Rey is a scavenger. Rey is a desert rat. She is wrapped against the wind and heat in weathered, mummy-like fabric. She picks through the wreckage of a long-ago battle for anything that could help her survive.
We also know Rey is one of the new lead characters in this journey back to the Star Wars universe, her destiny intersecting with a runaway stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) and a Resistance fighter pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac.) She wields a blaster similar to the one Han Solo used to waste Greedo in the original Star Wars.
Although everything else about Rey has been kept hidden by director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm, we’re starting to know more about the character than we do about the actress who plays her, 23-year-old Daisy Ridley – who also emerged from the shadows at the Star Wars Celebration event.
Judging by the photo below, presented last week at that convention’s The Force Awakens panel, Rey also hangs around on a collapsed AT-AT, those Imperial locomotives-on-stilts seen trudging through the snowy wasteland of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. That’s her talking to Abrams while standing on the half-buried leg of one of the mechanical monsters.
After her appearance before a global audience of Star Wars fanatics, and before she slipped away in a Bossk the bounty hunter mask to peruse the convention shops – accompanied by Boyega, disguised in a Clone Trooper helmet – Entertainment Weekly had an opportunity to find out a little about the woman behind Rey.
Here are the basics: she’s trained as a dancer and singer, and has previously had small roles on the British TV shows Youngers, Toast of London, and Silent Witness. Recently, she also noticed something unusual in the newest Marvel Studios movie – her old high school was used for a Black Widow dream sequence depicting ballet dancers at the place where the superhero was trained as an assassin.
It’s a big galaxy, but a small world.
Entertainment Weekly: You were telling me about your school being in Avengers: Age of Ultron, so what school was that?
Daisy Ridley: I went to a school called Tring Park School for the Performing Arts. I went because initially I was very naughty, and my mom thought if I was busy, I’d be better. And I didn’t really do acting until later on in the school, with an amazing teacher. I left, went traveling, came back. And then it all kind of went from there.
EW: Where did you grow up?
Ridley: London. And somebody did ask me if me and John got on because we’re from the same place. We’re not from the same place. [Laughs.] He’s from South London, I’m from West.
EW: So there’s a rivalry?
Ridley: There’s no rivalry, but it’s completely different.
EW: Do you have brothers or sisters? Is the whole family Star Wars-obsessed now?
Ridley: I’ve got sisters. I’m the youngest of actually five. We have been watching the movies again, and my middle sister is super excited. Last year when we were filming, everyone came round and we had dinner and watched Episode IV, A New Hope, which was super cool.
EW: You’re working with all the same actors, so it must be interesting to see that generation onscreen and then work with them in real life.
Ridley: It was weird, in hindsight, going back to watching the film after having seen it, and then having worked with them, and then going to watch it again, it was a weird thing.
EW: Were your family members into performing arts at all?
Ridley: My great uncle was in Dad’s Army. And I don’t know if Americans will know that. It was a hugely popular show in England. They’re redoing it as a film. Michael Gambon, who played Dumbledore [in the Harry Potter movies], is playing who my great uncle played. Both my parents are creative. My dad did act when he was younger, but they’re both very creative.
EW: What do they do for a living?
Ridley: My mum works in internal communications at a bank, and my dad’s a photographer.
EW: And you’re in Star Wars.
Ridley: And I’m in Star Wars!
EW: When you were initially cast, people wondered, ‘Who is this actress?’ And you had a video reel of previous work on your website that immediately disappeared. Did Lucasfilm just want to keep you mysterious?
Ridley: That was actually me! I wanted it to be so people could just concentrate on this. I’m so proud of what I’ve done before, but I wanted it to feel fresh. Which is what I think everyone else wanted, because everyone wanted just to see me as Rey and not as the people I’ve played before, even though the jobs I’ve done before are amazing and obviously led me to this incredible point. So here I am.
EW: I know there’s not much you’re permitted to disclose about the plot of the film. But can you say which was your personal favorite location while making The Force Awakens?
Ridley: Weirdly enough, probably Abu Dhabi, even though it was so hot, it was like you literally can’t imagine that heat. The feeling of stepping onto a real set for the first time, it genuinely was a baptism of fire. To see creatures walking around and speeders chilling in the sand, that was amazing, and because I was shooting there, it was like everything had built up to that moment. So a few days in, I was like, OK. I’m getting my groove now.
EW: This fan convention is really your big coming out party. A first chance for them to meet you, and vice versa. Carrie Fisher says she tried to brace you. Was it what you expected?
Ridley: I didn’t think of it like that until dinner last night when somebody mentioned how many people might be watching. [Laughs.] It was so cool to be part of a film that is loved so much, and then to be able to launch in that sphere with just fans and people who love what we’re doing and are so excited about what’s going to come in December, that was the best way to come out, as it were.
EW: So what are you up to now? Are you involved in anything else, or are you just lying low for a while?
Ridley: I’m lying low for a while, hoping that other cool stories about cool young women come along.