Prepare to fall in love with Daisy Ridley, the breakout lead in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’


Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (Disney/Lucasfilm via AP)

[NOTE: This post discusses some plot points from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Not quite spoilers, but not *not* spoilers.]

If you haven’t yet heard of Daisy Ridley, you’re about to. The 23-year-old lead in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” isn’t just a talented actress in the biggest franchise of all time, she’s also a funny, frank person, who tends to curse a lot in interviews. Basically, she’s the next Jennifer Lawrence, only less clumsy (at least so far).

In the movie Ridley plays Rey, a scavenger and pilot, who has no trouble surviving alone on the desert planet of Jakku thanks to her smarts, nerve and success beating people down with a large wooden staff. And, praise be to director J.J. Abrams, she looks like a warrior, too, appropriately outfitted in dirty, earth-toned leisurewear. We’ve come a long way since Leia was forced to go braless.

Ridley is adorable, too, with an uncanny resemblance to Keira Knightley when she talks, but that’s almost beside the point. After all, the first time we see her, she’s climbing a wall looking like a mummified acrobat. Fingers crossed this get-up replaces Anna and Elsa from “Frozen” as the go-to costume for little girls during Halloween 2016.

But back to Ridley. (And beware, there are going to be a few spoilers ahead.) She’s flawless in “The Force Awakens.” During one of her many self-effacing interviews, she claims that Abrams told her, on the first day of filming, that her acting was wooden.

“I honestly wanted to die,” she told Glamour UK. “I thought I was gonna cry, I couldn’t breathe. And there was so many crew there, because obviously all the creatures [had stand-ins], and there were loads of extra crew making sure everyone was safe ’cause it was so hot. It was awful.”

If Abrams’s critique is true, there’s no lingering trace of stiffness in her performance. Not only does she have great chemistry with co-star John Boyega, who plays Finn, but she conveys a whole spectrum of emotions, especially during the scene in which she first realizes she can use the Force. One moment, she’s terrified and tied up, and the next she’s radiating girl power.

The marketing for “The Force Awakens” was a bit of a bait-and-switch, because it looked like Finn was going to be the one with special powers. During the trailer, we see him dueling with the Vader-esque Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), old-school lightsaber against a newer, tricked-out model. What we don’t see in the snippet is the way Kylo Ren quickly takes out Finn, leaving Rey to step in and finish the job. And she does, like a boss.

In short, her character is a total badass. And the real Ridley doesn’t disappoint, either.

The actress is a London native whose great uncle, Arnold Ridley, was also an actor. He was a regular on the 1960s-70s British sitcom “Dad’s Army.” But the younger Ridley wasn’t always interested in acting. In fact, the reason she ended up at an arts-focused prep school — the same one that turned out Lily James and Jessica Brown Findlay — was that she was a trouble-maker.

“I was just a little [expletive],” Ridley told the New York Times. “A bit distracting to other people. One of those ones. The school definitely taught me discipline.”

Since then she has had some bit parts. A small role on the television show “Mr. Selfridge” and a guest spot on the British series “Casualty.” But nothing to prepare her for the stardom that she’s about to encounter.

She seems to be taking it in stride for the most part, though, cracking jokes during endless junkets and always coming off as the least pretentious of the British prep school kids currently taking over Hollywood. For example, when she found out she got the job of Rey, she reacted like any normal person — with paralyzing fear — and she’s not afraid to admit it.

“J. J. rang me. And it’s weird, because I thought I was still half-auditioning,” she told the New York Times. “I thought I had to convince him. I was like, ‘I could totally do this.’ Thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’ And then he told me and I’m pretty sure I was like: ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’”

Ridley is pretty entertaining on social media, too. She captioned this shot: “What is wrong with me?! Who pulls faces like this on national TV?!”

It’s always refreshing when a star keeps it real. Of course, Ridley is just at the start of what will likely be a very high-profile few years. Who knows what will happen when fame comes knocking? But for now, she’s a prime candidate to be America’s next girl crush.