It’s one of the most important dates in every fan’s diary, May the 4th, Star Wars day.
To celebrate this most auspicious of occasions, we thought it would be a good idea to venture into the GT archives and dig out our interview with the amazing Daisy Ridley [Rey] and Gwendoline Christie [Captain Phasma].
We caught up with them a long time ago… Well, only a month or two before the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and as you can tell, both were determined to stay tight lipped about any plot details.
We could threaten to blow up their home planets or beguile them with Jedi mind tricks, but the force for keeping secrets is strong in these two. “All I can tell you about Star Wars is that it’s a space adventure,” Daisy deadpans. “Just saying. Actually, didn’t they say it’s a space western? That’s the actual genre, I think.”
Indeed it is, but we could’ve told her that. Pretty much everything else about the most eagerly awaited franchise reboot since George Lucas announced he was making three prequels to the original trilogy is under wraps. Thanks to Jar Jar Binks and The Phantom Menace’s kid-movie sensibility, Lucas left many of us disappointed – although he sort of redeemed himself as Attack of the Clones went dark and Revenge of the Sith went even darker. And the trailers for The Force Awakens, which has sci-fi titan JJ Abrams at the helm and the almighty Ford-Fisher-Hamill triumvirate back on board, are freaking awesome.
The action figures are out there now too and we’ve glimpsed some of the costumes, but just what awakens the Force is a mystery that Daisy (probably the luckiest girl alive since it’s the 23-year-old’s first movie after her scenes were cut from The Inbetweeners 2) hopes will remain until the 20th Century Fox fanfare blares out on opening day and Abrams whisks us back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. “The reason everyone is keeping it secret is for the best reason possible – so that when everyone goes to see it in the cinema they won’t know what to expect,” she says. “There’s going to be droids and there’s going to be creatures.” Which isn’t exactly a spoiler, Daisy. She laughs. “But the emotional story will be a surprise.”
It’s also a surprise for the young actress, and a pleasant one at that, to learn that the franchise has a legion of gay fans. “When I went to the Disney Store I was surprised by how many gay men I ran into,” she smiles, looking very much like a young Keira Knightley minus the pout.
Half of her core group of friends are gay. “Out of six friends, three of them are gay. My godfathers are gay and the gay community is a huge part of my life, so the fact they love Star Wars make me go ‘Amazing!’ For Star Wars to appeal to so many different groups of people is fantastic.”
Needless to say, she’s pleased about the addition of a leading gay character to the Star Wars universe in the personage of Sinjir Rath Velus in the novel Aftermath. (We’ve always had our doubts about C-3PO and Jar Jar too, but they’ve yet to come out.) As for how she managed to become a part of the Star Wars universe herself, Daisy says “by being really cool” then, faster than the Millennium Falcon jumping to light-speed, adds: “Oh God, you’re gonna write that down and no one will realise it’s a joke!”
In actual fact, she auditioned five times. “And there were many tears in the interim with me going ‘I want to do it.’ Then JJ rang and told me I’d got the part. It was only after I got cast and read the script that I realised what Rey meant in the story.”
She came to it with a clean slate. “I didn’t know the ins and outs of Star Wars and I’m glad I didn’t, because I didn’t feel I was fulfilling any expectations. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Because I’m a woman I need to be like Princess Leia’, or, ‘Because I’m a scavenger I need to be like Han Solo’. In terms of story, I guess the character I’d compare her to most is Luke, because he starts off not knowing his own strength, I guess, then he goes on this journey and finds out who he is. But he starts with a family and Rey is alone and, because Princess Leia is born into privilege, that’s totally different too.”
Appearing opposite new droid BB-8, which was brought to life by puppeteers rather than CGI, was a worry that turned into a joy. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to speak to this thing like it’s not a child because he’s so cute?’ But he’s alive and he has a soul and he’s important to the story. It was like working with another person.”
Daisy’s own action figure is lined up on the Disney Store shelves alongside the BB-8 toy, and she was sent a suitcase full of herself, so to speak. “My sister put them everywhere,” she cringes, “and I was like ‘I can’t look at myself all the time, that’s so weird.’ So I put them in the cupboard.”
Contracted to the as yet to be formally-titled Episodes VIII and IX, does she worry about being typecast? The little-known actress who’s about to become a huge star grins. “There’s always a risk of being typecast, but to be connected to Star Wars is no bad thing!”
With that she’s needed elsewhere and in walks Gwendoline Christie, who’s roughly twice Daisy’s height and infinitely more recognisable thanks to her recurring roles as Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones and Commander Lyme in the last two Hunger Games movies.
The 37-year-old franchise queen is thrilled to have been cast in a role that should ensure her a place at Comic Con for as long as she’s still breathing. “As soon as it was announced they were going to start making Star Wars again, I immediately got onto my representatives,” she beams, as warm and friendly as Brienne of Tarth is stern and stoic. “I was like a dog with a bone going, ‘I want to be in Star Wars!’”
You’d think Gwendoline would be content having two huge franchises under her belt – she’s also a model and is dating fashion designer Giles Deacon, so it’s no cheap belt either – but Star Wars has a special resonance for her. “Everybody has such a strong relationship with it and it seems to evoke something in people that is pure joy and is simple in its happiness,” she explains. “One of my first Christmases, I remember being shown the first film and being really excited by the way that it looked. Not just that, but by Princess Leia and the fact there was a woman who knew her own mind and was very strong. Also, that it was funny and that it had characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO. I adored R2-D2 and I became concerned when he got into danger. I wanted him to survive and felt like I loved him.”
She was doing Thrones at the same time as Star Wars, which meant working out schedules and switching from armour to a helmet. It was a challenge not being able to use her face. “But it’s dealing with a female character that feels new and exciting. It was very interesting playing someone whose primary sensory functions are not at the fore. It becomes about something else. I realised the way I moved my body was going to inform the audience as much as what I said. You put the emphasis in different areas to try and create a character.”
And will they be using her voice or will she be dubbed, Dave Prowse-style? Will there be a female James Earl Jones brought in to butch it up? Gwendoline laughs. “When I performed it, it was my voice. I think that’s what it’ll be.” She grins. “I’m not in charge of that, though.”
When it comes to the gay fanbase she’s less gushing than Daisy, saying: “I don’t tend to look at fanbases in terms of sexuality. I’m aware there’s a huge fanbase, but I don’t spend the time looking at what particular factions there are.” We assure her there are plenty of gays in there and Gwendoline smiles. “Great. Let’s embrace the diversity.”
Words Simon Button
To read GT’s review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens go to gaytimes.co.uk/movies
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download now.