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.
Your role in Star Wars was a career game-changer. What was the biggest challenge in returning to the character?
Doing the first one, I wasn’t aware of the public scrutiny until we were done filming. With this one, I was much more aware. I was way more neurotic second time around. Also, I hadn’t worked for a year, so it was weird getting back into a film.
What was going through your head when you first watched yourself in The Force Awakens?
I was appalled. I thought I acted like a wooden plank. I cried for hours after I watched it. The third time I watched it my mum was holding my hand, so I cared more about what she thought. She was squeezing my hand the whole time and I was like, ‘S**t, she doesn’t like it.’ The main thing I took from it was people’s reactions with their kids – that was far more important.
How did you manage to get over that anxiety and not submerge yourself in the fear?
I was submerged in it for a while, then got to work. I was so open with Rian [Johnson, The Last Jedi director] about how I felt. I burst into tears in front of him one of the first times I met him. Then we were on set one day and I said, “Oh my god, I feel so neurotic all the time.”
What are the techniques you use when you feel like that?
I usually tell myself that I need to go through the thing. Don’t shy away from it. Definitely talk about it. Also just sleep. If something is overwhelming, I nap. If I have an emotional day, I’ll fall asleep when I get home. That’s how I process things. I can go to my trailer and fall asleep for five minutes, then get up again. It’s a good skill to have. I’d put it on my CV.
What other skills would you put on your CV? And when was the last time you had to write one?
Two and a half, three years ago… I’m an all right communicator. Pretty organised. Good phone manner. Can prioritise. Good at admin.
You’re hired. You quit Instagram last year. Has that freed up mental space?
It has made me feel like I wasn’t indebted to anyone. Suddenly I felt, ‘Oh, that must have been quite stressful, because now it is not that stressful any more being off it.’ I had a private one that I came off too, and that was much more freeing. People were saying, “But I like seeing what you’re doing.” I’d say, “Well, we can message or call each other.”
You talked openly about suffering from endometriosis on Instagram – was that a good platform to share that issue?
Periods are still not fully talked about; I thought it wasn’t a big deal. I know a lot of people who have really, really bad periods. I don’t understand why you aren’t referred to someone; you shouldn’t be doubled over in pain all the time. It felt nice to say. But ultimately, people [on social media] weren’t very nice and I thought, ‘I can’t be bothered.’
Why do we still have a taboo around periods?
I don’t know! You can have 300 people die in a film with blood everywhere, yet you can’t have period blood. It would be a 15 or an 18 [-rated film]. It’s stupid.
You have spent huge swathes of the year travelling and filming. What do you like to get up to when you’re in London?
I do my washing and sit on my sofa watching Netflix.
People may be surprised to know the protagonist of Star Wars does her own washing…
[Looks shocked] I don’t know anyone who doesn’t do their own washing. Washing is one of my favourite things. I’m a 30-degreeer. I literally wear clothes once and then they go in the wash. I think, ‘If I’m going to wash clothes this much, at least I will do it at just 30 degrees.’
To what extent do you try to live in an environmentally conscious way?
I hate how much plastic there is in America – and actually also in Prague, where I was just filming for two months. I watched an advert for [documentary] A Plastic Ocean and I thought, ‘S**t, this is gross.’ I try to use lower temperatures, I don’t use a dishwasher and I drive an electric car. I’ve always been fairly conscious. We’ve recycled since I can remember.
Are you vegetarian?
I don’t eat dairy, meat or eggs, but this only happened a few months ago as I watched Carnage, Simon Amstell’s film [a mockumentary on veganism]. And I was horrified. Initially I cut out everything and then thought, ‘I cannot survive without something’, so I eat fish. I was genuinely ignorant as to what went on. I didn’t know how dairy farming was done or what they did to male chicks, and I was so horrified by what I saw. Then I listened to his [Simon Amstell’s] podcast with Russell Brand, on which he said one of his friends was like, “Ugh, what is cashew cheese?” and he said, “Well, what is cheese cheese? What are you putting in your body?”
You’re studying for a degree in social sciences. What was the motivation? As a back-up in case this didn’t happen, or to expand your mind?
Not as a back-up. There’s something, mentally speaking, about having a back-up that’s not good. It’s to expand my mind, and I always wanted to have a BA. It’s an Open University course. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned is about social displacement. It usually happens when people don’t have much money and they’re treated very disposably. It feels like we’re going backwards. It doesn’t feel like all for one and one for all at the moment. The people who have more are able to get more. And then there are still people who are dying because they can’t afford to eat or have heating in England, which is horrific.
Did you grow up in a world where there was a great awareness of social injustices?
My mum and dad are super-smart, and so I was always aware of what was going on. My group of friends are all going through it together and everyone is becoming more interested, because it seems like everything is slightly more accessible. With Jeremy Corbyn, people are like, “Oh my god [a different type of politician]!” And regardless of whether people think he’s right or wrong, it’s amazing to see grime artists saying they support this guy. And to feel young people are engaged in something. It’s awesome to be part of that time and group of people.
It feels as though in 2017 there’s been a tangible mix of despair, but also hope because people have been coming together…
I remember talking to someone who I was working with the morning after the election and the announcement that the Conservatives were still in [power]. They said, “I hope that doesn’t mean people are going to stop talking about what’s going on.” But that’s the attitude that means people will stop talking about it. All you have to do is keep thinking the conversation will carry on and it will carry on. It seems hopeful, yes, but also despairing, because no matter the hope, these awful things that people haven’t asked for are still happening, and in a democracy that seems awful.
What do you think 25-year-olds are most worried about?
In London, rents are insanely high, so that’s one thing friends my age struggle with. The living wage, zero-hour contracts… but also having people in charge who do not listen to those who need it most.
You’ve been described as a bookworm. What is the book you’ve been most enchanted by of late?
I was recently harping on about Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, which is amazing. I’m reading Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë now, which is brilliant. I’m trying to get through the classics – my mum gave me a list of them. I intercut them with chick lit or modern fiction. Reading has always been my thing. Last night I was doing a film quiz with a friend and her boyfriend, who is a film buff. My film knowledge is really poor because I read and didn’t watch films. He was asking me questions and I had no idea [what the answers were].
Is there a book that you would like to star in the adaptation of?
I’m adapting something now. I bought the rights, and a production company is writing it to be a series. It sounds far more serious when I say it out loud. It’s funny, these conversations when you’re like, “Sure, sure, it’ll never happen.” And then [it actually happens].
Will you star in it?
I know not. It depends when it’s is ready, and there are many things that don’t get to fruition. But it’s very exciting. John [Boyega, her Star Wars co-star] was saying last night he’s in the middle of adapting something, too. If people feel like their voices aren’t being heard, they can be the person to get their voice heard – and that’s a wonderful thing to be able to do.
You appeared on My Dad Wrote A Porno – Footnotes. What other podcasts do you listen to?
I listened to Serial and S-Town, which were good, but at the end I thought, ‘I don’t know quite what I’m going to take from this…’ I wanted to know who had been at fault. It was just awfully sad and so unexpected.
You mention that you didn’t enjoy watching yourself in Star Wars. Do you generally enjoy going to the cinema?
What I don’t like is people asking me questions or talking during films. The other day, I had to tell a group of guys [in the cinema] to put their phones away! And I went to see Cinderella at the Odeon and someone sat in front of me answered a phone call. I literally couldn’t believe it! Also, it was at the Odeon in Leicester Square – those tickets are so expensive. It was about £20.
If you were with your mum watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, how would you react if she asked you a question?
None of my family ask questions [laughs]. I went to see a film with my friend once and she talked all the way through. I was fuming. Why would you ruin that? I like to concentrate. I’m trying to be better at not looking at my phone while I’m doing other things, as it is just too much for your brain. RuPaul’s Drag Race? I’m all there. The Graham Norton Show? I’m there. What’s the point in watching anything if you’re not going to concentrate on it? What is the point in doing something if you’re not going to do it properly?