Watson (left) gave her advice on how to stay real over tortillas and drinks in Covent Garden
She’s also lonely. ‘Imagine you’re left on your own at five! She has the people she works with on Jakku, but no one to share a meal with. She was incredibly lonely.’
Loneliness is not a problem for Daisy, who has two older half sisters from her photographer dad’s first marriage; and two sisters from his second. She’s the baby of the family.
She went to school locally in West London till she was nine, and then boarding school because ‘I was a little bit naughty’.
‘I was just like a real rough little tomboy. I was good in class, but the minute I finished my work I’d distract other people.’
Boarding school turned out to be a performing arts college in Tring, and she thrived, taking singing and dancing courses and furthering her violin lessons.
She did small roles on short films – not all of them upside down – and played a corpse on Casualty. And then there was that shopping mall gig. ‘I was promoted from an elf to a princess! We had to invent back stories,’ she laughed.
Now she’s got the Force behind her, there’ll be no stopping her.
OLDIES WHO REALLY ARE ALIVE AND KICKING
The cast of Gotta Dance are limbering up at rehearsal in New York when Stefanie Powers raises a leg and rests it on top of a prop.
My eyes are on stalks because the actress is 73 and she’s doing a workout performers half her age would struggle with. That’s almost the point of the musical Gotta Dance, which its director Jerry Mitchell jokingly calls ‘A Chorus Line, for seniors’.
Ms Powers (pictured) appears with Andre De Shields, Georgia Engel, Lillias White, Lori Tan Chinn and Nancy Ticotin as a group of not-so-young folks who answer an ad to become half-time dancers for a professional basketball team. But the number choreographed is hip-hop! And the oldies get into conflict with youngsters running the show.
It’s glorious fun — poignant, too — as it discusses the issue of seniors treated as invisible people. It was the best musical I caught this trip — even though I only saw it in rehearsal.
The show, by Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, Matthew Sklar and Nell Benjamin, is based on a documentary and it opens this month in Chicago.
There’s talk of it hitting Broadway next year.
Watch out for…
School of Rock: Hit film has been adapted for the stage with an original score
Alex Brightman, who is terrific as the out-of-work musician who finds himself — when pretending to be a substitute teacher at a stuffy U.S. fee-paying school — in the musical version of the movie School Of Rock at the Winter Garden Theater. Julian Fellowes has adapted the film, which starred Jack Black, and Andrew Lloyd Webber has written the score. I particularly liked the numbers If Only You Would Listen and Stick It To The Man. Folk forget that the good Lord’s a rock ’n’ roll dude at heart. The school kids in the show are amazing, playing their own instruments (drums and guitars) and acting up a storm.
School of Rock opens officially this Sunday. When I saw Fellowes at a preview, he was concerned about whether director Laurence Connor will be able to find children who can sing, dance and play instruments when the show transfers to London.
Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Hudson and Danielle Brooks, who star in director John Doyle’s superb version of the musical The Color Purple, which is now in preview at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. It ran at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013, and is a far superior version to the one that ran in New York several years ago.
Erivo reprises the part she created at the Menier and the British actress is sensational. In act two she sings a number called I’m Here, and at the performance I attended she stopped the show and the audience rose as one and applauded her. It was one of the most incredible moments I’ve witnessed on Broadway in years.
Funny Girl: Sheridan Smith is rumoured to be taking the show to Broadway in 2017
Funny Girl, which opened this week at the Menier Chocolate Factory, garnering rave reviews for its luminous star, Sheridan Smith. The musical has already got a West End transfer — it will move to the Savoy on April 9 — and the original 12-week run there has just been extended, meaning it’s now booking till September 10. So go get tickets!
There has been chatter here in New York about the possibility of Ms Smith and director Michael Mayer bringing the show to Broadway in 2017. Purely rumour, at the moment, but a lot of people would like to see it happen.
Lupita Nyong’o, who gave her final performance on Sunday in Danai Gurira’s eye-watering, potent play Eclipsed at the Public Theatre. Gurira explores how women are treated as chattels by an African warlord during a civil war, and looks at the choices they are forced to make in order to survive.
Nyong’o, who won an Oscar for 12 Years A Slave and is in the new Star Wars movie The Force Awakens, is excellent. So are her fellow cast mates Pascale Armand, Stacey Sargeant, Zainab Jah and Akosua Busia. The production moves to Broadway in February.