Daisy Ridley is talking about her favourite washing powder.
“It has got to be Fairy Non-Bio, for sensitive skin. A little touch of fabric conditioner,” she tells me, happily. “God, I love washing my clothes.” Not the conversation I imagined as I flew to LA to hang out with the protagonist of the biggest movie franchise in the galaxy ahead of the anticipated arrival of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But I’m happy to be immersed in it. The conversation sums up the actress: a normal 25-year-old woman thrust into an extraordinary world. A woman who’s a bit jittery from drinking strong coffee, she confesses.
The Last Jedi is steeped in secrecy. All Ridley can do is reassure me that “the question everyone is asking will be answered” (she is referring to the parentage of Rey, her Star Wars character). But what we do know is this: Ridley will be front and centre again.
The Force Awakens (2015) saw Rey, an orphan and scavenger on a desert planet, discover the Force and fight the First Order. The Last Jedi sees the young warrior develop her Jedi powers, with guidance from Luke Skywalker, and continue to seek her place in the world.
Rey was – is – important because she is not defined by the men around her. She is a talented pilot and combatant. She has been granted proper protagonist status; not just a cipher for plot development. Her costume is one she can move in. She is a survivor. There was an outcry – and a hashtag, #wheresrey – last year over the lack of female characters in the just-released Star Wars merchandise, which has since been addressed – but it is a sign that progress can be slow. Coincidentally, it’s the first time Ridley has seen the Rey mug we took to LA for our shoot.
In Princess Leia, played so powerfully by Carrie Fisher, Ridley had the ultimate beacon of how to be a woman in this world and the importance of inspiring a new generation. Fisher filmed The Last Jedi before her untimely passing in December 2016. Ridley says she offered her advice on dating (“You don’t want to give people the ability to say, ‘I had sex with Princess Leia’”) and fame, telling her to enjoy rather than shrink from success.
Whether Ridley has been able to take the latter on board… well, I can’t call it. “I found the hardest thing was everyone saying, ‘Your life’s going to change’,” says the actress, who grew up in London with two sisters and is still based in the capital. “So many people were telling me this thing was going to happen, then the thing happened and that didn’t happen. I go on the Tube, I’m not harassed all the time. People are super-cool.” But equally as we talk it becomes clear Ridley is in awe of the magnitude of the franchise, and is open about her fear of measuring up to the legacy.
Hardly surprising when you consider that The Force Awakens, the third-highest-grossing film of all time (after Avatar and Titanic), was Ridley’s second film role – the first was a student film – and before that she held bit parts in British TV dramas. This year also saw her join the all-star cast of Murder On The Orient Express, and next year will be equally dramatic with Ophelia – a retelling of Hamlet from the perspective of Polonius’s daughter. There’s more Star Wars to come, and Chaos Walking, a book adaptation about a dystopian world without women. Exciting, but perhaps not as much as putting a wash on.