Daisy Ridley’s New Hope
A decade since she was first cast in Star Wars, the Sometimes I Think About Dying star and producer has never been more in control of her life, career, and future.
At long last, Daisy Ridley is giving herself grace.
It’s been a decade since she first landed the role of Rey in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, leaping from near-total obscurity to lead one of the biggest franchises in film history, and Ridley is, in some ways, still processing her impossible breakthrough.
“Honestly, the first time I watched myself on screen, I literally thought I ruined Star Wars,” Ridley, 31, tells Inverse.
She laughs now as she recounts the then-traumatic experience of watching The Force Awakens for the first time, shortly before it hit theaters. The actor, then 23, had never before seen herself in a leading role — she’d previously booked only small TV roles and was working in a bar when cast — and was overwhelmed, crying on the flight home to London.
“I definitely have more grace now for it,” Ridley says. “It’s funny now, too, because that was 10 years ago. So, if anything comes on the TV, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m a baby! Oh my God, that’s me as a baby!’ I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but I’ve had to become more comfortable.”
That’s especially been the case as she’s taken on additional responsibilities behind the camera. In Rachel Lambert’s surreal Sundance gem, Sometimes I Think About Dying (out Friday in limited theaters, then expanding nationally via Oscilloscope Laboratories), Ridley both stars and serves as a producer.
Working on the independently financed comedy-drama, shot in Oregon in the fall of 2021, Ridley found it unexpectedly possible not to fixate on her performance, which she attributes to getting involved early on and seeing the project come together before filming.
“I’m part of it in a different way,” Ridley says of producing. “It’s quite a good thing because it makes it about everything else, rather than about me.”
“All That Dexterity Was Her Dexterity.”
The opening-night title at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired for release by Oscilloscope Laboratories, Sometimes I Think About Dying follows a socially awkward office worker named Fran who yearns to connect with others but more often than not retreats into the safety and comfort of her own mind. Each day, sending emails and populating spreadsheets, Fran’s morbid imagination casts her as a corpse, splayed out lifelessly in a dark forest or hanging from a crane she sees through the office window. Seemingly less symptomatic of depression than daily mundanity, these daydreams at least keep her occupied. The arrival of a new co-worker (Dave Merheje) at Fran’s office, however, challenges her habits, especially as the two begin to pursue a relationship outside of the workplace.
“I’ve met Fran, many times,” Ridley says, discussing the character. “Although I don’t feel that I’m very close to her, I just understand her as a person. What was fun about playing her is that she really struggles to connect — which is a true, deep, tangible worry and fear and isolation — but there are also times when she thinks she’s above things. These many different things can be true at the same time.”
“I just understand her as a person.”
Ridley was first sent the script during the second year of lockdown. At the time, she hadn’t been on set since the last Star Wars film, though she’d continued to read scripts and push other projects forward. She’d also wanted to work with Lambert, whose debut feature In the Radiant City premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, the same year the festival screened The Eagle Huntress, a documentary Ridley narrated and executive-produced.
Lambert, of course, was aware of Ridley. After she signed on, the pair spoke in phone calls and Zoom sessions, honing their approach to the character. Based on a 2013 play by Kevin Armento and a short film directed and co-written by Stefanie Abel Horowitz (both of whom, along with Katy Wright-Mead, received writing credits on the film), Sometimes I Think About Dying became something different in the hands of its director and star, who made a decision to jettison the script’s ever-present voice-over.
Lambert says she and Ridley discussed the nuances of “public versus private” life “as a motif of the piece,” but they agreed that it would be more exciting to play the voice-over as “stage direction,” letting it guide Ridley’s performance instead of offering audiences a direct line to her inner monologue. “There are so many reasons we came to that conclusion, ultimately, but it started as a germ of an idea that carried through,” Lambert says.
What resulted has been praised as Ridley’s most impressive, nuanced lead turn to date. Whether struggling through social interactions, suggesting Fran’s interior state through the smallest of gestures — eyes darting around or lost in deep space, hands fidgeting, voice dialed down to a whisper — as she sits hunched at her cubicle, or finding herself on the living room floor after a panic attack, Ridley approached each scene with a level of intimacy and poise that sometimes left Lambert stunned.
“Every second, she’s full of thoughts that she’s interpreting and viewing within but also, as a craftsperson, knows also how to hold in terms of body language and the self that’s present in these public spaces: how to juggle, to perform outwardly and feel inwardly,” Lambert says. “All that dexterity was her dexterity.”
What else does the actor bring to the table as a collaborator? “Everything,” Lambert gushes. “I can’t say enough about Daisy Ridley. She’s a technician. She has depth — emotional depth, poetic depth, sensitivity. She has intellect. She has such grace and generosity as a partner. I’m so spoiled by having had this experience with her.”
Ridley’s equally full of praise for Lambert. If “grace” was her word of 2023, the actor defines the previous year as “intentional,” in large part due to her experiences working with Lambert. “Everything was so wonderfully taken care of,” Ridley recalls. “Everything was intentional. Everyone dove in. We had a shorter schedule than many films, and it never felt like we were rushed. It was just really great.”
For Ridley, the experience of playing Fran was both dramatically and emotionally fulfilling; she hopes the performance will be received as a show of empathy. “I feel greatly for people who don’t see their own worth — who think, like Fran, that their lives are not that interesting,” she says. “They are f*cking interesting. We all feel, to a certain extent, like everything has to be fireworks for anything to be valid. It’s obviously not true. There’s beauty in talking about someone who’s OK that her life isn’t full of fireworks because she likes it like that.”
A “Wrestle” of Fantasy and Reality
This is an eminently reasonable notion for Ridley, having navigated more professional fireworks than arguably any other actor of her generation, to express. Even now, 10 years after being cast in Star Wars, she’s still sorting through that experience — not only of portraying Rey, the sequel trilogy’s heroine, across three blockbuster films, but also of beginning life as a celebrity and managing the franchise’s notoriously fervent fan base.
“Understand the scale,” director J. J. Abrams had told her when he offered her the part of Rey. “This is not a role in a movie. This is a religion for people. It changes things on a level that is inconceivable.” At the time, Ridley leaped at the opportunity, but she couldn’t have known what was coming.
“When all of the craziness was going on,” she now recalls, “I was like, ‘I’m good. I’m good. I’m coping fine. Everything’s fine.’ And I was fine, for the most part. But I think what I was really grappling with was that it was my normal, but it was not normal to other people.”
Paradoxically, though she spent every day surrounded while making Star Wars, Ridley also found the experience isolating. “For friends and family, or any people who see something in a slightly different way than you do, there’s this projection of you, and you in that world, and how it feels to do this and that,” she explains. “And you’re like, ‘Well, actually, I’m just a human being, separate from that.’ It’s quite this wrestle, of the reality and the fantasy that’s often projected onto you.”
Ridley, for example, has been open in the past about living with both endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome — two extremely common disorders that afflict women — and skin problems she’s experienced as a result. And she’s spoken about the toll that stress and exhaustion took on her after The Force Awakens hit theaters; by the time The Last Jedi opened, Ridley’s anxiety was so severe that she’d developed holes in her stomach wall.
Eventually, she had to slow down, spending six months at home in London before The Rise of Skywalker started filming; the sabbatical allowed her to fall back on familiar routines and regain her footing. Practicing self-care became even more important for Ridley after her time in the galaxy far, far away came to a close.
“After the last Star Wars came out and everything was quiet, I was like, ‘What the f*ck?’” Ridley recalls. “I was grieving.” Letting go of relationships she’d formed on set, and of the time she’d invested in the franchise, was emotionally intense. The whirlwind ended as suddenly as it had begun, forcing her to a standstill. And then, a few months later, the world went into lockdown.
For Ridley, “having to sit and just be still in lockdown was incredibly helpful, in a way I hadn’t anticipated,” she reflects. “I realized there was a lot that I hadn’t processed properly.” As an actor, her job was to be surrounded by people all day. Returning home to “massive quiet,” she found herself at a loss as to how to proceed.
Sometimes I Think About Dying, Ridley believes, gave her a way forward, presenting an opportunity to overcome her anxieties and reconnect with her craft while amplifying ideas she cares about deeply. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Ridley says. “I really wanted to play Fran, but it was the entire film that touched me. We made it coming out of lockdown, and everyone was thrilled to be together; the message I feel the film is sending is that connection is more important than everything.”
“Ultimately, to Try Is to Succeed”
With Sometimes I Think About Dying in theaters, what’s next for Ridley? Well, as announced at a Star Wars celebration event in London last year, she’s readying for her much-buzzed-about return to Star Wars, in a new film set 15 years after The Rise of Skywalker that will, as per Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, “tell the story of rebuilding the New Jedi Order and the powers that rise to tear it down.”
The project, due for release in 2026, is set to be directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and will lead the franchise in “a different direction,” Ridley has teased; she only knows the storyline for one film at present but isn’t ruling out any involvement in potential, as-of-yet-unannounced sequels beyond that.
Though she expects filming for Star Wars to begin “sometime in the near future,” Ridley is fitting in another indie first: We Bury the Dead, a survival thriller about a woman who joins a “body retrieval unit” to search for her husband in the aftermath of a catastrophic military experiment.
Ridley’s also set to travel to Austin’s South By Southwest Film Festival in March for the premiere of noir-thriller Magpie, the screenplay for which, based on her original idea, was written by her husband (and Murder on the Orient Express co-star) Tom Bateman. Ridley, in addition to producing, plays a woman pushed beyond her limits after her daughter is cast in a new film. Later this year, she’ll also star in Cleaner as an ex-soldier-turned-window-cleaner who’s suspended 90 stories up on the outside of London’s tallest skyscraper when radical activists take the building’s occupants hostage. And in Young Woman and the Sea, she’ll play Trudy Ederle, the first woman to swim across the English Channel.
Is Ridley our next action hero, a dramatic powerhouse, or a high-wire performer uniquely suited to psychological thrillers? Her next roles suggest the answer could be all of the above. Alternating between major studio commitments and smaller independent features will keep Ridley busy, but she also hopes it can bring her lasting balance.
“I really feel so lucky to be able to be doing all the different sorts of [projects] I’m doing: different filmmakers, different ways of working, different sizes, different genres,” she says.
Sometimes I Think About Dying, she adds, has been additionally rewarding in what working with Lambert to portray Fran has allowed her to share of her outlook on life. “We’re all fighting something that other people can’t see, and meeting people with kindness and grace and warmth is really the most any of us can do,” she says. “It’s really uncomfortable, being human,” Ridley adds. “A lot of the time, it’s really f*cking hard. But, ultimately, to try is to succeed.”
All she ever wanted, since long before breaking through with Star Wars, was to be “a working actor,” trying out different types of roles and exploring her abilities. “I still feel like I'm at the beginning of my career,” she says. “I'm really looking forward to what else might come up. I do feel like I'm open to many different things.”
Sometimes I Think About Dying opens on January 29 in New York and Los Angeles, expanding nationally in subsequent weeks, via Oscilloscope Laboratories.
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