When I hop on the phone with Daisy Ridley, she sounds a little breathless. “I just got in the door,” she says. “It was a whirlwind trip. The longest press day there ever was. But I’m home at last!” The relief in her voice is palpable, and it makes sense: Since 2015, when she broke out as Rey, the heroine of the newest Star Wars trilogy, Daisy Ridley has been working so hard that at one point she developed holes in her stomach lining. Over the past four years, she’s filmed two additional Star Wars movies, the latest of which, The Rise of Skywalker, hits theaters this winter; played an ingenue in Murder on the Orient Express; lent her voice to Peter Rabbit; dipped her toe in the dystopian YA world with Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking (which has yet to be released); teamed up with Marielle Heller and J.J. Abrams for an upcoming “fantasy romance”; and signed on to play an American spy.
This week, Ridley is back in theaters as the star of Ophelia, which reimagines the tragic, waterlogged fate of Hamlet’s infamously cast-off lover. Directed by Claire McCarthy and written by Semi Chellas, Ophelia is something of a feminist statement, a long overdue narrative reclamation for a character whom Shakespeare was quite content to leave face down in a brook. In the titular role, Ridley starts off quiet and obedient, taking nearly constant shit from those who surround her: her father, Polonius (Dominic Mafham); her emo-eyelined lover, Hamlet (George Mackay); her brother, Laertes (Tom Felton); the frenzied Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts, who does some incredible double duty here as Gertrude’s witchy twin sister); and King Claudius (Clive Owen), all of whom have wildly divergent agendas for the trajectory of her life. But as the film progresses and Hamlet makes increasingly destructive choices, Ophelia becomes angrier, defiant, and — as Shakespeare put it — rather “mad.”
Or does she? Without spoiling too much, the film ends with a genuinely surprising hairpin turn that draws from another famous Shakespeare story and adds a juicy layer to Ridley’s performance. In a brief phone chat before Ridley had to ostensibly sleep for the first time in months, we discussed whether she’d ever broken free of a toxic, Hamlet-esque relationship; her last Star Wars scenes filmed with Carrie Fisher; and how she would describe the physical presence of co-star Adam Driver.
Had you read Hamlet before taking on this role?
I did study it at A-level, though I can’t remember that. My best friend told me that after the fact, filming. She was like, “We studied that.” I was like, “Oh, shit!” I’d also seen various iterations of it onstage. Hamlet is Hamlet; I never felt like, “Oh, Ophelia needs her story.” But it was so fun to be able to tell her story when that opportunity came.
How much of your character did you and [director] Claire [McCarthy] build using the notion of the original Ophelia, and how much was total reinvention?
I went in as if it were something totally new. The one thing I thought about were previous conceptions of the flower scene [where Ophelia shows up to court, having gone mad], but otherwise, I felt I was doing something nobody had done before. If I’d thought about who’d played Ophelia before, it would have freaked me out so much.
Your character is very much a pawn of the men in her life — Hamlet, her father, the king. But by the end she escapes that toxicity and reclaims her life. It reminded me in a way of what’s going on in Hollywood and the larger Time’s Up movement right now; it had a resonance in that sense. Was that something you considered while filming it?
The main thing I thought about — even though it’s an invented story — was that it was just how things were then. Not that that’s right; it’s definitely not right. But I thought of it more as Ophelia not waiting for Hamlet. The love they shared, I think, she believes is true, and his heart is true, but he’s caught up in all the nonsense of court. So it’s a breaking away, an attempt to find something that wasn’t that. But now that you say it, yeah. It is a similar reinvention, getting away from the toxic nature of an environment like that.
Have you ever broken away from something toxic, released yourself like she does?
I have, actually. With a friendship, this year. Friends argue and whatever, but sometimes things happen that shouldn’t happen. I’m usually good at drawing the line, but it’s hard with friendships. The more you realize what exactly was going bad, the more you realize it was actually clever to get away. But it’s hard to break away from something. People judge you or don’t understand it. It was scary at the time. But I did actually do that. And for the better.
How’d you finally do it?
It’s weird, because I was always of the ilk that you need to say things out loud. I was like, “Honesty is the best policy.” At first I thought, Do I need to say something? But in this respect, I thought, Enough is enough. And I broke away quietly. It’s a lot like what Ophelia does. She doesn’t tell everyone — she just breaks away.
What’s it like to be slapped by Naomi Watts?
That was a real slap! I do remember being like, “Oh my god.” Heat of the moment and all. That was an intense scene in general. In between, I was just quietly weeping in a corner. [Laughs.]
She’s doing so much here, playing two separate people, both of whom are relatively deranged. What was she like on set?
It’s funny — I don’t really think her characters are deranged! I mean, they’re both very wrapped up in their own stories, and how they’ve been wronged, but I didn’t see them as deranged. Luckily, Naomi isn’t method-y. [Laughs.] So she didn’t go all deranged during filming.
You had awful anxiety after the release of the first Star Wars, even developing holes in your stomach wall. How did you fix that and how are you feeling these days?
I’m feeling great. I think it was — I was training in a way I’d never done. It’s a lot for a body to take. It was a massive press tour, going to all of these countries I’d never been to. It’s hard on your body to do things like that. I basically did not properly take care of myself. So now it’s like, A massage would be good! A facial would be good. All that talk about self-care — it’s really important. I still train really hard, but in a way that’s much gentler on your body. I’ve realized that you don’t have to absolutely kill yourself in order to be healthy. It was a big lesson. Training, traveling, and not feeling like you’re in charge. And I took control and figured out how to keep myself safe. I do feel a lot calmer, and settled. I don’t think anything will ever be as scary as the initial six months after Star Wars came out.
In the new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer, we see you and Carrie Fisher embracing, a tear running down your face. I know that that scene was compiled using unused footage from The Force Awakens, but do you remember the original context of that moment?
I do! It’s not a million miles away from what this scene is. It was very sad. I found it very moving to watch it, because I do remember the original. And it’s a strange thing to do, for someone that’s not around anymore to be brought back to life. It’s eerie that it resonates so much with what the story is this time. It’s pretty amazing.
Do you remember how you and Carrie discussed playing the scene?
She was actually whispering, “This is a fucking long hug.” [Laughs.] I was trying to do my acting, like, “Oh my god, Carrie!” There wasn’t any discussion about what we were gonna do.
Our sister publication did a funny piece on the absolute enormity of Adam Driver. Is he an overwhelming presence, physically?
How would you describe his size?
I’d describe him like a hulking, skulking … I think skulking implies something negative. But yeah. Hulking and skulking. That’s how I’d describe him. It sounds so disrespectful for someone I’ve worked with for so long. [Laughs.]
When you look ahead at the Disney calendar, there’s a new Star Wars movie planned every other year until 2027. Carrie and so many other Star Wars stars continued to appear in the franchise as long as they could — do you imagine yourself doing so, if you’re given the chance?
I can’t actually imagine it right now. The ending to Rise of Skywalker … Rise of the Skywalker? The Rise of Skywalker — sorry, jet lag — it’s very satisfying. It felt like an end. I don’t know what’ll happen in however many years. There are so many characters in the Star Wars world who’ve never been explored. There’s so much for the filmmakers to work on. So right now, I don’t think so. But who could say, really? An opportunity might present itself. I love how the movie hasn’t come out and people are like, “What about going forward?” [Laughs.] Right now, it feels like a really nice full stop on the Skywalker series.