Daisy Ridley dove into uncharted waters for biopic “Young Woman and the Sea —” literally and figuratively

Daisy Ridley dove into uncharted waters for biopic “Young Woman and the Sea —” literally and figuratively

With help from Olympic medalist Siobhan-Marie O'Connor, the "Star Wars" alum swapped Jedi training for swim training to play Gertrude Ederle in Joachim Rønning's biopic.

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A week or two into filming the Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle biopic Young Woman and the Sea, the emotions hit Daisy Ridley like a wave.

“I went back to my tent and I just cried so much. I wasn’t sad, just exhausted,” Ridley, 32, tells Entertainment Weekly. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, my body!’”

Ridley had been living in the body of Ederle, the American swimmer and Olympic champion who became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in August 1926, for nearly four months by then, training rigorously alongside retired competitive swimmer and Olympic medalist Siobhan-Marie O'Connor for the film (in theaters May 31).

The drill that day wasn’t grueling, per se: Doggy paddling, otherwise simple for the regular swimmer, but Ridley was costumed in 1920s women’s swimwear — made of wool and modest in nature since it was unseemly for women to show too much skin during that time — which made movement in the water feel punishing, as though she were being “dragged back by a tiny child.” “You wonder how anyone used to swim properly in those heavy things,” she says.

<p>Disney</p> Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle in 'Young Woman and the Sea'


Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle in 'Young Woman and the Sea'

Impractical swimwear doesn’t scratch the surface when it comes to the obstacles Ederle faced. Adapted from Glenn Stout’s 2009 book and directed by Joachim Rønning, Young Woman and the Sea tells the true story of how Ederle overcame adversity and a patriarchal society to become the first woman to swim the 21 miles from France to England, at just 20 years old. A fatal trek for some and achieved only by five men before her, Ederle, who also survived measles as a child, not only completed it — battling frigid waters and jellyfish stings — but broke the record by nearly two hours.

To play an Olympic swimmer, Ridley trained like one. “Swimming fitness is unlike any other fitness,” O’Connor says. “You can't replicate it in running or cycling. You have to be in the water doing those miles, putting in that time.” Ridley did a mix of speed (rapid) and endurance (slow and steady) swim training, building up strength through aerobic and threshold fitness plans. “We were doing 2k per session at least three, four times a week in the lead-up to production.” O’Connor adds.

Though she already knew her way around a pool, “There was so much to fit into training that it did feel like learning to swim again,” Ridley says.

Practice occurred in pools in Bulgaria and the actual open sea. Yep, no green screens or CGI here: Ridley’s ocean scenes were filmed in the open waters — specifically, the Black Sea, where she spent the final two weeks of production stifling panic. “Oftentimes the buildup is worse than the thing,” she says of the mental preparation. “I've done a number of physical things in films that I'm not entirely comfortable with, but you just have to do it.”

<p>Elena Nenkova/Disney</p> Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle in 'Young Woman and the Sea'

Elena Nenkova/Disney

Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle in 'Young Woman and the Sea'

“There were safety boats around me so I always felt safe,” Ridley adds, “but it was cold and each time you went in, it was an overwhelming [feeling] of the current and having to keep up with the boat that we were filming with and the boat that was filming me. It was so much to take in. Building up to those last two weeks was me going, ‘I don't know if I can do this.’”

But she was very much capable (it helps to be coached by an actual Olympic champion), which still stuns her to this day. “I remember my final swim, Joachim said, ‘Swim as far as you can.’ I popped up and looked around and was like, ‘Oh my God. I did all of this work.' It's amazing learning a physical skill [where] you have markers of improvement."

Now, Ridley & Co. hope Ederle’s story makes a splash with audiences. “What's amazing about this story is many people don’t know what Trudy did,” Ridley says. “Bringing attention to her — and to her sister and what her family must have gone through in order to facilitate supporting their child at that time — is wonderful.” For O’Connor, also a pioneer in her own right as the first British female to win a medal in the 200m individual medley at the 2016 Rio Olympics, “it’s fantastic to see these stories being told. Women like Trudy, they were trailblazers.”

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