A few weeks after the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey – Jakku scavenger, desert-planet survivor and feminist hero – went on holiday to an island off Croatia with friends from the crew. The actor, who was 23 at the time, had been warned that after the release of the movie – number seven in a franchise that has made more than $42bn (£33bn) – her life would dramatically change, and she was terrified. This was, after all, her first big-screen role.
In restaurants, she scrutinised waiters to see if they were being too nice to her; she wondered if she'd ever be able to use the tube again. On holiday, her friends started calling her Linda, 'as a jokey alias', she says, 'and then they started calling me Paranoid Linda' when she became convinced a man was following them around and wondered if he was a private detective employed by the studio.
Two years later, 25-year-old Daisy is sitting opposite me at a restaurant in downtown Manhattan, dressed in a shirt and capri pants in clashing blue-and-white prints, her hair still wet from the shower. She's brimming with the kind of enthusiasm that reads on screen as charisma, and that helps to explain her meteoric rise from stage-school graduate with a few TV credits to her name to one of the most recognisable young stars on the planet. Paranoid Linda still makes an occasional appearance, she says, but mostly she has managed to adjust to life after two Star Wars movies.
Daisy clings to the fact that fame doesn't need to have a warping effect. It also fits in with her belief that the best way to survive the pressures of high-voltage exposure is to try enjoying it. Everything is 'amazing' in her world and everyone is 'remarkable', ranging from her mum ('a great person') to Barbra Streisand, with whom she recorded a song in 2016 ('a fantastic woman'), Harrison Ford ('awesome') and 'Colly' – Olivia Colman to you and me – who she starred with in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express and who she found 'incredible', naturally. There is no hint of sycophancy here; it appears that Daisy is simply joyfully happy.
This cheerfulness has acted as a useful screen to hide behind during the years since she made Star Wars. Now her character, Rey, is back for The Last Jedi, the new Star Wars movie, directed by Rian Johnson. But Daisy found this one to be much more pressure than the first movie. 'I suddenly felt a much bigger sense of responsibility,' she says. 'I didn't think I was good in the first film, and I was struggling with that.'
This is no humble brag. Daisy's candour when it comes to her own performance is kind of startling. As a child, her general inability to disguise her feelings occasionally sent her into scatter-brained overdrive, an impulse that her loving London-based family: Mum, who works in internal communications; Dad, who's a retired photographer; and two sisters – a model and a musician.
I didn't think I was good in the first film, and I was struggling with that
Daisy sometimes reads as posh – there is a certain ringing tone to her accent. In fact, she says, her family is more bohemian than posh. The accent, meanwhile, probably comes from boarding school. Aged eight, Daisy went to board at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in Hertfordshire – not, she says, from any desire to be an actor, but because a friend of hers had gone to boarding school and it sounded like fun.
'I was such a grumpy child,' says Daisy, smiling at the implication that she can still, now and then, throw a big wobbler. 'I used to get super-distracted – once I'd done my work, I would be annoying to everyone else – and my mum thought if I was busy, I'd be less distracting. I always sort of felt like I didn't fit in.' This anxiety wasn't just a result of being a bookish teenager, but a feeling of unreadiness to go out and meet the world as an adult. 'At 12 or 13, I didn't know how to do make-up,' she says, 'and I still don't know how to do my hair. And people wore high heels at that age!'
Even now, Daisy retains some small sense of herself as an outsider looking in. How could she not? Her CV at this point is extraordinary: as well as Star Wars, the actress has starred in Ophelia opposite Naomi Watts, and shot Murder on the Orient Express alongside Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Sir Derek Jacobi and Olivia Colman. It was on that last set that Daisy finally cracked. 'I turned to Ken, wiped away a tear, and said, "I can't believe I'm here, thank you so much."' Daisy adds, only half-jokingly: '"Did someone make you cast me?"' (No, he said.)
The self-deprecation is real. It's not just the burden of fame or lame faux humility. There have been times in Daisy's life, most notably after the first Star Wars movie was released, when she was literally uncomfortable in her skin.
At 15, she was diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful condition of the uterus lining that, along with other symptoms, can result in severe acne that is exacerbated by stress. You know, the kind of stress that comes when you find yourself the star of the biggest-grossing film of all time.
'I was in my flat going nuts, and then my skin got really bad with the stress of it all, and I hadn't been well – I had holes in my gut wall and stuff – and we were trying to figure out what to do with that because I'd felt poorly.' She did what she always does in times of stress and turned to her family, moving first to her sister's house, a few streets from their parents, then to a flat she rented on her own in the same west London neighbourhood.
Still, says Daisy, it was scary. It is difficult to think of a more intense introduction to Hollywood than winning a big role in a new Star Wars movie, nor a bigger professional leap than Daisy's jump from small parts in the usual roster of UK dramas and long-running soaps – Casualty, Silent Witness, Mr Selfridge – to the first day of filming The Force Awakens in Abu Dhabi. She had only turned up to the audition when a friend mentioned she was going, too, and now here she was, on day one of the shoot, with a production assistant holding an umbrella over her to keep the sun off while she looked around and 'freaked out'. And then JJ Abrams, the director, yelled 'action'.
It is difficult to think of a more intense introduction to Hollywood than winning a big role in a new Star Wars movie
Daisy will never forget that first scene, in which she had to dismount from her Speeder bike and walk a short distance with BB-8 while saying something like, 'We're going to get you home.' Is it true that, after delivering her line, JJ called her acting 'wooden'? Daisy laughs.
'It is true! After the first take, he goes, "Just a bit... wooden", and then we carried on. But JJ is the kind of person who before a scene says, "Don't fuck it up." So he said, "Just a bit wooden", and I was like, "Oh my God." But it got better.' She is still laughing at the discrepancy between how bad it sounds (quite bad), and how bad it was. 'It's only because that word "wooden" is so loaded. But it was just tense. And I thought, "OK, loosen that shit right up and it'll get better."'
In fact, Daisy found JJ Abrams and the rest of the production crew to be incredibly nurturing, to the extent that she was rarely aware of the Star Wars 'machine'. It was a friendly set, she says, where she mostly hung out with John Boyega, the 23-year-old Brit who plays Finn, and with whom she had the greatest number of scenes, although her best friends were among the crew.
JJ Abrams had deliberately hired hair and make-up for Daisy from the team who had worked on the Harry Potter franchise because, she says, 'aside from the fact that they're amazing, he knew that they had looked after Emma [Watson], Daniel [Radcliffe] and Rupert [Grint] for however many years. I felt very well taken care of. '
Harrison Ford, meanwhile, reminds her of her dad – 'They both have an earring and are fucking awesome,' – and the first time she shot a scene with him, he gave her a hug and said, 'She's so adorable', and she felt right at home after that. (Meanwhile, when her real dad visited the set, he went up to Mark Hamill and, in classic dad fashion asked, 'So, who do you play, then?')
In fact, the most difficult thing about the whole Star Wars experience has been reconciling the terrible warnings she received about how life would change with the reality of what actually happened - that, and the anxiety of shooting the second film. In the first instance, 'Everyone asked me, "Are you ready for your life to change?" And that gets into your mind.' Throughout this period, she tried to hang on to a piece of advice given to her by the late Carrie Fisher – not to shrink away from the success, but to enjoy it – 'And that was wonderful.' Beyond that, she threw herself back into work. 'At work, you're normal, you're not the anomaly, unlike in other situations.'
Harrison Ford has an earring and is f*cking awesome
Surely she has occasionally been starstruck herself? 'Absolutely not,' she says. 'I've never idolised anyone, really. I never had a crush thing. So when I met Barbra Streisand, for example, I was blown away, not because of her work, but because she's a fantastic woman.' It was JJ Abrams who recommended Daisy to Barbra, who was looking for a young star with a good voice to feature in Encore, her album of 2016.
Daisy ended up singing with her on the song At the Ballet from A Chorus Line, and finding a new role model for herself. 'I went to her house and we talked about [psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl] Jung because my dad loves Jung, and were talking about dreams, and I left and got super emotional, not because she's famous, but because she's amazing. Part of her reputation comes from being a woman. If it was a man being "controlling" about his career, people would just say he knows what he wants.'
Carrie Fisher told me not to shrink away form success
One of the things Daisy has struggled with in the wake of growing fame is the responsibility of being told Rey is a role model for young girls. She has been asked about feminism and has had to scramble, on occasion, to form an opinion, not because she is bland or apolitical, but because everything she now says has the potential to come back and haunt her. For someone struggling with self-doubt, this can have a paralysing effect, and it is testament to Daisy's seriousness that she has the sense to acknowledge it.
Of course, whatever kind of attitude you have, being a beautiful young woman in Hollywood means you are exposed to constant scrutiny. Daisy, like Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence before her, will have to weather the salacious interest that undercuts anything she has to say and, if she seems less confident than her peers, it's not only part of her charm but also, paradoxically, speaks to some deep-seated security that one assumes comes from Daisy's family; it can take greater courage to admit to one's weaknesses than to cover them up with bravado or a fake kind of self-confidence.
I've never idolised anyone, really. I never had a crush thing
She has also learned to sit back and relax a little, although shooting the second Star Wars movie, in which she had fewer scenes with her pal, John Boyega, made her briefly very stressed. 'It's not this big adventure that I'm on with John [unlike in the first movie]. I was thinking I did the first one because I didn't really know what I was getting myself into and I was having loads of fun, and suddenly I'm realising what this actually is, and I can't fucking do this.'
She says all this with a smile to acknowledge how neurotic this was. 'I'm highly dramatic – so it's all "oh my God". And [director] Rian [Johnson] just said, "We're going to do this, and these are the scenes, and this is how it's going to work," and finally I was like, "Oh yeah, this is working." The fact is sometimes you're not good at your job, and sometimes you're better at your job.'
Having that kind of experience helps, but Daisy still has moments when she has to check herself to make sure it's all real. There was one night on the set of Murder on the Orient Express when she found herself sitting around playing cards alongside Sir Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz and her husband Javier Bardem, who had come to support his wife. (Judi Dench had retired early to bed.) The next day, she and Sir Derek sat around doing the crossword. Even Paranoid Linda couldn't worry the fun out of that one.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out on 14 December. This article originally appeared in the December issue of ELLE UK