A new documentary is out this week, and it features a voice you may be familiar with. The Eagle Huntress tracks the story of 13-year-old Aisholpan, the first female eagle hunter in Kazakhstan, and it boasts a narration from Star Wars' Daisy Ridley. We spoke to Ridley about how she became involved with a low-budget documentary – as well as the obligatory Star Wars questions.
How did this film first enter your radar?
I actually didn't know how it had entered. My agent sent it to me – and it's now been revealed that [executive producer] Morgan Spurlock sent it to my agent. I watched it and was totally blown away by it. I watched it that evening and was like [puts on crying voice] "oh my God, how can I be part of this?" So I was on a call with Morgan and Otto [Bell, The Eagle Huntress director] later that week, which was the night before the film's Sundance premiere. Initially I just came on as executive producer, and then they wanted to edit it a bit, to make it slightly more accessible to kids – just because there's a lot going on. Just those little...Otto describes them as "hand holds". So I was able to narrate too!
What was it like to narrate the film? A day in the recording booth must be easier than running around with lightsabers.
You know what? It was really hard! I think I speak for like five minutes altogether, maybe less – and it took a good three, four hours. I'd already done a bit of voice stuff last year [for the English redub of anime film Only Yesterday], and I always found it really knackering. I was doing it with Otto, and it's his whole thing. I'm such a tiny part of it, I really wanted to do justice to it. I was so nervous about doing a good job. It took a while.
As you say, you're also credited as an executive producer. What does that involve exactly?
Essentially, it was a way for it to reach people, I guess. I really didn't do much, and I kind of feel awful taking any credit for it. It has been great, because while I was on social media, I was able to talk about it on social media, and spread the message. That's really all I've done! But I like to feel like I'm a small part of it.
Is this something you're interested in doing in the future – using your profile to bring attention to smaller films?
It's funny because I didn't really think about it in those terms. I just thought, oh my God, what an amazing thing to be a part of. I guess I underestimated the whole profile thing. Yesterday I did this Q&A and it was the first time I thought, oh actually, this is great to be able to bring a bit more attention to it. But I don't think I go into something just because of that. If I hadn't have responded so overwhelmingly to the film, I wouldn't have felt so passionate about becoming part of it. Being part of something like this is incredible. Plus it's incredible for me. It's like everyone's a winner!
Aisholpan's father says about eagle hunting: "it's not a choice, it's like a calling in your blood." Is there something quite Jedi-like about eagle hunting?
The trend for documentaries will never go away, because everybody wants to learn about the world.
[laughs] Jedi are not real... I think everyone has a calling. God, that sounds philosophical. It just so happens that people are conditioned and social constructs tell us that we should be doing this or that, and if you go too hard for what you want to do, you can be seen as having all these other kind of negative connotations. So I think that kind of pure way that Aisholpan is, just following what she feels is her calling, there's something so incredible about that, and I think everybody can learn from that. But I think everybody has that. Truly. It just so happens that most of us don't have eagles. [laughs]
The film has an amazing message for women. What was your reaction to some of the quotes from the village elders, calling women "weaker" or "more fragile"?
Well, the editing makes it hilarious. But what we don't see after the story, is that once Aisholpan has won the competition – which she totally won on merit alone – everybody was totally open to it. People look at that lifestyle as being backwards, and really they're way forward. I was a female role in a film last year...and we're all still talking about it. It's still an ongoing conversation. Whereas the elders, literally once she won the competition, it's just not A Thing. Since then, more girls have entered the competition.We're going to be having these conversations about diversity for years to come. For them, it was a very quick change.
Is this a film you're hoping young girls will watch?
I saw someone I'd known for a few years yesterday – she's 16 now – and she was the perfect person to see something like this. But I also think everyone will respond to it. My Dad came to a screening yesterday. He's an older gentleman, who mainly likes sci-fi films, and he was blown away by it. Everyone I've spoken to loves it. The message is obviously so important, but ultimately it's a wonderful film that makes you feel great, and is life-affirming.
Are you a big fan of documentaries?
I love documentaries! They're just enduring. The trend for documentaries will never go away, because everybody wants to learn about the world. The world is awful in parts, but there's always going to be briliant documentaries about it, and there's always going to be people who want to see them. I loved Weiner – about a guy's really bad decisions. Totally opposed to The Eagle Huntress, about a little girl following her dream. There's such a wide wonderful range of things you can see within that bracket. I love them.
Have you been watching the new Planet Earth series? It shares a lot of this film's epic scenery.
I have! David Attenborough is the don of all dons.
Episode VIII is very, very exciting. I've seen bits and bobs...
We have to ask about Star Wars. What's the latest on Episode VIII? Have you watched an early cut yet or is it too soon?
I watched a sizzle reel. I went to go see Rian in the edit, and that was very...[makes excited noise] Rian sounds very happy. It's very, very exciting. Rian doesn't love showing stuff. I've seen bits and bobs, but he likes it to be done. So I think probably the first time I see it will be when it's fully done. I don't think anyone will see an early cut outside of the main editing team....
Have you heard anything about a trailer yet?
No. I could probably ask, but Rogue One is out in like a week, so I guess we'll let that come out, be amazing, let people respond to that first. One step at a time! I know there's Celebration next year. Hopefully something will be shown there? That's speculation, by the way...
Can you share one line of dialogue from the Episode VIII script?
I can give you one word. "I".
That's barely a word. That's just a letter.
"I" sums up so many things. It's powerful. It's life. I've actually given you a big spoiler!
The Eagle Huntress is in cinemas from 16 December.