The Acolyte: Dafne Keen Talks Jecki, Padawan Braids, And Being ‘Jedi David Bowie’

The Acolyte

by Ben Travis |
Published on

Already, Dafne Keen has been a part of Marvel’s storytelling in Logan. She’d led the way in the BBC-HBO adaptation of beloved books His Dark Materials. And now, she’s heading to another deeply beloved universe – blasting into Star Wars as The Acolyte’s Jedi Padawan, Jecki.

Empire spoke to Keen about getting her Padawan braid, donning that alien Theelin makeup, and why her character is ‘Jedi David Bowie’ (duh).

EMPIRE: When does your journey with Star Wars begin? Were you a fan already?

DAFNE KEEN: I’m a big fan. My dad got me into it – when I was seven, he made me watch the original trilogy. Do you remember those video stores, where people used to rent movies? Like, DVDs? When those were still a thing, my dad made me watch the three of them. Obsessed is not even close. I then watched the later trilogy, the prequels. My mum didn't let me watch the third one, so I secretly watched it at my friend's house. Apparently it was too violent for a seven-year-old – which I don't agree with. I mean, someone getting his legs chopped off is too violent. What?

And set on fire, while he's screaming. It's fine for kids!

Set on fire! Screaming! So I watched that at my friend’s house, and was absolutely obsessed with it. Any stick I saw was a 'saber. Every time I had to dress, I dressed up as a Jedi. I was a big fan [laughs]. So getting this job was a full circle moment.

The Acolyte

What is that moment, then, when you get a call and it's not just Star Wars, but they want you to play a Jedi? A Jedi Padawan!

I absolutely lost my mind. I literally was skipping on the street. I was going to my friend's house, and I obviously couldn't say anything to my friend. I just spent all day smiling to myself. My friend was like, ‘What is wrong with your face? What's happening, Dafne?’ I was like, ‘Nothing, I'm just happy!’ He was like, ‘No you're not, you're giddy.’ I'd literally gotten the call five minutes before going into his house. And I had to pretend. Then I got home and I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ Literally lost it. I was so excited.

You were Leslye’s first choice for playing Jecki. Why did she think you were the perfect fit for this character?

I don't know! But I'm very grateful she thought that. I spoke to Leslye, and she’d seen me in some stuff, and she liked my acting. She was like, ‘Hey, she can do stunts, she'd get away with a ‘saber.’ And I did my best.

'I'm just really honoured that things I've been a fan of – Star Wars, Marvel, His Dark Materials – I've gotten to be a core part of'

She’d seen you in Logan and was blown away. Your big jobs so far have been Logan, His Dark Materials and now Star Wars – that's an incredible lineup!

Yeah, it's a pretty cool lineup. It's also crazy because I've barely done any jobs that haven't had fan bases before me. It’s kind of stressful – I just did a horror film that's completely original. I'm not used to doing things that people aren't like, ‘I hope they don't ruin it.’ Every job I've done, there's so many Tweets before being like, ‘Yeah, let's hope they do it well.’ But you're right – it is pretty great. I hadn't thought of it like that. All three universes are completely different. They could not be further from each other. I'm just really honoured that things that I've been a fan of – like, I was a massive Star Wars fan, I was a Marvel fan, once I read the books I was a massive Dark Materials fan – I've gotten to be a core part of... Jecki in Star Wars is sick. Laura in Logan is sick. And Lyra's pretty cool herself. So I'm really happy that I've gotten to play really fun characters.

So what can you tell us about Jecki? What's her part to play in all of this?

I can say, she's a team player. She's fun, she's really cool. She's got some sick fight scenes, so look forward to that. A lot of ‘sabers. She's a very diligent, talented Padawan. You'll just have to watch!

According to Leslye, even though Jecki’s the youngest Jedi on the show, she's almost the most mature.

She's a very wise character. She's very intelligent. She's mature beyond her years. There's a really fun dynamic between Jecki and Charlie Barnett's character Yord – he's a great friend of mine, I adore him. Jecki's much more competent than he is, the entire time. But he's a Knight, because he's older. So there's this really interesting dynamic of him being a little bit useless, and her being like, ‘You need to step your game up.’ Which was really fun to play. She's a very perceptive character – she's got a very hard shell, she's overachieving. She's actually a really sweet character at heart, and I think there's one character – that I can't really say [who it is] – who brings that softness out of her. It was really lovely to play that.

The Acolyte

You have the Padawan braid. Did you dive into what it means to be a Jedi Padawan? That comes up in various Star Wars stories.

Yeah. We had these things called Jedi meetings, where all of us Jedi would go into this room with Star Wars specialists. They'd be like, ‘Ask away.’ It was like school – we were taught the ages from which you're a Youngling, then you're a Padawan, then you're a Knight, then you're a Master, all of the levels to it. We had Force training with this woman called Alex, which would be one-on-one – you'd go in this room, and she'd teach you how to wield the Force. We had all the stunt training with the ‘sabers. And I was fortunate enough to play an alien, which means I got that much more out of the Star Wars experience – I had an hour and a half every morning with Jeremy and Rob, the makeup artists, of becoming something completely different to me. And something so Star Wars. I remember the camera test and I was like, ‘It looks like Star Wars!’ To me, it looks like the original three films. We were like, ‘This has George Lucas written all over it.’ Leslye was very clever about how much of an alien I am – because I'm not enough of an alien for you not to be able to sympathise with my face. It's all a human face. But enough for it to be an alien.

They sent you to Jedi School! Please tell me it was on the Jedi Temple set – the ultimate Star Wars experience.

They should have so done that. That would have been so fun. No, it was this really long meeting room, and the walls were plastered with Star Wars imagery. It was proper school. I had like a little clicky pen. I have a whole notebook of Star Wars studying that I have at home. I was moving flats, and my friend was like, ‘Younglings ages? What is this?’ I was like, ‘Oh, that's my Star Wars notebook – you wouldn't understand.’

Jecki is Master Sol’s Padawan. What's their dynamic like? It seems like he sets a very high bar to reach for.

It was very easy to fall into that admiration dynamic, because JJ [Lee Jung-Jae] is such a commanding presence. He's so stoic and quiet and Master-like already that we very naturally fell into me trying to be proper and perfect for him. We'd do scenes together, and I'd try to copy how he was standing. Jecki has such a huge admiration for him. She wants to be perfect for him. He's such a wonderful actor. We already knew he was talented, because we've all seen him. But he was doing scenes in a language that's not his own. He didn't know English! He was learning the lines, and he was killing it. He was doing a better job than 90% of us on set, it was insane. He just embodied a Jedi Master, so there wasn't that much work to do.

The Acolyte

Tell me about your lightsaber. It’s green – is there any design element that you particularly like?

It has a cool handle. They kept having to clean my ‘saber, because the white hand makeup kept getting all over the leather. The shot that you see in the trailer where we all pull out our sabers – I'm 5’2”, okay, and the ‘sabers are all the same size. Mine kept hitting the ground, because I'm too short! They had to make me a custom ‘saber for someone who's 5’2”, they’re supposed to hit your waist, and mine would hit my chest. It was so long and ridiculous! They were like, ‘No, we need to give you a short ‘saber, because this looks silly.’ It was like I was skiing.

That's amazing – almost like the little Yoda ‘saber, it's smaller than everybody else's.

Exactly! I almost had a Yoda ‘saber. I was like, ‘Wow, this is how short I am – I have to get a custom ‘saber.’

Right back to Logan, you’ve been involved in visceral action scenes. What was the coolest move that you learned for The Acolyte?

I learned to do a bunch of ‘flowers’ – the flourishes when you're fighting, the little spins and stuff. I love doing them now. Any time I have anything in my hand, I'm doing it. My friends are all so pissed off at me – they're like, ‘We get it, you're in Star Wars. Stop it!’ I'll have a water bottle and I'll be doing it. ‘You need to stop, it's really annoying now.’ I'm a freak when it comes to stunt training. I’ll train for three hours, and go back to my hotel room and train for another two on my own, just to make sure it looks good. Because I am a Star Wars fan, and a good Jedi fight with a ‘saber, you can't top. I want that iconic Darth Maul fight, or the first fight with Luke in the originals. I wanted people to get the same excitement that I get when I see a good ‘saber fight and I'm like, 'Oh, this is so cool. This is so Star Wars.' So I was really obsessed with making her look really cool. I don't really know how else to say it. It was interesting coming from a world like Logan that's so scrappy and messy and wild. I got into this, and on day one I was very used to screaming, like, ‘Agh!’ They were like, ‘No. This is like meditating. You need to be completely silent.’ It's a completely different approach.

Jecki’s design is very David Bowie. Was that just a visual reference? Was Bowie a way into the character?

For sure – ‘Starman’ was, like, my tune while we were filming. I had it in my trailer all the time. As soon as we put that makeup on, I went to Leslye and I was like, ‘This is David Bowie.’ And she was like, ‘You're absolutely right.’ We had the running joke that it was like Jedi David Bowie. Jedi Bowie, like, duh! It's almost funky ‘70s, ‘80s-looking, which is really cool. I was so excited by the braid – as a Star Wars fan, to get a Padawan braid is, like, the sickest thing ever. I was so excited when they put it in. ‘Oh my god, I have my own Padawan braid!’ It was really cool. There were a ton of Bowie songs on set, all the time.

What was your favourite set on The Acolyte?

I think the ship. We had a space ship, and that was really fun. A little Jedi ship. It was fun. I kept messing around with the buttons. They were like, ‘Can you just stop?’ And I was like, ‘I can't, I'm sorry! You've put me in here now.’

The Acolyte streams on Disney+ from 5 June

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