THE NEW WOMEN OF STAR WARS
It’s been the dawn of a new age of women in the Star Wars film franchise, thanks to Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy, who championed the addition of more female characters in the newest installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And not just random, female roles—but strong roles of substance.
We sat with two of the strong lead females from the record-breaking blockbuster, The Force Awakens—the heroine: “Rey” (Daisy Ridley) and the villain: “Captain Phasma” (Gwendoline Christie).
Daisy Ridley – born the youngest of five daughters to Louise Fawkner-Corbett and Chris Ridley of London, England, hit Hollywood with a bang in her powerful lead role as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But this talented actress is no stranger to the fine arts, whose great-uncle was Arnold Ridley: actor, playwright, appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and who was best known for authoring the play, The Ghost Train, as well as his role in the popular seventies WWII British television sitcom, “Dad’s Army”. Initially sent by her parents to Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in response to the preteen’s somewhat naughty behavior in primary school, the young budding performer would become a triple-threat as an actress, dancer and mezzo-soprano with a strength in jazz and cabaret-style singing. And the new Star Wars’ sensation must have some pipes—hitting social media last month, saying that she had recorded a duet with none other than the legendary singer, Barbra Streisand, posting a photo on Instagram of the two of them together, teasing “...more details to come.” Director J.J. Abrams has stated his love for Ridley’s singing voice—so who knows what he has up his sleeve?
What we do know is that Ridley turns 24 with her birthday this month, (April 10) and that we will enjoy much more from the talented actress, as she is slated to reprise her role in the next of the franchise’s sequels. She took out a moment from the media storm to share her excitement in taking on the heroic character and to tell some stories about how incredible it was to work with legendary actors, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.
Gwendoline Christie – another British talent – is best known for playing roles of women who kick ass. Graduating from Drama Centre London with a First Class BA (Hons) in 2005, she started out in theater, and then became the subject of photographer Polly Borland’s noted series of photographs. It was 2011 when Christie landed the role of the fierce medieval fighter, Brienne of Tarth, in the highly successful HBO series, Game of Thrones. “I’ve been lucky enough to play a couple of parts of women who are very driven and somewhat unconventional,” she adds. “I love playing women who kick ass!” Towering over other long-legged actresses, Uma Thurman (6” 0”) and Jane Lynch (6’ 0”), even Brigitte Nielsen (6’ 1”) Christie’s height of 6’ 3” made for an ever-more fearsome villain in her role as Captain Phasma in the sci-fi epic. The formidable yet striking actress shares how taking on the ‘typically male’ role as villain for the franchise was much more than just stepping up and wielding a laser—that the original Star Wars movie had a huge influence on her as a young girl and that landing the role actually was a dream come true.
STAR WARS’ HEROINE “REY”
STRIPLV: Did you enjoy playing such a strong, heroic character, and if so, why?
RIDLEY: I did, but I also enjoyed that she’s not just those things. Rey is kind of a simple, young woman, and she kind of just gets swept onto this incredible journey. So to play a role that was so nuanced, and an incredibly emotional role, was thrilling, because it wasn’t what I expected. I don’t think it is going to be what people expect. And that is incredibly exciting.
STRIPLV: What do you want girls to take away from the movie?
RIDLEY: I would love firstly, girls to enjoy it as a whole, and secondly, from Rey, I hope they feel uplifted and hopeful, and perhaps see themselves in her, somewhere, and feel joyful.
STRIPLV: What does it feel like to be a star in a movie franchise that has such a following? And do you feel a responsibility to the fans?
RIDLEY: I think [director] J.J. [Abrams] and [producer] Kathy [Kennedy] probably feel more of a responsibility than I do (smiles) because I’m just saying the words—trying to do a good job. But of course, we all hope that everyone is going to enjoy it, but there are a lot of people to please. There are the old fans who have certain expectations, and there are new fans who will hopefully come on board, who perhaps haven’t been so immersed in Star Wars before. And I think with J.J. at the helm, and Larry writing the story they have, combining the old and the new so brilliantly, I think it will appeal to many, many people.
STRIPLV: First there was Princess Leia, and now there’s Rey. How are they similar and how are they different?
RIDLEY: The main difference is that Leia comes from privilege and Rey doesn’t. Leia is obviously born into something, there’s a certain level of hierarchy and everything, and Rey is definitely at the bottom of the pile. She really is just working to live, everyday. She’s not in charge of anything. She doesn’t really have anyone to have relationships with, be them brothers, or husbands, or a squadron, I guess, underneath her. Similarities are that they’re both women trying to make their way in the world, and they’re both pretty kick-ass.
STRIPLV: Yes! Talk about the importance of music in this film.
RIDLEY: We went to go see the scoring with John Williams a few months ago, which was unbelievable! ‘Cause you watch what’s going on, and the scenes are already incredible, and then adding the music to it—it’s like seeing a whole other thing. And I had to leave at one point, because I was pretty emotional. So to see that all come together, I can’t wait. It’s absolutely stunning.
STRIPLV: You jumped right into the movie by filming in the deserts of Abu Dhabi. What did you learn about yourself from that experience?
RIDLEY: Abu Dhabi for me was a real baptism by fire. And I was incredibly nervous—like I really was. And looking back, it’s amazing, because Rey’s journey begins in Jakku, and that’s where we began filming. I learned that, even though I’m terrified a lot of the time, and even though I don’t know what I’m doing, with the right support and the right people around you, you can break through boundaries that you might have on yourself, restrictions that you might think you have, and do some really cool stuff.
STRIPLV: What was it like for you as a young actress to play opposite Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill?
RIDLEY: Harrison, Carrie and Mark are all brilliant people, and they’re all incredibly different because they’re different people, united by this incredible thing, and they were all so excited to come back, and that is incredibly joyful for us, because coming into this, you think: ‘Who knows better than they do about what story should be told and how excited we should all feel?’ So they really set a precedent. They’re all incredibly kind and warm and funny and wonderful to work with. And everybody felt like we were the newbies. It just felt like a group trying to make the best film possible.
STRIPLV: If you had to describe your experience making this film in one word, what would it be?
RIDLEY: One word: a “roller coaster”—because my soul’s journey has now spanned over two years. I started auditioning over two years ago, and so obviously within two years, not only with this film, but many, many things have happened. So I’ve hit every emotion possible. So that is why I’d say: “roller coaster.”
STRIPLV: You’ve never worked on such a large-scale film before. Tell us what you thought of the sets, and the creatures, and did it inform your acting in any way?
RIDLEY: I think, for me, it didn’t feel like working on a huge film, the way that people talk about huge films, it didn’t feel like that. It felt intimate. And I’m kind of small. And then you realize, you see the span of how many people it takes to make such a film. But the creatures are insane, and of course they inform, because they set the tone. In the desert in particular, where we started, the creatures were there already setting this tone of Star Wars. There’s humanoids and creatures, aliens, all kinda working side by side. And it really helped. J.J. and Kathy wanted to really base everything in practical effects, and having creatures really there, there was nothing to have to imagine, they were just right there in front of you. So it was incredibly helpful.
STAR WARS’ VILLAIN “CAPTAIN PHASMA”
STRIPLV: So what made you want to join Star Wars and play Captain Phasma?
CHRISTIE: Oh, Good Lord! (bursts out in laughter) What wouldn’t make me want to join Star Wars and play Captain Phasma?! I have loved Stars Wars since I was first shown it. I think I was around six years old when my family showed it to me, and I fell in love with the film. There were so many unusual elements, things that I didn’t feel I’d seen before in other films. I remember, even at that young age, seeing Princess Leia and being so… in a state of rapture due to her strength, her wit, her determination, and thinking: ‘That’s unusual! I don’t really see women like that in the things that I watch.’ Even at that very young age, and thinking: ‘I like it and I like her, and I want to be like her.’ Thinking back about this recently, that was quite a significant moment. I also remember saying when I was very little: “I want to be in a Star Wars film,” and being told: “Well, they don’t make them anymore.” And so when I heard that they were making them again, and that J.J. Abrams would be directing, I wanted to be in it more than anything! I’d really loved Super 8. I’d really loved what J.J. did with the Star Trek movies. I just felt like this beloved series of films, that this would be in safe hands, and I really wanted to work with J.J. So when I heard that they were going to be casting for the films, I was just like a dog with a bone. I would not let it go, and I went on, and on, and on about it—for probably about six months I went on about it. Until finally, probably someone just like gave in, had enough and couldn’t take it anymore. (laughter) And I was lucky enough to get a meeting. And after that, when I found out fully about the character, and about what the costume was, and what the character truly was—then I was so excited. And I thought it was such a modern idea. Captain Phasma is Star Wars’ first onscreen female villain, I believe. And the idea that there is a female character, who is encased in armor, and we primarily form a relationship with her due to her actions and her character, rather than the way she has been made flesh, was very interesting to me. And for there to be a woman depicted in that way in a Star Wars movie felt truly progressive to me, and I realized quite how lucky I was.
STRIPLV: How did you approach bringing both femininity and power to the role while wearing a face-covering storm trooper helmet?
CHRISTIE: Well, I didn’t really think about bringing femininity to the role. I thought about the character—what the character was—the list of characteristics, things that made up who the character was, their actions, what people said about the character, what the character said about themselves. And what I did focus on was that I knew, because there was so much costume, what went on below the neck would be as important as what went on above the neck. So it became a very creative acting challenge for me, because every gesture had to be explored and investigated. And every gesture had to say something about the character and had to inform the audience who this character was. So it meant that I had to do an investigation of the way the character walked, the way she stood, and where the emphasis would be in the body. And I am a woman, wearing armor, so I didn’t have to think about making that feminine.
STRIPLV: What was it like to be on set, surrounded by the Star Wars world, and seeing all the original cast?
CHRISTIE: (gasping) It was completely insane. (laughter) I could never have expected this. I certainly don’t think I ever dreamed it. When I heard those three iconic cast members were going to be back in the Star Wars films… I mean everyone just breathed a collective sigh of relief, and a scream of joy. And they’ve been so warm to me and so encompassing. The whole production, everybody in the crew, all the creatives, J.J., Kathleen, all of the actors, have been so enthusiastic and so warm about this film and the understanding that everybody loves it and that it means so much to everyone, and that it’s been a real joy to work on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I really couldn’t have hoped for a better experience.
STRIPLV: To that point, if you had to describe your experience in making this film in one word, what would it be and why?
CHRISTIE: Mind-Bending. Not really one word though, is it?
STRIPLV: Might be two.
CHRISTIE: Can I have two?
CHRISTIE: Thank you. (laughter) I know it was greedy of me.
STRIPLV: (laughter) For you, personally, what did you like best about playing Captain Phasma?
CHRISTIE: What I liked best about playing Captain Phasma was that she felt new. This felt like a different way to see a female character in a movie. It felt like a different way for an audience to form a relationship with a female character. And the fact that that was in Star Wars really impressed me and heartened me—because it seems like there’s been an upholding of those original values of Star Wars, all the things that we love and we hold dear, but it’s been brought right up to date and into the modern day, in a way that everybody really seems to be applauding.