8:00am PT by Rebecca Ford, Borys Kit
'Star Wars' Star Power: Will 'Force Awakens' Actors Become Harrison Fords or Hayden Christensens?
A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
That was the reaction of Hollywood executives and movie fans on April 29, 2014, when The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Daisy Ridley, a British actress with just a handful of London television credits to her name, would play a lead role in the movie that became Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Both Ridley, now 23, and John Boyega, also 23, and best known for starring in 2011's Attack the Block, were unknowns when they nabbed the gig of a lifetime. The newcomers were joined by Adam Driver, 32, and Oscar Isaac, 36, who, while known for the HBO series Girls and such indie films as Inside Llewyn Davis, respectively, still were not exactly household names.
While booking the highly coveted roles got both Ridley and Boyega top-tier representation, joining a massive franchise doesn't necessarily guarantee a massive Hollywood career. In fact, the Star Wars series has a decidedly mixed track record of creating movie stars. Harrison Ford arguably is the only franchise standout who catapulted to megastardom. Carrie Fisher has enjoyed a solid career as an actor and writer but she was never A-List, and original hero Mark Hamill struggled after 1983's Return of the Jedi. Jake Lloyd, young Anakin Skywalker in 1999's The Phantom Menace, left Hollywood and, in June, was arrested after leading police on a wild car chase in Charleston, South Carolina. Hayden Christensen, who was heralded as a major star when he nabbed the role of the older Anakin in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, never lived up to the billing and now works mostly in smaller films. His last movie was the Christian drama 90 Minutes in Heaven.
Other prequel stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson all were established when they took on the franchise, and Portman has been vocal that appearing in Star Wars didn't do much for her career.
In fact, in some ways such a major film platform might actually hinder the new stars from being cast in other studio projects. While some agency sources say the leads, Boyega and Ridley, are not contractually restricted from joining any other franchises, Star Wars will be their main commitment for the coming years, and another studio may not want to play second fiddle.
However, they've gone from unknowns to marquee stars overnight, which, with that sort of name recognition, will allow them to pick and choose their indie films. Those types of projects can be interspersed between Star Wars films (and the worldwide promotional tours that come with them).
"Star Wars is a great basis for opportunity. I'm looking to treat it with respect and make great choices after that," Boyega tells THR.
After booking Star Wars, Boyega moved in June from CAA to WME, and left Management 360. He has expressed interest in booking indies, starting out with a key role in James Ponsoldt's The Circle (starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks), which filmed in September.
"There definitely is a strategy," Boyega tells THR. "It's been fun doing the big stuff, and then coming back to doing independents. I'm exploring different avenues of great narratives."
Isaac, who's repped by UTA and Inspire Entertainment, has continued on the same path of appearing in indie movies, although he finds himself in high demand by studios. Case in point: He booked the villain role in X-Men: Apocalypse, which he shot this summer. Isaac is also riding a wave of awards buzz for his starring role in Ex Machina, Alex Garland's sci-fi thriller in which he plays an enigmatic inventor.
"Oscar is already an accomplished actor and a multipronged talent," says one producer of studio fare. "He'll be working for years to come."
Driver has also built a name for himself in indies with films like Noah Baumbach's While We're Young and Frances Ha, plus his memorable role as Lena Dunham's intense boyfriend on Girls. The Gersh-repped actor's upcoming films — Martin Scorsese's Silence and Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special — were both booked before he got the Star Wars villain gig, but sources close to him say he plans to keep working on director-driven projects in lieu of high-profile studio jobs.
The person who may have the most on the line is Ridley, who is seen by some as having similarities to Keira Knightley (who pivoted between prestige indies and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for years). She has been the most quiet since wrapping Force Awakens, but that only extends to new roles. Behind the scenes, much has transpired. Ridley only had a British agent (Jonathan Arun) when she booked Star Wars. She signed with UTA in August. Two months later, she jumped to CAA and veteran agent Hylda Queally, who represents some of Hollywood's biggest leading actresses including Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet and Jessica Chastain.
The actress has fielded offers and has been considered for a couple of movies — Rothchild at Voltage and EuropaCorp's gun rights drama Miss Sloane — but she is unlikely to book anything before Episode VIII, which shoots in early 2016. She has, however, said she'll be heading to school in the new year.
Some think it would be wise for Ridley to have booked a role prior to the opening of Force Awakens, even if it's just to have something else to talk about during the long, worldwide press tour. But others point out that Queally is in no rush to push Ridley into anything, looking instead to partner her with the right filmmaker, as is her modus operandi.
The new stars probably could get some career advice from Ford, who used Star Wars and Indiana Jones to craft one of the longest and most diverse careers in modern Hollywood (along the way securing an Oscar nomination for 1985's Witness). When Ford was asked at the press junket in Los Angeles if he'd given the young stars any advice he said: "I am not going to tell them how to navigate this very personal space. I am not going tell them how to figure a career that they have chosen for themselves. It is decidedly individual."