Pairing two of the biggest twenty-something superhero/sci-fi stars in the world – Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley and Spider-Man’s Tom Holland – it’s remarkable that these two gorgeous actors had barely met before they both found themselves on the same flight to Montreal to shoot the sci-fi drama Chaos Walking.
“We had that really awkward thing on the plane where the screen was slowly sliding up and you’re actually facing each other and you’re trying to not be super awkward,” recalls Ridley, although she modestly claims that her own fame isn’t on the same scale as her co-star Holland, or even Nick Jonas, who also features in the film.
“It’s funny because Tom is literally Spider-Man in Spider-Man, whereas I am blessed to be part of something that is about a group of people, so in that way, it feels quite different. The response to Tom and Nick is crazy, but they both deal with it very well.”
Based on the first book of Patrick Ness’ best-selling Chaos Walking YA trilogy, the film is set in the year 2257 on a distant planet known as New World. Here, the male settlers are bombarded every second of every day with each other’s thoughts, in the form of an unrelenting cacophony of sounds called ‘The Noise’. The men were driven insane because women could also hear and see their thoughts, while the women’s remained hidden. After the women were killed off, purportedly by the planet’s indigenous species, the men remain tortured by the endless barrage of their thoughts come to life.
When STACK asks Ridley what we might hear should we be privy to her own thoughts, she giggles, “Well, right now, I was just eating a really delicious mushroom soup and I didn’t have time to finish it because I came to talk to you – so now I’m thinking, ‘Oh I cannot wait till I can finish my soup!’ So, it would mainly be boring food and drink stuff like what’s my next meal?”
While admitting her own thoughts might be somewhat primitive, she certainly has no desire to hear other people’s thoughts like she does in the film, hearing Todd’s (Holland) innermost embarrassing thoughts about how he wants to kiss her.
“I’m sure some people would have really interesting thoughts, but I still don’t want to hear them,” she says.
Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow), the film boasts an all-star line-up featuring Mads Mikkelsen, David Oyelowo, Demián Bichir and Cynthia Erivo.
Ness was inspired to write Chaos Walking in 2008 after feeling incensed by noisy cellphone chatter while waiting in a cinema queue.
“I thought it was really rude and felt like we were already loud, especially if you are a sensitive soul,” says the author, who also penned best-selling novel A Monster Calls, as well as it’s film adaptation. “We now use technology and media to shout at each other and at the world. So, I thought, what if the next logical step was that you couldn’t get away from the shouting. It’s a terrifying idea because the brain is a messy place and The Noise is the living, breathing face of that mess.”
Ridley’s Viola crash-lands on New World, the sole survivor of a spacecraft scouting for the larger mothership, which was bringing a second wave of settlers to this distant planet. Her impact on the men, who haven’t seen a woman in years, is immediate and powerful, especially on young Todd, who has never laid eyes on a member of the opposite sex.
Ridley shudders at the notion of a world without women. “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 per cent 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,” says the actress, chatting over Zoom from London.
Devouring Ness’s book, Ridley immediately wrote to the author, also tasked with the job of adapting his novel for the screen.
“I was so impressed with how she understood the complexities of Viola because when I was writing the book, I was very much trying to make her as much a flawed, interesting human as the hero. And Daisy really got that,” recalls Ness.
“Like the books, our film is an amazing action-adventure, as well as a compelling look at gender politics,” Ridley adds. “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.”
Moreover, she appreciated how 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. The film reflects our current states of information overload and oversharing.”
With her performance as Viola following in the footsteps of her breakout role as Rey in Star Wars, she’s grateful to have come of age in a time of a greater push towards gender equality, as damsels in distress and shrinking violets literally shrink from our screens.
“Something that always stuck with everyone about the first episode of Star Wars is me saying, ‘Don’t take my hand’ and it was funny because it really meant so much but, at the time, I thought, ‘Oh it’s a cute line’. But of course, for the most part, all the women I know do things for themselves and don’t particularly have to rely on other people. They can, because people chose to, and I think that is wonderful to see.
“We’re really lucky in that we’re moving into a time where there is greater representation for everybody on screen in different ways,” she says.
Whether we will be seeing more of Ridley and Holland in a sequel is down to the audience, says Ness.
“There’s definitely more story to tell,” he says. “This first book is about flight, as in flight from knowledge, flight from your past. The second is about tyranny with themes of radicalisation and how you can slowly be pushed into a position that is dangerous and violent. And the third book is all about war.”
• Chaos Walking is in cinemas now