“Because I hadn’t made a film before, the whole thing was scary,” Ridley says in PEOPLE’s Star Wars special issue. “I had to get over the overwhelming fear of it. That was the hardest thing.”
After all, the 23-year-old British actress went from a 15-second character in one episode of a little-seen PBS TV show, Mr. Selfridge, to a central character in the globally anticipated Star Wars sequel.
See exclusive photos, get a first look at new characters and learn more secrets from the cast and crew of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in PEOPLE’s Star Wars collector’s edition, on newsstands Dec. 9. And for more exclusive Star Wars news, come back to PEOPLE.com every day until it hits theaters Dec. 18
Ridley has since been prominent in The Force Awakens trailers, TV spots, posters, toys and more. Fan speculation is rampant that her character, whom Ridley has described as “solitary” but “not a princess,” is connected to the Skywalker family tree. The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams has deliberately kept Rey’s full name secret until the movie’s Dec. 18 premiere.
What is known, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, is that Rey was abandoned by her family on the junkyard planet Jakku when she was only 5 years old. That’s of course much different from Ridley’s childhood.
“I actually wanted to be a zookeeper when I was 5,” she says. “I was somewhat naughty as a child. My parents found a performing-arts school, and it kept me really busy. I loved the drama classes.”
Ridley will become a galactic star when the movie premieres on Dec. 18, and she’s not afraid of that or what comes next. “I don’t have a dream role after this,” she says. “I’m just going to plod through life and see what comes my way.”