COLLIDER – One of the perks with being the lead in a Star Wars movie is you can help a small independent film get seen by more people. The fact is Otto Bell’s great documentary, The Eagle Huntress, would have a tough time getting press in mainstream publications even though it’s a fantastic story. But with Daisy Ridley narrating and executive producing the film and willing to get out there and do press to promote it, you have a lot more people willing to cover the film and thus greater exposure.
If you’re not familiar with the story, The Eagle Huntress follows a 13-year-old girl named Aisholpan as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. In addition to her quest, she has to take on the close-minded elders who believe women should not be involved in their ancient tradition. But with the help of her father, Nurgaiv, who believes a girl can do anything a boy can, she sets out to take on the establishment and compete in the Golden Eagle Festival, where she faces off against 70 of the greatest Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia.
During my interview with Daisy Ridley, we talked about how she got involved in the film, what it feels like to know her involvement will help The Eagle Huntress be seen by more people, how the bond between Aisholpan and her father meant a lot to her, auditioning for Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, the Star Wars toys backlash when Rey was missing from a lot of the early Force Awakens toys, how Hasbro is fixing their mistakes, working with Rian Johnson on Star Wars: Episode VIII, and a lot more. Check out what she had to say below.
Collider: Let’s start with the most important thing, can you still go food shopping or is it all gone?
RIDLEY: Yeah, yeah. I can still do that.
So you have the best of both worlds.
RIDLEY: For sure.
RIDLEY: Yeah. When people stop me they’re very nice, it doesn’t happen that often. Usually I’m so confused as to why they’re stopping me, it takes me a couple of seconds to get over it. So I probably look something like, “What have I done!?” But it’s all good.
I think if people heard you talk though…
RIDLEY: Usually it’s either when I laugh or when I talk that people are like, “huh.”
I’m listening to you talk right now and I’m like, “Oh yeah.” I would pick that out of a crowd.
RIDLEY: Yeah, especially in America. But also people are just very friendly, so it’s all good anyway.
It’s also because the sun is here.
RIDLEY: Yes, the sun is here. I actually really loves L.A. I think the vibes are great and people tend to be very happy. It’s fantastic.
Because it doesn’t rain.
RIDLEY: I mean, it did rain yesterday.
I swear to you, that’s an anomaly.
RIDELY: But it’s raining again next week.
I don’t believe that.
RIDLEY: I believe it. When it rains, I’m gonna be like, “Hey, told ya”
It rarely rains. Jumping into why I get to talk to you today, this is one of those crazy stories that will benefit from your limelight, you’re able to shine some on it by putting your name on this and narrating. What is it like for you knowing that you can use some of that limelight to propel a project like this?
RIDLEY: It’s very odd, and then great. Because also hearing Otto [Bell, Director] speak, he’s so passionate about the whole thing, obviously as he would be still. And it feels like everything is happening for the right reasons, for me it doesn’t feel exploitative. I watched the film and I actually loved it, I asked to come onboard, and he wanted a narrator so it just so happened that everything worked out very well. What’s great is the film would have done great otherwise, but for sure if like an extra 20 people go to see the film…
I’m gonna say it’s a little higher than 20…
RIDLEY: If maybe a few people go and see because I have something to do with it, that’s good with me.
If I’m not mistaken, it was Morgan Spurlock that connected you to the material?
RIDLEY: Yes, yes.
So talk a little bit about that. Does he call you, send you an email?
RIDLEY: Honestly I don’t know how it happened. All I know is that he’s with my agency, and my agent watched the film and was totally blown away by it. [She] told me to watch it, I watched it that night and was really moved. And within a week we were on a call with Morgan and Otto, we got on great, and –Yeah, so initially I just came on as executive and the narration thing worked out very well. I still haven’t met Morgan, but it was his association with my agency that got this whole thing started.
I saw him at TIFF.
So I’ve spent more time with him than you have.
RIDLEY: He seems like a cool guy.
He is. So, how long ago did you get involved in this thing?
RIDLEY: I had a call with them the day before Sundance, so many, many moons ago. Then we recorded in spring time I think, in May or June, and then here we are.
When you talk about the film with people, is there one aspect that really hits you or is it the entire story?
RIDLEY: For me the big thing actually is the relationship between Aisholpan and her father, because I’m very close to my parents and my parents have always been super encouraging to me and my sisters regardless of what we wanted to and it was never even a conversation. The bond between them is so strong and true and he, much like Aishlopan, doesn’t think he’s doing anything except supporting his child, so that relationship for me is the big thing. And then obviously the empowerment thing and everything is the main point that people are taking from the story, but also that it’s the people around us who encourage us to live our dreams as it were.
It’s also crazy because the more I learn about the competition, so many of the eagles fly away.
RIDLEY: Do they?
Yeah, I had no idea. I learned a lot about this recently, and so a bunch of them fly away or it takes like 30 seconds or they’ll slow, and the fact that he got her setting that record and…
RIDLEY: Because also I think it could be that thing if the film ends and they set up that whole thing and she does it –Like, she’s really good, she’s actually really good, because she worked so hard. I was just thinking the weight of the eagle on her little 13-year-old arm, even that, let alone anything else, must be crazy. But for sure the determination to do what she wants to do, and I don’t think it’s about the wining, it’s just she wanted to be part of that competition.
And also she is breaking down boundaries in a culture that is…
RIDLEY: Yeah, and this year there’s been three more girls that have taken part in the competition. So within a year a threefold increase is fantastic.
I definitely want ask you, so you probably didn’t have to audition for this, huh?
RIDLEY: I didn’t but I was very nervous because I knew –It’s an amazing film and I knew how much it meant to Otto and I wanted to make sure that I was a worthy contribution to the film, so it took a while to get it right, the voiceover. I wanted it to be really epic and indulgent and he was like, “Bring it back.”
I know you’re involved in a whole bunch of other things coming up, are you still auditioning?
RIDELY: I auditioned for Murder on the Orient Express.
So what is it like…?
RIDLEY: I just auditioned for something a few weeks before that that I didn’t get, because you’re not right for everything.
Absolutely. I’ve spoken to a lot of actors that have taken it to the next stage in their career and instead of auditioning they have meetings with the director for like lunch.
RIDLEY: I do that too, but also I really like meeting people. And usually I’m like, “Oh I love this person!”
Talk a little bit about going in for Murder, were you nervous still?
RIDLEY: Terrified. I got back from L.A. and I only had the sides a couple of days before, and I’m a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh and I already knew some of the names that had been associated with the film. I went into the audition, didn’t think I did really well. I remember calling my mom and being like, “Ahh there we go.” And also Agatha Christie is a huge thing in my household as it is in many people’s. Then I was on a holiday when I got the call, I got an email saying, “Can we talk?” from my attorney and my agent, and that was me thinking, “Oh I didn’t get it” and then it was like, “Oh this is so great!” I still feel like not worthy, especially when they announced the full cast.
One of the things I love about those kinds of movies is that it’s like an Ocean’s Eleven, except a different kind of film. But when you’re surrounded by a cast like that with Johnny [Depp] and everybody else it’s like you don’t have to control the entire show.
RIDLEY: Yes, that’s actually very true, and I think I’m gonna learn an awful lot. Plus it’s gonna be very interesting because I’ve gone from doing an adventure kind of thing and moving around a lot, to sat on a train doing the discussion. So it’s a different kind of vibe, and I’m very nervous but it’s gonna be great I’m sure.
One of the things that came up, and maybe you’re aware of it, is that there were all of these Rey toys that people wanted that Disney had never produced and now they are. How much do you pay attention to all of that stuff?
RIDLEY: Interestingly, I had a meeting yesterday about merchandise and what’s happening going forward, so I had a lot of questions that were answered and some, you know, issues.
Listen, I vented hard on Collider and we all did because it was bullshit. My sister has daughters and I was like, “Where are they toys? I wanna buy her stuff.”
RIDLEY: There was a conversation that was happening before –I think when it really became a big thing is when J.J. [Abrams] talked about Monopoly. There had been conversations long before that that I was having with people because I didn’t really understand what was going on. And John Boyega in fact told me that he had written to someone and I was like, “huh” because he is more of a toy person than I am. Moving forward I think what they’re planning –I’ve been told what the plans is for next year and it’s really cool, really exciting.
I also think they don’t want to have the backlash that was online, because a lot of people were not happy.
RIDLEY: For sure, but my whole thing is it’s not anything about the backlash, it’s if a character is important in the story, then that should be dealt with in every platform whether it’s merchandise, whether that’s posters, anything, it needs to be dealt with in the correct way regardless of gender, regardless of color. So to be honest, how the public reacted to it was amazing, because it was a testament to the character and to what J.J. did with the casting. And yeah, it’s going to be super cool going forward.
It’s interesting because I think the executives thought that it was gonna be like Kylo Ren was gonna be the one that people gravitated towards.
RIDLEY: Yeah. And I think it was well-intentioned, usually it’s boys that buy those kinds of toys. And I think it’s a great moment of what’s happening in the world with girls and how different people are playing and how they’re interacting with the things they see in popular culture. So yeah, it’s cool.
I know not to even ask about other shit, but I want to go backwards and touch on Episode VII because at the junket I actually couldn’t ask you anything. Now we can talk about it.
RIDLEY: Now I have to put Episode VIII in a different compartment so I don’t slip up.
And I don’t want you to, at all. I am curious, when you think back to the making of it, was there one location –besides the Falcon, because it’s obviously the Falcon– that was your favorite or one thing that you still think about and can’t believe?
RIDLEY: Abu Dhabi, for sure. Because we started the whole journey there, that’s where Rey’s journey started. It was like kind of like the Altai Mountains, to an outsider impenetrable, you can’t imagine how anyone could live there because there are desert nomads too. It was so hot and the sand hurts when it’s blowing at you and can’t see because there’s sunscreen dripping in your eye. But for sure that. Also to be away with a group of people who are trying to make the best possible thing they can is an incredibly bonding experience, so I loved that.
I’ve seen J.J. a few times now since the movie has come out and have talked to him. You can see the relief on his face and the happiness, he’s just so happy because he did it.
RIDLEY: Yeah. And I think obviously out of everyone, him and Kathy [Kathleen Kennedy] probably had the most pressure I guess, in terms of public expectation. And I think even if it hadn’t done so well commercially, people were responding to it so well, and I think that’s the main thing for all of them. And then it just so happened that a lot of people went to go see it which is supper exciting and cool.
For you, when you start hearing these numbers of box office and the numbers it’s hitting, are you even able to comprehend it? Because it’s so crazy, the amount of money it made.
RIDLEY: I mean, I’ve never really been motivated by money, so that for me I’m not really interested in, though it’s great, oh my God, fantastic. But for me it’s more about parents coming up to me and saying, “My little girl…” –In fact, who was I talking to? Someone at Pixar actually, really nice guy, he said he was in the cinema with his daughter and something happened and his daughter went, “Wow” And when he told me honestly I almost cried, because for me that is far more important, and when little girls kind of dressed up like Rey, that’s…Yeah.
As I said, my sister has two daughters and I wanted to buy merchandise which I think a lot of people wanted.
RIDLEY: I mean, Halloween! I’m excited.
My last question. I asked this of Adam Driver and I’ll ask it of you. What is it like woking with Rian [Johnson] compared to J.J.?
RIDLEY: Did you see him at TIFF, Adam?
Yes, I saw him for Paterson.
RIDLEY: Yeah. I think how he described Rian, very unassuming, is a great explanation. I went to see Rian last week just to hang, seriously he was in the edit suite, he wasn’t doing anything, we were just chatting for a bit and we had lunch together.
I heard he went to Telluride on his own just to see movies.
RIDLEY: He loves movies so much. How are they different? I think they’re similar in that they’re both kind of nerdy guys, telling us super cool stories about something that a lot of people love. They’re different in that J.J.’s more [snaps fingers] energy all the time, and Rian is kind of more –I don’t know how to describe it. More…Not reserved, that’s the wrong word. The energy for me is the most different thing. But, again, both big family people, both super passionate about what they’re making, and both like we’d be on set and would do something that we’d be like, “Oh my God that’s so cool!” So in that respect they are very similar.
He’s also a genius writer.
RIDLEY: He’s an amazing writer.
I’ve heard he’s ok.
RIDLEY: He’s ok.