Billie Lourd on Becoming the Keeper of Princess Leia
TIME – I grew up with three parents: a mom, a dad and Princess Leia. I guess Princess Leia was kind of like my stepmom–technically family, but deep down I didn’t really like her. She literally and metaphorically lived on a planet I had never been to. When Leia was around, there wasn’t as much room for my mom–for Carrie. As a child, I couldn’t understand why people loved Leia as much as they did. I didn’t want to watch her movie, I didn’t want to dress up like her, I didn’t even want to talk about her. I just wanted my mom–the one who lived on Earth, not Tatooine.
I didn’t watch Star Wars until I was about 6 years old. (And I technically didn’t finish it until I was 9 or 10. I’m sorry! Don’t judge me!) My mom used to love to tell people that every time she tried to put it on, I would cover my ears and yell, “It’s too loud, Mommy! Turn it off!”–or fearfully question, “Is that lady in the TV you?” It wasn’t until middle school that I finally decided to watch it of my own accord–not because I suddenly developed a keen interest in ’70s sci-fi, but because boys started coming up to me and saying they fantasized about my mom. My mom? The lady who wore glitter makeup like it was lotion and didn’t wear a bra to support her much-support-needed DD/F’s? They couldn’t be talking about her! I had to investigate who this person was they were talking about.
So I went home and watched the movie I had forever considered too loud and finally figured out what all the fuss was about the lady in the TV. I’d wanted to hate it so I could tell her how lame she was. Like any kid, I didn’t want my mom to be “hot” or “cool”–she was my mom. I was supposed to be the “cool,” “hot” one–not her! But staring at the screen that day, I realized no one is, or ever will be, as hot or as cool as Princess F-cking Leia. (Excuse my language. She’s just that cool!)
Later that year, I went to Comic-Con with my mom. It was the first time I realized how widespread and deep people’s love for Leia was, even after so many years. It was surreal: people of all ages from all over the world were dressed up like my mom, the lady who sang me to sleep at night and held me when I was scared. Watching the amount of joy it brought to people when she hugged them or threw glitter in their faces was incredible to witness. People waited in line for hours just to meet her. People had tattoos of her. People named their children after her. People had stories of how Leia saved their lives. It was a side of my mom I had never seen before. And it was magical.
I realized then that Leia is more than just a character. She’s a feeling. She is strength. She is grace. She is wit. She is femininity at its finest. She knows what she wants, and she gets it. She doesn’t need anyone to defend her, because she defends herself. And no one could have played her like my mother. Princess Leia is Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. The two go hand in hand.
When I graduated from college, like most folks, I was trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life. I went to school planning to throw music festivals, but always had this little sliver of me that wanted to do what my parents pushed me so hard not to do–act. I was embarrassed to admit I was even slightly interested. So when my mom called me and told me they wanted me to come in to audition for Star Wars, I pretended it wasn’t a big deal–I even laughed at the concept–but inside I couldn’t think of anything that would make me happier. A couple weeks later I went in for my audition. I probably had never been more nervous in my life. I was terrified and most likely made a fool of myself, but I kind of had a great time doing it. I assumed they would never call me, but after that audition, I realized I wanted to give the whole acting thing a shot. I was definitely afraid, but as a wise woman once said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway … The confidence will follow.”
About a month later, they somehow ended up calling. And there I was, on my way to be in motherf-cking Star Wars. Whoa. Growing up, my parents treated film sets like a house full of people with the flu: they kept me away from them at all costs. So on that fateful first day driving up to Pinewood, I was like a doe-eyed child. I couldn’t tell my mom, but little sassy, sarcastic, postcollege me felt like a giddy, grateful middle schooler showing up to a fancy new school.
On that first day, my mom and I sat next to each other in the hair and makeup trailer. (Actually, she wasn’t really one for sitting, so she paced up and down and around me, occasionally reapplying her already overapplied glitter makeup and feeding Gary, her French bulldog.) Between glitterings, the hairstylist crafted what was to become General Leia’s hairstyle, then it was on to me: little Lieutenant Connix. Funnily enough, my mom had more to say about my hairstyle than her own. Even though she complained for years about how the iconic Leia buns “further widened my already wide face,” she desperately wanted me to carry on the face-widening family tradition! Some people carry on their family name, some people carry on holiday traditions–I was going to carry on the family hairstyle. So after we tested a few other space-appropriate hairstyles, we decided to embrace the weird galactic nepotism of it all and went with the mini–Leia buns. She stood in the mirror behind me and smiled like we had gotten matching tattoos. Our secret-handshake hairstyle.
On the first day of this thing I could now call “work,” I walked into the Resistance Base set for rehearsal and J.J. Abrams, the director, told me where to stand and what to do–basically just press some pretty real-looking fake buttons. But I have to say, just pressing those buttons and observing the rest of the scene was one of the most fun things I had ever done. I had no lines in the scene, but my mom kept checking on me like I was delivering a Shakespearean monologue. “Are you O.K.?” she asked. “Do you need anything?” I scoffed at her maternal questions like a child embarrassed by her mother yelling goodbye too loud in a carpool line: “Mommy, go away! I’m fine. Focus on you, not me!” In the moment, I was humiliated that my mom was moming me on my first day of work, on the Star Wars set, of all places. But now I realize she was just being protective. Sets are extremely intimidating–I was too green at the time to know that–and she assumed I would be scared as hell. But weirdly, I wasn’t. At risk of sounding insane, something about this bizarre new world made me feel right at home. I had found a place with an empty puzzle slot that perfectly matched my weird-shaped puzzle piece.
That night, on the long London-traffic-filled ride back from set, she turned to me and smiled. “Bits,” she said. “You know, most people aren’t as comfortable on sets as you were today. Especially on the f-cking Star Wars set, of all places!” (Excuse my language, but that was her language.) “This might be something you should think about doing.” At first I laughed, assuming she was kidding. But she continued to look me straight in the eye with no inkling of irony in sight. My mom was telling me I should act–my mom? The lady who spent my entire life convincing me acting was the last thing I should do? It couldn’t be true. But it was. I haven’t had many moments like this in my life–those aha moments everyone talks about. This was my first real one. My mom wanted me to be an actress. That was when I realized I had to give it a shot.
She used to sarcastically quip that she knew all along what a massive hit Star Wars would be. As with most things, she was kidding. She was absolutely and totally beyond shocked by the massive global phenomenon that was the first Star Wars trilogy. It changed her life forever. Then, when it happened again almost 40 years later, she was even more absolutely and totally beyond shocked. It changed her life yet again. But that time, it changed my life too. I thought getting to make one Star Wars movie with her was a once-in-a-lifetime thing; then they asked me to come do the next movie and I got to do my once-in-a-lifetime twice. On our second movie together, I really tried to take a step back and appreciate what I was doing. I couldn’t tell her because she’d think I was lame, but getting to watch her be Leia this time made me feel like the proud mom.
Watching the original Star Wars movies as a kid in my mom’s bed, I never imagined the lady in the TV would get older and get back in the TV. And I definitely never imagined we would end up in the TV together. But that’s where we ended up. Two little ladies in the TV together–Leia and little Lieutenant Connix.
We wrapped The Last Jedi a little less than six months before she died. I went back to L.A. to film the show I was on, and she stayed in London to film the show she was on. One of the last times we spoke on the phone, she talked about how excited she was that the next movie in the trilogy was going to be Leia’s movie. Her movie.
She used to say that in the original movies, she got to be “the only girl in an all-boys fantasy.” But with each new Star Wars movie, the all-boys fantasy started to become a boys-and-girls fantasy. She was no longer a part of a fantasy, but the fantasy herself. Leia was not just a sidekick one of the male leads had on his arm, or a damsel in distress. She was the hero herself. The princess became the general.
My mom died on Dec. 27, 2016. Two days after Christmas, four days before New Year’s and about a year before she was supposed to appear in her final Star Wars film. Losing my mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I lost my best friend. My little lady in the TV. My Momby. And I inherited this weird, intimidating thing called her legacy. Suddenly I was in charge of what would come of her books, her movies and a bunch of other overwhelming things. I was now the keeper of Leia.
About a year later, J.J. called me into his office to talk about the plans for Leia. We both agreed she was too important to be written off in the classic Star Wars introductory scroll. This last movie was supposed to be Leia’s movie, and we wanted it to remain that, as much as possible. What I hadn’t known–and what J.J. told me that day –was that there was footage of my mom that they had collected over the years that hadn’t made it into the movies, footage that J.J. told me would be enough to write an entire movie around. It was like she had left us a gift that would allow Leia’s story to be completed. I was speechless. (Anyone who knows me knows that doesn’t happen very often.)
J.J. asked me if I would want to come back as Lieutenant Connix. I knew it would be one of the most painful, difficult things I would ever do, but I said yes for her–for my mom. For Leia. For everyone Leia means so much to. For everyone Leia gives strength to. For my future kids, so someday they’ll have one more movie to watch that Mommy and Grandma were in together. So they can ask me about the lady–now ladies–in the TV and tell me to turn it down because it’s too loud.
I grew up with three parents: a mom, a dad and Princess Leia. Initially, Princess Leia was kind of like my stepmom. Now she’s my guardian angel. And I’m her keeper.