Navigating Skywalk-ing and Chaos Walking, Daisy Ridley sets her post-Star Wars future
Daisy Ridley hasn't been on a film set in a long time, pretty much since her tenure as Rey in Star Wars came to an end. It's not surprising, given the state of the world, but it's a reality that nonetheless stirs polarizing feelings within the 28-year-old actress as she mentally prepares to put herself back out there again.
In those first few months that followed The Rise of Skywalker, which premiered in December 2019, Ridley wasn't getting much work. A fear began to creep in that maybe that was it; she starred in one of the biggest worldwide franchises of all time and now the adventure was over. "It's that hilarious thing, because even Judi Dench, who's literally one of the greatest actresses living, said she still gets those moments of, 'Oh my God! Am I ever going to work?!'" Ridley remembers of that time. "I think it was just a classic actor neurosis."
Last March, Ridley, along with the rest of the the world, faced shelter-in-place ordinances due to an ever-spreading pandemic. She managed to record voice work for a video game with James McAvoy (12 Minutes) and perform in an "audio play" (Elinor Cook's Islanders), but returning to movie-making didn't feel like a plausible option at that time. Speaking with EW over the phone in late February, now making the press rounds for Chaos Walking, "things are gearing up" again, she says, starting with a movie she'll shoot this summer with director Neil Burger, a psychological genre-bending thriller titled The Marsh King's Daughter. "I'm really nervous, but I'm equal parts excited," Ridley says. "The actual thought of being on a set is so strange. So, I can't wait, but I also know I'm basically not going to be able to sleep the night before."
Ridley's workload is set for the next few months, including a biopic about Gertrude "Trudy" Ederle, the first woman to ever swim across the English Channel — and it feels good. Chaos Walking, her sci-fi film with Tom Holland, also arrives in theaters this weekend, but the project was one of those lost outliers from the pandemic, a stray project floating about in the Hollywood ether like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, hoping to some day land on solid ground once theaters reopened.
Some specifics on Chaos Walking are a bit hazy to her. (Did she mention she made this movie four years ago?) But she remembers being in deep conversations with director Doug Liman (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Edge of Tomorrow), who was at the helm of this film adaptation of author Patrick Ness' sci-fi YA trilogy of books. "He has many, many ideas," she mentions of Doug.
Ridley plays opposite Holland as Viola, a woman who crash lands on a distant planet and finds she's the only woman among a colony of men. Not only that, but every single one of them are literally shouting their thoughts at her every moment she's around them. It's not exactly their fault. It's a product of what they call the Noise, a mysterious force that affects only males and puts all of their thoughts on display in the form of a colorful shroud around their heads. When first unpacking this concept, Ridley felt the story was ultimately "a warning of how bad things can be if people don't set aside their differences," but also it was "so hopeful about the best [humanity] could be." Holland plays Todd Hewitt, a young boy who was raised in this male-dominated community by a gay couple after the death of his mother. "Even though he's been told all this stuff [about his town] his whole life, he's willing to question that and he's willing to go on a journey with a young woman because he thinks it's the right thing to do," she explains.
The production proved to be a collaborative environment where Ridley had a voice in shaping the film. Liman started shooting Chaos Walking in August 2017, and Ridley recalls moments where she'd be on set and remove some of her script lines from the performance. "Our script supervisor was like, 'Actors don't do this,'" she says. "But a big thing I wanted to do was have that real contrast with Todd, particularly, where everything's so loud and so out there. Viola is really quiet. Often when you are launched into [something], you think it's going to be the thing, and then it isn't that thing, and I definitely clam up. So, I was happy that they let me lean into that."
It was a similar environment on the reshoots. Principal photography finished that November, but a report in the Wall Street Journal came out in April 2019 that suggested the film, in its earliest cut, was deemed "unreleasable," prompting major reshoots that proved difficult with Ridley and Holland's schedules on Star Wars and Marvel. Ridley didn't confirm the rumored chaos behind Chaos Walking, but she said, "I think people wanted it to be something it wasn't" and that the situation was "always fine."
"I'd seen an early cut of the film, and the Noise wasn't as present as it is now," she elaborates. "I was able to be part of a conversation of basically saying, 'The Noise is such a vital part of this film. It really needs to be present, but it can't overshadow everything else that's going on.' It's definitely been creatively collaborative, and that's been nice. And, actually, to be honest, that's been how it's been on most of the things I've been on."
The reshoots, she adds, were "a blessing." She did additional photography on Star Wars and found this phase on Chaos Walking "par for the course." They were filmed in Atlanta, where Ridley filmed more CG-focused scenes inside the spaceship, as well as "a really sweet kiss scene" with Holland. Most of what the stars had shot together prior to reshoots were "more contentious" scenes between Todd and Viola. "Which are obviously very fun to watch," Ridley notes, "but we really needed things that make you feel like you understand why these two are on this journey, that two young people are trying to make the best of a situation."
Ridley agrees, between the reshoots and the pandemic, "It's taken a minute to get here." But now, it's unclear where they'll go from this point. Once upon a time, Chaos Walking, with three books as source material, seemed like another YA franchise in the making. Now, it seems less likely, given the state of movies and the abysmal early critical reception. "I think there are possibilities," Ridley says, but it would have to be "a great idea" to warrant a sequel.
After Star Wars, Ridley isn't opposed to doing more franchises, though her upcoming work is on a smaller scale than a studio-backed money-driver. She looks back on the years of working on Star Wars as having "the best time." From the perspective of "a creative self-employed person," having a job lined up after the first movie was nice, too. "I just got so lucky [with Star Wars] that I knew what was happening and when," she remarks. "Currently, the things I'm about to do next are certainly not franchises, but it's just because scripts came along at the right time. I'm basically always open to great things."
Ridley doesn't know if her personal experience on Star Wars taught her how to navigate the industry moving forward. When asked, she's pauses for a moment. What feels more informative for her is the past year of the pandemic and how it "rebalanced the way that people see what we do for a living."
"I think it's been an amazing time for everybody to realize how important every single job that every single person in this world has," she says. "I'm very happy that we're at a point where we're really congratulating the people that have been working so f---ing hard over the past year to make the world a better place and a safer place. The rebalance of how validated you are socially in whatever job you have."