The most talked about scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t center on any of its four breakout stars (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, or Oscar Isaac). Instead, a frantic flashback to a traumatic moment where Young Rey was abandoned on the desert planet of Jakku lingers on the tear-streaked face of Cailey Fleming. Her pained cries of “Come back!” not only broke hearts, but also launched impassioned fan theories about Rey’s origin story and lineage. And we’ve got some insight straight from the source, not just on the parent question, but also on how J.J. Abrams‘ Mystery Box operates from the inside.
While attending the Louisiana Film Prize, Nerdist enjoyed the rare opportunity to sit down with nine-year-old Fleming, who was there to promote her starring role in the new (and awesome) sci-fi short “Memoir,” in which she plays a time-traveling warrior on a mission. The energetic ingénue is small for her age, with long brown hair bound in a fetching side-braid (as it’s worn in “Memoir”). Her eager eyes shine bright behind a pair of hip, thick plastic eyeglasses. As we spoke, with “Memoir” director Alexander Jeffrey looking on, she repeatedly erupted into giggles recalling the odd adventure that was making The Force Awakens.
(For a sense of scale, I’m 5’2″.)
Indicative of the high level of secrecy of Abrams’ productions, those auditioning for Young Rey did so with no idea what movie they were signing up for; Fleming herself remembers submitted a tape for “Untitled Feature Project.” No context clues were found in the audition sides, as no selections of the Force Awakens script was provided. Fleming was simply asked to cry.
“You had to cry for one minute straight,” the petite starlet said. “I just started crying for a minute. Maybe a minute and three seconds.” Did she know why her character was crying? “Nope. I didn’t until I got on set. Because I didn’t even know it was Star Wars.”
That’s right. Even after she booked the job, even after costume fittings, Fleming wasn’t told she’d joined one of the biggest film franchises the world has ever known. The thrilling truth came to light when the charming child star asked her director the big question during her first day on set. “They didn’t tell me,” she recounted. “I actually just asked on set, the day we got there.”
“‘J.J.,’ I said, ‘What is this film even called?’ He said, ‘Have you ever heard of Star Wars? It’s called Star Wars.‘ Which I’d heard of it. But I didn’t watch it or anything.” So, the first Star Wars movie the Mississippi-native ever saw was the one she starred in!
Like the rest of the Star Wars cast, Fleming was asked to keep her participation secret. “I told my mom,” she admitted, “because the set was right here and she was back there on a chair. So I went and told her, ‘Mom, this is Star Wars.’ The day we could tell, we posted it on Instagram.”
Soooooo excited to announce that I will be in STAR WARS The Force Awakens!!!!!!! @cesdtalent @starlaunching @ashpwilk @launchscout @daisyridley @starwarsmovies #luberroklinentertainment #cesd #launchmodeltalent #starwars #jjabrams A photo posted by Caileypresleyfleming (@caileypresleyfleming) on
So who does Young Rey think Rey’s parents are? “I don’t know,” she shrugged, before adding, “My brother knows her dad’s Luke Skywalker. I don’t know who her mom is. I have no clue.” Fleming’s 13-year-old brother and her mom have watched every Star Wars movie, and both believe Luke is Rey’s long-lost father. Fleming sides with her brother because, “He figured it out because of Darth Vader and stuff. He did a family tree and figured it out from there.” Pressed if she had any official behind-the-scenes knowledge, she shook her head no. But Fleming had plenty to share about the production of her big scene.
The flashback was not shot on one of Force Awakens‘ lush overseas locations, or even a meticulously decorated soundstage. Fleming revealed, “We shot on top of the roof of Bad Robot headquarters. So, I was like, ‘I can see everything!'” But she could also be seen. Paparazzi hungry for Star Wars spoilers soon took to the skies. “There was a helicopter taking pictures,” she recalled. “And [Abrams] had to block them out of the way because we were in the middle of shooting. So we put this big cardboard thing up so nobody could come and take pictures.”
Asked if she’d acted opposite Simon Pegg, who lent his voice to Jakku’s junkboss Unkar Plutt, a puzzled Fleming admitted, “I don’t know who that is.” (She also struggled to remember Plutt’s name, describing him as “that monster dude at the concession stand.”) Though a man in a “monster costume” was on set to grab her arm and drag her away, it wasn’t Pegg. The only main cast member Fleming got to meet was Daisy Ridley, of whom she says, “She was nice!”
Fleming spoke most fondly of Abrams, who made Star Wars a pretty sweet experience for the adorable actress. “He’s a nice director,” she said. “I told him my favorite fruit was strawberries so like every cut, he would give me strawberries.” But it wasn’t all fun and strawberries. Because of all the crying, Fleming’s big day on set took its toll. “By the time we were done, my eyes were swollen,” she laughed, throwing her hands to her cheeks for emphasis.
As a final thanks for her work in The Force Awakens, Abrams treated Fleming and her mom to their first trip to Disneyland. And that’s not all. “On the way, the guy driving us,” the child star said, “He had this plate that was just full of candy! For me and my mom to eat!”
It’s easy to see why Fleming would be happy to reprise her role as Young Rey. But asked if she’ll be in any more episodes, she shrugged, “I’m not sure. We haven’t got any information about the next one.”
Fingers crossed then. In the meantime, look for Fleming in “Memoir.” Check out its trailer below:
Image: Bespoke Works LLC