Daisy Ridley enters the tiny Montreal vegan sushi joint with a singsongy “Bonjour!”—she’s learning French while in town filming an adaptation of the dystopian YA trilogy Chaos Walking. So far she’s mastered key phrases necessary for a meal. A cheerful “excusez-moi” gets a grin from the young waiter leading us to our table.
Despite an affinity for Dior and custom-made Chloé on the red carpet, Ridley, 25, is currently wearing a nondescript black tank top and saggy gray jeans. With her dark hair scraped back into a bun and a wheely suitcase in tow, she looks more like Harried Commuter No. 1 than the brightest star in the Star Wars megagalaxy. Still, it takes only a moment for that same waiter to place her and begin clumsily futzing with the water glasses.
The parallels between the actress and her Star Wars character are almost comically—cosmically?—accurate. Like Jedi-in-training Rey, Ridley was plucked from obscurity (London, not a junkyard in Jakku) and thrust into a role of great responsibility: reenergizing one of the most beloved film series of all time while holding her own opposite veterans like Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill, who returns as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
And much like Rey, Ridley is in the process of figuring out what to do and who to be in a life that changed as quickly as the Millennium Falcon jumps into hyperspace. “Yes,” she agrees with the tidy comparison, “except I don’t have talents”—she pauses to consider her words—“or rather, I’m not Force-sensitive.” Her current list of projects suggests otherwise: She recently starred in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, and her post-Rey arc includes everything from the lead in the film Ophelia to a voice-over in Will Gluck’s star-studded Peter Rabbit. She may not be fully Jedi-trained, but the girl has serious talent.
Prestige gigs notwithstanding, Ridley also finds herself at the delicate center of a fierce fandom. In Rey, girls and young women finally have a Star Wars heroine in a role previously reserved for men: the one destined to protect the galaxy. Rey is a light-saber-wielding Jedi who saves the day (and John Boyega’s Finn) herself. And Ridley, too, is a new kind of female celebrity, one who stands at the forefront of a multibillion-dollar franchise and feels confident enough to insist to a room full of Disney executives that Rey dolls aren’t just for girls. (More on that later.)
Of course, not all of being Rey—or famous—has come easy. Remember the wheely suitcase? She’s headed home to London for downtime that serves as an antacid to the surging stress of her Hollywood life. “I had problems with my gut last year,” she admits. “I was so stressed, my gut wall literally had holes in it.” But it wasn’t the meetings with executives, the screaming fans, or the endless photo ops that did it. “It was what everybody kept saying to me: ‘Your life is going to change. Are you ready?’” she says. “I was like, ‘How can I be ready? I don’t know what’s coming.’”
Here’s what she hopes is coming in 2018 and beyond: working alongside her heroes Emma Thompson, Wes Anderson, and/or Meryl Streep; getting her degree—she took her first online class in social sciences last year and will resume in January; and maybe having “some kiddies,” she says. But first: eight vegan sushi rolls, plum wine (her idea), and an honest chat about how she’s adjusting to life as Daisy Ridley, the girl from Star Wars. That seems like a good place to start.
GLAMOUR: It’s nice to hear that you’re going home for the weekend. Does intergalactic fame affect your family dynamic?
Daisy Ridley: It’s weird for my family. My sister, who lives in London, and I look a lot alike, and I think she can occasionally feel that people are looking at her. This week my mom said this guy came over and was like, “Oh my God! You must be so proud of your daughter.” She goes, “I’m proud of all of my kids.”
GLAMOUR: It’s gotta be hard to stay normal, right?
DR: No. [Laughs.] People can get a bit like, “Oh my God, your life is different than mine.” But no, it’s not. Everyone’s got the same problems. We all get jobs, and we lose them. We have a good time, and we don’t have a good time. That’s it, you know? It’s changed in that some people have a certain expectation of what they might find when they meet me, which sucks, because I’m not that thing.
GLAMOUR: What do you think they’re expecting?
DR: That I’m, like, fun and want to chat all the time. And I’m like, “No, I like to be quiet too.” It could have been different, but I’m just not that way. I had an assistant for a hot minute, because that was offered to me. And literally, after a day I was like, “I don’t like this. I don’t like someone else making the decisions that I should be making.” I’m very busy, yes, but I’m not so busy that I can’t make my own decisions. I want people to contact me directly about what time I’m being picked up in the morning.
GLAMOUR: Your professional life has changed considerably.
DR: Careerwise, everything has changed. One hundred percent. And it’s brilliant. Without Star Wars I wouldn’t have been able to audition for Murder on the Orient Express. And I felt a little bit insecure about that, because I didn’t feel like I was good enough for it. When I got offered the role, I said to Ken [Branagh, who directed], “Did someone make you hire me?” He was like, “No f-cking way.”
GLAMOUR: Impostor syndrome, huh?
DR: Yeah! I was just, like, gobsmacked that I got the role. I remember Ken and I were doing a scene together, and he goes, “Just improvise.” And I do not like improvisation. You tell me what to say, and I’ll say it. It’s too stressful [otherwise]. But I was like, “OK!” Heart pounding. And we did it. I was like, “That was awesome!” And I sort of completed the whole film like that and not going, “Oh, I can’t do it,” which is what I occasionally do.
“I didn’t get what the fuss was at first. The reaction to Rey was so insane that it shocked me.”
GLAMOUR: With so much being offered to you now, how do you go about selecting your roles?
DR: My main thing now is that I want to do Rey justice. Because after you’re offered a role like that, I don’t think you can go and play The Waitress or The Girlfriend or any of those nondescript female roles that are written like “The This, The That.”
GLAMOUR: Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia, in which you play the title role, puts female desire at the center. I’d say that turns the Girlfriend stereotype on its head.
DR: Yes! Why shouldn’t Hamlet be told from the female point of view? It’s a beautiful story. Chaos Walking, too, is about gender and communication and what it takes to [make someone] pay for an awful thing they did. It’s a story about everything that is happening now: People in charge doing awful things, and the whole world is supposed to tick on like nothing happened? It’s nuts.
GLAMOUR: So are you looking to only play women who are strong…or are fighters? How does one honor the role of Rey?
DR: As a twenty-first-century person who grew up in a household where no one was held back because of their gender, I didn’t get what the fuss was at first. The reaction to Rey was so insane that it shocked me. I was like, “Of course a female character should be doing whatever she wants.” But then people were coming up to me and saying, “My kid has never had anything to dress up as.” I was like, “Oh!” If I can be in something that makes a girl or boy think, Sure, I can fight a big baddie and win—that’s amazing…. There is a sense of responsibility there.
GLAMOUR: Do you think Rey being female represents a shift in how society thinks about gender roles?
DR: There’s a problem, across the board, with how kids are subliminally taught to think about these things. I had a meeting with the marketing people at Disney, and they were like, “So we’re going to have this toy in the girls’ aisle, this toy in the boys’ aisle.” I was like, “Why the f-ck is there a girls’ aisle and a boys’ aisle?” Sometimes I find myself feeling nervous in certain situations, and that’s because somewhere along the line, I watched something or listened to something or saw a toy, and it f-cking changed the way I think.
GLAMOUR: Your platform is so big now. Does it compel you to be more vocal now about, well, whatever you want to be vocal about?
DR: I find it really difficult. I was on Instagram, trying to do that whole thing, and people weren’t very nice. I posted a thing about gun regulations, because I was at an event in tribute to the Orlando shooting at Pulse [where 49 people were killed and over 50 were wounded]. People weren’t nice about how I looked. And I was like, “I’m out.” Simple as that. That is not what I signed up for.
GLAMOUR: Why was that the last straw?
DR: Everyone said, “It’s because she talked about gun safety,” but it wasn’t. If I want to talk about gun safety, I will talk about gun safety. And I didn’t sign up for people to go, “You’re amazing!” But I didn’t sign up for them to say things like “Your skin is shit,” either…so I took down the post, and then I deleted my account.
GLAMOUR: At this point social media is kind of an occupational hazard for an actor, isn’t it?
DR: I think, unfortunately, it is. But it’s not good for me, personally. I’m just not equipped for it. I’m super sensitive—not too sensitive—but I really feel things. Also there is also a sense that I’m asked who I’m dating a lot more than John [Boyega] is. I don’t answer, because I have things in my life that are private. There is certainly a personal thing of, “Will people think I’m ungrateful?” Someone literally said to me, “So-and-so didn’t answer questions about that, and they came across really cold.” But I have to come first, because if I am not healthy—I was struggling with anxiety last year—if I’m not mentally healthy, or I’m depleted from sharing so much, I won’t have anything left for when people approach me.
GLAMOUR: How bad did the anxiety get?
DR: I did this test in January of last year, and [the doctors] said my body should be 30 percent stress, 70 percent normal. I was 70 percent stress and 30 percent normal. My cortisol was so high, or something like that, that my body was constantly in fight-or-flight. I was so sick one of the days we were filming that a publication tried to make out like I was hungover. I was like, “Guys! I don’t drink on school nights.”
GLAMOUR: So how do you turn it on for fans on fight-or-flight days?
DR: Carrie Fisher said, “You know when people come up to you for a picture?” And I was like, “Isn’t it really intimidating?” She told me she hugged a fan once and [felt the fan’s] heart was racing. She was like, “That’s what you have to remember: It’s nerve-racking for everyone.”
GLAMOUR: What an unbelievable loss. [Fisher died in December 2016, three months after The Last Jedi wrapped.] What can fans expect from her final scenes as Princess Leia?
DR: The last thing Carrie and I filmed together was emotional for a variety of reasons. It’s the end of the film, and all of this crazy stuff has happened. There’s this moment that we share, and thinking about it now, I realize that it’s going to be really hard to watch. Because it will seem like a goodbye, even though it wasn’t at the time. You know, she and I went through a similar thing at different times [as Star Wars heroes]. She had the most insane life.
GLAMOUR: Did she ever give you advice on how to navigate it all?
DR: I guess, in essence, it was: You do you. She said that you can deal with things your own way. She chose to deal with things with humor, which isn’t how I deal with things, but that’s OK. You can serve yourself in many, many ways, do it however the hell you want, and succeed massively. And it’s all good.
Allison P. Davis (@babymeatballs on Instagram) is a writer in Brooklyn who has contributed to Elle, GQ, and New York.
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Glamour. For more personal stories, celebrity content, and news about women who inspire us, subscribe to Glamour for just $5.