Maybe there’s just something in the air. When Warner Bros. dropped a new trailer for Greta Gerwig’s eventual blockbuster and multiple Oscar nominee “Barbie” back in May, seemingly everybody went nuts for a single standout line that came to capture so much of its charm, as star Margot Robbie (as Barbie!) pauses during a candy-colored dance party to ask her cohorts if they “ever think about dying.”
Even before Gerwig and Robbie were thinking about dying, Daisy Ridley was already there. Five months earlier, the former “Star Wars” star came to Sundance 2023 with the alluringly titled Rachel Lambert dramedy “Sometimes I Think About Dying,” which Ridley both starred in and produced.
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When I mentioned the line to Ridley when we spoke earlier this month, she laughed. “Oh, my God, yeah! Hilarious,” the actress and producer said. “I never even put two and two together. I was like, ‘Yes, Margot, I do.’ That’s so funny. Oh, my God. I feel like I’m in ‘Barbie’ now, right?”
Lambert’s charming film is both a close character study and a workplace comedy, and while it’s not entirely about dying, it is about a character (Ridley’s Fran) who thinks about dying (and other things) a whole hell of a lot, even if the people around her don’t always know what’s flying about in her head. The film was written by Kevin Armento, Katy Wright-Mead, and Stefanie Abel Horowitz, who directed the original short film the feature is based on. Ridley is excellent in it.
“What I was looking for was really nothing in particular, yet everything in particular, if that makes sense,” Ridley said when asked what she was hoping to find after her three-film “Star Wars” run ended. “I actually read something that Robert Downey Jr. said [recently]. He said he did so much work in [his] Marvel [films], but people almost didn’t look at it like a performance in the same way that they might’ve done if it wasn’t outside of that world.”
Ridley feels similarly about her work in the “Star Wars” universe. “It’s the scale and everything like that, and there were many other things that are going on, but I felt like I learned so much as an actor,” she said. “I felt I learned so much just generally, and I felt like I was able to do so many different things in that performance that I didn’t feel like I had like, ‘OK, I want to scratch that itch.’”
But there were indeed other itches to scratch. Ridley first read the script about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a different cast on things. “At that point, I was like, ‘I want to work. I would just love to work,’” she said. “I would love to go somewhere and feel productive in some way. I wasn’t looking for something in the way of, some people are like, ‘Oh, I did this thing, so I wanted to do this thing.’”
Mostly, Ridley said, she’s just looking for stuff that she sparks to being made by people she likes. “Sometimes I Think About Dying” hit both those marks.
“The way I choose things is very material-based, and I don’t really have a grand plan of what it is that I want to do,” Ridley said. “And, obviously, so much of it is timing too. You just never know when things are actually going to happen. So when I read this, I just loved the script, and I’d really wanted to work with Rachel for a long time. When I knew it was her directing, I was really excited. It was one of those very simple things that I was like, ‘Great, let’s do it.’”
And while many things “take forever to get going,” as Ridley noted, that wasn’t the case with Lambert’s film. Ridley read the script in early 2021. That fall, they were making the film in Oregon.
“It all happened quite quickly,” Ridley said. “It’s a very long and winding way of saying: I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but what I found was wonderful. I feel like what I really want is to work and to work with great people and do different things. The past few years particularly, because I’ve had really more time to do more different stuff, I have felt so lucky to have got to do the work that I’ve done.”
Ridley came on to the project early enough that she’s also got a producing credit on the film — her first — a move she mostly chalks up to the generosity of producer Alex Saks (“who really produced the film”) and Lambert. “I was very involved in a sort of partnership way of knowing what was going on,” she said. “It shows how amazing Alex is and amazing Rachel is, because I didn’t feel any sense of responsibility beyond Fran. Of course, I felt responsible for the film because I always do in all of the stuff I’m doing, whether I’m producing or not. I would’ve done it even without that [producing credit] because really wanted to play Fran.”
Asked about the inevitable cachet her name brings to any project — I mentioned that many early pieces about the film simply referred to her as “‘Star Wars’ actress” in their headlines — and Ridley got reflective. “I feel like it is what it is,” she said. “I feel like, again, I wasn’t setting out to do a big film as the first thing of my career, and all the cards fell where they fell. I think that has given me a platform and opportunities to do other stuff like this. I have an amazing team who are incredibly supportive of everything, and the way they deal with me doing this film is exactly the same way they deal with me doing another film. … I feel like I’m doing things away from [‘Star Wars’], that show different sides of me anyway. I think the association’s always going to be there, but I only really see it as a good thing.”
Even in brief conversation, Ridley seems like a real team player, quick to point to Lambert, Saks, and her team (she even mentioned her lawyers, how often do you hear people thank their lawyers?) as being equal, if not bigger, stake-holders in her success, and the success of “Sometimes I Think About Dying.”
One of the most successful things about the film is how it delicately handles the character of Fran. The film follows the shy young woman as she gradually comes out of her shell, partially inspired by the arrival of chatty new office mate Robert (Dave Merheje). As I wrote in my Sundance 2023 review, “When we laugh in ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying,’ it’s never at Fran,” and that feels very special.
“I think, to be honest, that’s all Rachel,” Ridley said. “The way Rachel’s described it, because I’ve heard her talk about it a lot, … but I don’t want to fudge what she said, but she said she followed what Fran wanted. So how Fran is seeing the world is how the audience is seeing the world. And just in a general way, Rachel is very unjudgmental, so I feel like there is a version perhaps that could have been more judgmental towards Fran actually, and towards the character and the film as a whole.”
Lambert also excels at kitting the film out with warm, realistic details. Fran and Robert start bonding over Slack, for instance, and when I mentioned it was fun to see Ridley, who probably has never worked in a traditional office setting, finding such texture in those moments, she laughed.
“Well, I worked in a doctor’s [office] once, this was also when I was 16,” she said. “So it was before all of the digital things, so I never got the Slack thing. The Slack thing was really fun because they made Slack available [on the set’s computers]. I was typing, I think, to someone from the art department. You could play games on your computer. We walked into this office that was fully usable. The computers were usable, the lights were usable, everything was so usable. The Keurig worked! It was so easy to sort of slip into because so much of the work had been done by the amazing art department.”
Slipping into Fran seems to have really delighted Ridley. Even more than two years after shooting the project, Ridley is able to quickly put herself back in Fran’s mindset.
“Fran loves her life,” Ridley said. “She loves a lot of her life. She loves the routine. It doesn’t feel humdrum to her. So of course, there’s a feeling of mundanity in a way, but that’s not a bad thing. She loves those parts of her life and it’s just the social connection is the tricky bit to find. I think so much of that is how Rachel viewed Fran, how Rachel viewed the world, and the rest of the characters are so beautifully drawn that Fran is not met with judgment within the film.”
Ridley pointed to one particular point in the film, a key interaction between her character and Merheje’s Robert we won’t spoil here (audiences will know it when they see it) as being the hardest part of the film for the actress. “I remember being at the Sundance premiere, and my heart was pounding before [Fran says the line], because even when we did it, I found that it was actually the hardest line to say,” she said. “It had to feel real, but it was hard to get there, because it’s a transgression, that is a real fucking transgression. But even though she says something so awful to Robert, and even though probably there is some frustration for people around her knowing that she has the potential to be more connected to them, she’s always met with grace and with kindness.”
It’s that sort of warmth and respect that make the film such a lovely watch. Ridley hopes that the audience will see that too, and see themselves in Fran. “A lot of us recognize her, whether it’s about ourselves or our sister or our friend,” she said. “There are so many Frans in the world that I think she’s very recognizable in a non-judgmental way. … The film, for me, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, because it is about people. We follow Fran, but it’s about people. It’s about humanity. It’s about the fact that it’s really fucking uncomfortable a lot of the time to be a person and to be like, ‘Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Am I going to say the right thing? Am I going to fuck it up?’ There’s always a hundred things to be thinking about and worrying about, but actually, human connection is the most important thing.”
Ridley’s passion for connection and the stories that chronicle it have led her from small gems “Sometimes I Think About Dying” all the way back to the wide world of the “Star Wars” universe. When a run of new films in the franchise were announced in April, one of the most surprising was a new feature all about Ridley’s Rey Skywalker, directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and set to “tell the story of rebuilding the New Jedi Order and the powers that rise to tear it down.”
“I made a film called ‘Magpie’ last year that, actually, ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ had a big hand in, because it made me realize what was available and what was attainable with certain constraints in regards to budget or time,” she said. “So I had one day off [from that] and went to breakfast with [‘Star Wars’ producer and Lucasfilm head] Kathy [Kennedy], thinking it was just breakfast.”
Ridley may have thought it was just breakfast, but others already seemed to be hip to the idea it could be more. Even Ridley’s own publicist was convinced that the star and Kennedy had chatted about something months earlier, even before “Sometimes I Think About Dying” hit Sundance.
“She thought that I had already had the conversation, because she told me, ‘The way you answered something [at the festival] was quite as if something had happened,’” Ridley recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, no conversation had happened. None at all.’ And then I was halfway through filming ‘Magpie’ and then that happened, and I was like, ‘Oh.’”
Ridley said she thought about Kennedy’s offer — for Ridley to return as Rey Skywalker in a brand new film — “for an afternoon.” It was ultimately an easy yes, the actress said, because she was so taken with the story. “I was like, ‘Fuck yeah. Of course I want to do that,’” she said.
And that, of course, goes back to the same feeling that pushed her to do Lambert’s film. “That’s my thing, of feeling quite open to a lot of things. I didn’t expect [the ‘Star Wars’ return] to happen. I was like, ‘Maybe in a few years that would be a thing, perhaps,’” Ridley said. “I certainly didn’t expect it to happen. But the story for me is very worth telling and very exciting. And the thought of working with Sharmeen, whose films are fantastic, is very exciting.”
Don’t take that sense of being open to mean Ridley isn’t thinking these things through. She added, with a smile, “I mean, it makes me sound so free and easy to say, ‘I’m floating on the breeze.’ I’m not. I’m intensely not that person. In some ways, I’m floating on the breeze. And that was something that came up and I was like, ‘Yeah.’” See? Something in the air.
Oscilloscope Laboratories will release “Sometimes I Think About Dying” in theaters on Friday, January 26.
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