Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: New face Naomi Ackie

The actross on making her Star Wars debut as Jannah

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: New face Naomi Ackie
Credit: Andy Parsons

Where were you when you found out you got the Star Wars role?
In bed. There was a first audition and then a long wait where I kind of forgot about it. I was shooting an indie film at the time, so I was preoccupied. Then my agent called and said, “JJ [Abrams, director] ] loves your tape; he wants to see you again.” From that call to getting the part was about two weeks. It was lightning fast. I did the test the night before, so it was a fast turnaround to find out I’d got it.

Do you think the casting director saw you in Lady Macbeth?
I think they might have. The hugeness of the project means they would have been looking across the world for this character. They could be from anywhere, you know? It’s not a matter of talent – there are so many talented people who audition – it’s about the right time, the right space, the right energy.

Did that film feel like a real calling card?
Definitely. It was Florence’s [Pugh, who plays the lead] second project and my first, and making it I definitely had this lightning bolt moment. It was special.

Did you spend a lot of time with John Boyega on the set of Star Wars?
I love John! It’s weird because he’s younger than me but he feels like a big brother. He’s been in the industry for longer than I have, and I felt very protected by him.

Did he have any advice?
He said: “Enjoy this and take from it everything you can. There are so many experiences that you’re privileged to have when you’re welcomed into a family like this, that to spend time worrying about it can ruin what is a really fun day or a fun trip.” The world around me is changing but I’m still Nai from east London. My foundations are still strong and as long as people around me are helping me stay grounded, I can just enjoy it.

Are your friends going to be getting Jannah action figures for Christmas?
I have a toy of John in my room, weirdly. It’s cute when it’s someone else but what I don’t want to see on my mantelpiece is me. What if it wakes up in the middle of the night and stands over my bed.

It might send the wrong message to people who come to your house, if it’s just merch of you.
Yeah. If there are toys of me and pictures of me in my own room, I think it would be strange.

They’ll be making you into a Lego person though?
With a little Lego afro? Oh my gosh, that’d be so cool.

You play Jannah. What can you say about her?
The first time I saw myself in the mirror with the hair and everything, I can’t [describe it], maybe it’s the same as how people look at themselves on their wedding day.

Was there a scene in the script that seemed like it would be awesome to film?
There was one scene. The imagery is so strong in these films and I could see it in my head. When we did it in real life, it was exactly how I saw it in my head – and more, because I was in it. There were some mind-blowing moments. We were on soundstage, out in Jordan, doing green screen. I wish I could tell you more.

Is it true you got teary on the first day on set?
I’m an emotionally very open person, so I find it very easy to cry but it was a mixture of things - I’d never encountered that many people on set before, I was on a horse [an Orbak in the film], and there was so much attention on me. As an actor, you spend a lot of time internally and alone so when you’re suddenly having to show this stuff you’ve been working on to everyone, it’s a real release of pressure. Sometimes you’ve got to take a little second, shed a few tears – happy tears, nervous tears, whatever they are – and then get back to work.

Did you always want to be an actor?
Yeah, I decided I wanted to an actor officially when I was 11 years old. I was very intense and serious. I’ve spent years immersing myself in different areas of the work – I’ve done things from theatre directing to mentoring kids in theatre to creating my own theatre shows, and filmmaking. It can feel like you come out of nowhere but it’s been more than 15 years of working towards this.

Do you have a favourite Star Wars film?
Empire Strikes Back. "I am your father." I used to do that in the playground. When I got this part I rewatched it with my friend and it breaks so many boundaries – from having Billy Dee Williams in it, to Princess Leia, a woman, leading a rebellion. It was ahead of its time.

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