It’s a safe bet Daisy Ridley will star in one of the year’s biggest hits, with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” hitting theaters in December. But her latest film, “Ophelia,” which trades in the lightsaber for Shakespeare, will make its debut in 11 theaters, a few days before becoming available on demand.
The situation reflects what has historically been a balancing act for those featured in blockbuster franchises — choosing roles that allow them to stretch as actors, and getting people to see them separately from the iconic characters they play.
The notion that something like “Star Wars” might come with what amounts to velvet handcuffs is hardly a new one. The varied on-screen careers of its stars — first Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, and more recently Hayden Christensen — has prompted debate like a Hollywood Reporter article that asked, “Why More ‘Star Wars’ Actors Haven’t Become Stars.”
In 2014, Natalie Portman told New York magazine that her role in the second trilogy cost her opportunities at the time. Yet the movie business has evolved from the days when some actors found options limited while others, like Sean Connery, went on to considerable success after playing James Bond, and Harrison Ford proved there was life beyond Han Solo and Indiana Jones.
It’s clearly premature to draw any conclusions about the latest generation of “Star Wars” leads. Adam Driver has maintained a dizzying schedule beyond playing Kylo Ren, including recent roles in Spike Lee’s “BlackKklansman” and a Tony-nominated turn in the Broadway play “Burn This.”
Ridley co-starred in the ensemble remake of “Murder on the Orient Express,” while John Boyega’s roles have included a sequel to the action vehicle “Pacific Rim” as well as the character-driven drama “Detroit.”
“Ophelia” actually made its debut last year at the Sundance Film Festival, and would seem to possess elements that might have augured a wider release.
Naomi Watts and Clive Owen co-star, in an updated retelling of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” adapted by director Claire McCarthy and writer Semi Chellas from Lisa Klein’s book. The story not only expands upon the Ophelia character but reimagines the narrative from her perspective.
Far from a passive waif, Ridley’s Ophelia announces in voiceover at the outset, “It is high time I should tell you my story myself,” promising a different tale for those who “might think you know my story.”
“Ophelia” brings a feminist quality to the character despite the period setting. The main challenge is that the film falls in a no-man’s land in today’s movie business, residing in the realm of handsome costume dramas that might premiere on streaming services or “Masterpiece Theater.” It’s a modest movie, easily lost at a moment when Hollywood is preoccupied with a different kind of avenger.
In a 2017 interview with Glamour, Ridley conceded that the association with “Star Wars” was a consideration when choosing roles.
“My main thing now is that I want to do Rey justice,” she said. “Because after you’re offered a role like that, I don’t think you can go and play The Waitress or The Girlfriend or any of those nondescript female roles that are written like ‘The This, The That.'”
Ultimately, actors and their reps have to feel their way in navigating mega-hits and what have traditionally been deemed more demanding and fulfilling roles. It’s a pattern being witnessed with the “Game of Thrones” cast as they move on to projects large and small.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach; still, the best advice might come from one of the more quotable lines in “Hamlet” — namely, “to thine own self be true.”
“Ophelia” is available on demand on July 2.