In her first-ever film role, the 23-year-old British-born actress plays Rey, a pilot and scavenger at the center of the action in the hugely anticipated “Episode VII.”
The hardest thing about the job, Ridley said, was overcoming her own fears.
Right now, that life is a sniffley one that includes lots of airplanes and interviews. The film’s nonstop promotional schedule has left Ridley with a cold that has her wrapped in a winter coat on a recent warm Southern California day. But even illness doesn’t weaken her resolve when it comes to keeping the film’s hotly guarded secrets.
Though co-star Harrison Ford has said Rey wields a lightsaber in the film, Ridley deflected the question when asked directly.
“Finn and Kylo have a fight with a lightsaber,” is all she would say, referring to co-stars John Boyega and Adam Driver, whose tussle has already been shown in the film’s trailers.
The actress did undergo months of physical training to prepare for her role, a regimen that included weightlifting, climbing and “staff training” — footage shows Rey running and fighting with a staff. How much different could a lightsaber be?
“I had to look like I could look after myself in the desert and drag and scavenging things across sand,” she said.
The youngest of five, Ridley appeared in small roles in medical and crime television dramas in the U.K. before capturing director J.J. Abrams’ attention in her audition for “The Force Awakens.”
The film’s set transported Ridley to the “Star Wars” world, where Abrams and the cast helped allay an initial feeling she describes as “terror.”
“Luckily, to have J.J. there, who is so kind and considerate and encouraging, and to have a crew of people who made me feel safe and not rushed and not pressured, that is precisely what took the pressure off.”
So did bonding with Boyega. The two would sing songs from “The Lion King” before shooting their scenes and explored the markets of Abu-Dhabi on their one shared day off.
“We got on so well,” Ridley said. “It was so much fun all the time, and to have him with me through this whole thing, both in filming and afterward, has been incredible.”
One thing the actress isn’t prepared for is the level of fame she’s likely to experience. She tries not to think about it.
“The fame side of things is a weird twist that I’m not kind of interested in,” she said. “If I was going to be recognized for anything, ‘Star Wars’ is all right.”
Ridley does, however, have an idea of how she’d use the Force in real life: She’d move people standing on the wrong side of the escalator at the subway station.
“In the tube you have to walk on the left and stand on the right,” she said. “People are so annoying, they always stand on the left. So I’d use the Force to shift them over to the right.
“This shows how great I am, because I have not talked about the problems of the world,” she laughed. “I’ve talked about how annoying people are on the tube.”