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11.08.2015

John Boyega and Daisy Ridley lead THR’s annual list of Hollywood talent, age 35 and under, on the rise. Few personal stories evidence the rags-to-riches nature of success in Hollywood better than that of Daisy Ridley. In early 2014, she was an unknown British actress whose experience consisted of a few tiny roles and a lot of rejection.

What a difference a year makes. On Dec. 18, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is poised to launch Ridley and fellow 23-year-old Brit John Boyega into the galaxy of superstardom. Their stories aren’t much different from those of the eight other actors age 35 and under who made THR’s annual Next Generation talent list.

Before landing one of the most coveted roles of the decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens heroine Daisy Ridley had become accustomed to disappointment. In the months leading up to her first audition for Episode VII‘s female lead, the 23-year-old actress’ confidence was shattered. Just one week into a gig with a small workshop, she was told not to bother coming back. And then after nabbing a lead role in the E4 series Youngers, the part was cut down to just one day of filming. “I was kind of used to things not happening, so I just felt the whole way through [the Episode VII audition process], ‘I’m going to lose the job. They’re going to find someone better than me,'” she recalls. Even her first two Star Wars auditions were underwhelming — at least from her perspective. Remarkably, Ridley kept getting called back, and something clicked in that final audition, propelling her past the horde of hopefuls. Now, she says with a degree of satisfaction, “I’ve got opportunities I didn’t have before.” That’s an understatement.

Though the CAA-repped actress is well booked with Episode VIII, which begins shooting in January in London, and then Episode IX, she will soon be familiar to a globe-spanning fan base and presumably have her pick of roles and directors. But even after seizing the role of Rey, Ridley continued to face rejection. She recounts being turned down for an unnamed film role in the past year after a sweat-induced wardrobe malfunction in front of a casting agent. “I’m sure the star they cast is much better than me,” she muses. Perhaps it’s that self-deprecating air that helped win overForce Awakens director J.J. Abrams and the Lucasfilm brass. And whether her career trajectory is more Harrison Ford or Hayden Christensen, Ridley has a backup plan in play: She’s begun taking courses for a psychology degree. And of course, she’s staying put in London, where she lives with her family and her deaf and blind dog named Muffin. “I love to come to L.A. to visit, and then I like to come to rainy old London because it’s home,” she says. The Hollywood Reporter talked to Ridley about her impossible ascent from obscurity to Next Gen Hollywood force.

How did you land the part of Rey?

I had heard about the role quite a while before I auditioned, and I emailed my agent that I have this really weird feeling; I really feel like I need to audition. Then months went by and the same people were reading for it. But I still really had this feeling of needing to read for it. So I emailed my agent again for an audition. I had four or five auditions over seven months, and it was a very emotional time. My first few auditions really didn’t feel good, but my last audition suddenly felt like something clicked. You’re so desperate to get a role, but I felt like even if I didn’t get it, I did a good job, I’d done myself proud.

What did that call from J.J. feel like?

It was weird because by that time I knew the field was quite narrow, so I was just relieved that I was about to know either way. I just remember kicking this bottle on the street as I was walking in central London, thinking that this is just a normal moment.

How did you deal with the secrecy involved with Star Wars?

I got home and told my mum and dad and sister, but then I couldn’t tell anyone for three months, knowing that something monumental had happened in my life. The day before they were going to do the announcement, I was talking to my mum, and I said, “I’ve wanted to tell everyone for ages and now I don’t want to.” And she said it was like being pregnant, when you’re desperate for the baby to come out and then the baby’s there and you’re like, “Go away, go away. I can’t handle it.” Once everyone knew it was a whole other thing.

How are you similar to or different than Rey?

The main difference is that she didn’t have a family and I have a family that I’m close to. Otherwise I’d say the way we deal with things is similar. She faces a lot of challenges throughout the film, and the way she reacts to things I think is kind of the way anyone would. That’s why I think she’s so universal and brilliant: She’s frightened but she faces up to what she needs to. And she’s brave and smart, and you see an entire emotional spectrum of her throughout the film. She’s not a superhero. She’s a normal girl thrust into extraordinary circumstances, so it’s very relatable. It’s an emotional story about a girl on a journey, but the story is a lot more than that.

What did training entail?

It was three months. Basically, J.J. wanted me to look stronger because I was pretty reedy before. I was doing weights. I had to up my food intake because he basically just wanted me to look as if I could raise a piece of junk and look strong enough. So there was a big emphasis on “getting guns,” as they say. It was going in five hours a day, and it would be an hour of fitness and then four hours of stunt stuff.

How did you handle the diet component?

I actually found it really difficult because it was protein. I don’t know anyone who eats that much, because I eat a lot, and I was like, “There’s too much hot stuff going into my body.” I had this incredible chef. He made shakes and bars. But putting on muscle is really hard. You feel like you’re constantly eating, and it’s not enjoyable. I ate a lot of fish. Spirulina became my best friend.

Read More: hollywoodreporter.com

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