Actress Daisy Ridley is thinking about mushroom soup... "I was just eating a really delicious soup," she begins, before animatedly exclaiming, "I can't wait 'til I can finish my mushroom soup and croutons!" Ever-relatable, Ridley has food on the brain (she later reminisces about eating a mango for breakfast), and explains that if her innermost thoughts were publicly visible - the affliction of all men who inhabit the dystopian world that her new film 'Chaos Walking' is set; also starring Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, and Nick Jonas - then incredibly important thoughts such as 'what's my next meal?' and 'what am I eating?' would be broadcast to all. "It would mainly be fairly boring food and drink stuff," she says sheepishly. "Some people might have really interesting thoughts. I would be more concerned about hearing other people's; I don't want to hear other people's thoughts. There's nothing I'm particularly like, 'Oohhh, I shouldn't have thought that,' I'm cool, but I would not want to hear other people's, no way."
In the year 2257 A.D. on a distant planet known as New World, Ridley's character Viola crash lands near an all-male settlement, choosing to trust Todd Hewitt (played by Holland, whom Ridley says "brings so much to the role") as the two are forced to go on the run. "The film reflects our current states of information overload and oversharing," says Ridley, explaining that the story presents "a kind of emotional dystopia and an extension of today’s social media landscape, where people put things out into the world without perhaps thinking of the repercussions."
Ridley also hints: "It's a story about two young people on the run from danger and what have you, but there is so much layered underneath it about gender politics and colonisation and making a promise to people... and you're trying to make the best of a situation that's incredibly difficult. What do you do about that? Ultimately, it's about trust and hope."
Known worldwide as Rey Skywalker to anyone who has seen the sequel trilogy of 'Star Wars' films, Ridley is no stranger to playing strong women on-screen who often run into trouble, but never need saving by anyone else. When asked about her empowering on-screen legacy, Ridley thoughtfully replies: "I think we're really lucky in that we're moving into a time where there is greater representation for everybody on-screen in different ways. I think it's amazing that I've been able to play it, but I think it's also amazing that we are able to see women who perhaps are having more of a difficult time and that do have to lean on other people - because the reality is we live in a world where some people can do things for themselves, and some people need extra help. So I feel wonderful that we're part of a time where we're seeing all sorts of women on-screen, but something that always stuck with everyone about the first of 'Star Wars' is me saying, 'Don't take my hand.' And it was funny, because it really meant so much. At the time, I just thought it was a cute line. But of course, yeah, for the most part, all the women I know do things for themselves and don't particularly have to rely on people; they can because they choose to. And I think that is wonderful to see."
Having "devoured" author Patrick Ness' trilogy of 'Chaos Walking' books after being asked to portray Viola, Ridley observes: "Like the books, our film is an amazing action-adventure, as well as a compelling look at gender politics. What happens if something drastic happens to one gender and not the other? How does that affect the dynamics within a community? Viola and Todd are on a big adventure, but there is so much underneath that they’re figuring out."
Ness recalls about when Ridley was cast: "She wrote me a letter before we even started shooting. It was all the nice stuff that you'd expect (you know; love the book), but it was also more, 'Here's how I see Viola...' And the complexity of that is what impressed me because that's what I was always after with Viola, I was always after making her more than just the word that gets applied to YA heroines a lot: fierce. I don't know that that is fair because I think a lot of YA writers are trying to make complex heroines, and then when they get reviewed or when they get talked about, they're just called fierce and that's it. And so for her character in the book, I was very, very much trying to make her as much a flawed and interesting human as the hero. That was very much my specific goal. And that she got that, that Daisy really understood that, was kind of the most important thing. That she wasn't simply, 'I'm brave, and I'm going to get through this, so you never have to fear for me.' That there was another side where she could make mistakes, and where, most importantly, we believe she can take care of herself. And so when she chooses to trust Todd, that means something, it's much, much more meaningful than if she's just in distress. And so those are the kinds of things we talked about - that she could maybe find a way to survive here. She's really stuck, she's in a terrible position, but when we would talk about it, we would talk about how it's a conscious choice to allow Todd to help her. And you can see that when they do get together, she's like, you stay in front of me, you're too loud. That to me, is far more interesting than simply being rescued. Viola was always more than that. And how could we make that clear? And how could we always see her as someone choosing and acting, rather than being led?"
On what she learnt from playing Viola and why she undertook the role, Ridley recounts: "In a physical way, I learned how to ride a motorbike, which was fun - learnt how to do some skids and things. And the script was great, and I thought it was so interesting that she thinks she's going to this place for this new life and then it's absolutely not what she thought it was. Ultimately, all she's trying to do is the right thing. She could basically be like, 'Okay, let's just sit back and let whatever happen,' but she goes against everything that essentially the planet is telling her, all of the fear and all of the danger, simply to warn other people that it isn't what they all thought it was going to be. And I think there's something in that, like trying to stay optimistic, even though the circumstances are dire. And also her relationship with Todd, it's so sweet because it would be hell on earth to hear what other people are thinking. And even though his thoughts are embarrassing, and about kissing her and whatever, they really figure out a way to be with each other that signifies hope for everybody for the future. So there's something about the two of them, I find very sweet, and I like watching things that ultimately are hopeful."
And on what she has in common with Viola: "The main thing that's common is when I am out of my depth or uncomfortable, I clam up. I apparently am one of the only actresses/actors that script supervisors work with that has asked for lines to be taken out of a film because when I'm scared... I remember, my friend was driving years ago on an icy road and we were almost in a car crash. She pulled the handbrake and we did a spin and I just didn't say a word, didn't scream, nothing. So in my head, that's my reaction to things when I'm out of my depth, is to just go quiet and sort of try and process it. So that's the main thing we have in common."
Viola is thrilled to experience rain, and eat fresh food upon arriving to New World, much like a child taking in everything new for the very first time, and I ask Ridley if there's anything she would like to experience again for the first time. "Oohhh that's a good question. I had some mango for breakfast, and I was thinking about how a friend of mine said that when their nephew tried pineapple for the first time, it was so sweet - like the baby's face was <gasps> 'AHHHH' because the baby had been having carrots and what have you, and then tried fruit for the first time. That. I would love to try something like mango. I'm sorry, this is such a basic answer, but something like that. Like an exotic fruit. I just think that would be amazing. Sorry, everything's about food today! But genuinely, I think that would be so amazing, like when you see little kids trying stuff for the first time, they all look at you with their innocent taste buds: 'So open it up.'"
About meeting and working with Tom Holland, Ridley recalls: "It's funny, because we'd met each other very briefly when he won his BAFTA, and we knew we were working together, but we didn't know when. And then we met on the plane going to Montreal, properly. So we had that really awkward thing of the screen really slowly sliding up, because we were facing each other, and you're trying to not be super awkward. It was great. Tom is literally Spider-Man in Spider-Man. I am blessed to be part of something that's about a group of people. So in that way, it felt quite different. Like, the response to him and Nick is crazy, but they both deal with it very well."
With the film in mind, Ridley comments on what the world would be like without women today: "I think it would be terrible. As a woman, surrounded by wonderful women, I think we are a wonderful contribution to this world being 50% of it. And particularly in the past year, countries led by women have rallied a lot better than others. So I think it would be awful. I think there's beauty in the huge mix of people in this world and we would be short many, many, many of them if we didn't have women."
And on if she has any screenwriting interests: "Unfortunately, I am not blessed with the writing. I sometimes have ideas, but I just am not a writer. What I will say, is this was very collaborative. When we were coming to do additional photography, just to smooth out the relationship, a lot of it with Viola and Todd because we'd done quite a lot of contentious stuff, it was really nice because I was part of quite a few conversations of how to make it really work and figure out what it was. Because the Viola/Todd relationship, you really have to understand why he has left everything he knows to go on this adventure with her. Obviously with her, it's more simple because he knows the way to where she needs to go. So that was really fun. It's been fun to be part of a collaborative conversation on this. But if I were to write something, probably a horror film, even though horror films terrify me. I have quite a good idea. Ultimately, what I want to see in a horror film is someone make all of the right decisions - not don't go down to the basement, don't go outside when you're scared - and do all the right things, but it's still really scary."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity predominantly from a roundtable conversation.
'Chaos Walking' is out in New Zealand cinemas now - watch the trailer below: