Rogue One actress Felicity Jones has said the number of lead roles for women in action films is a “a wonderful moment for cinema”.
Jones, who plays Jyn Erso in the new Star Wars spin-off, said “it means a huge amount” to be the first woman to have top billing in a Star Wars movie.
She said: “It’s absolutely time that we had female leads and as many females leading films as we do men.
“It’s a very exciting time to be an actress.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had its UK premiere in London on Tuesday and is released around the world this week.
It has received warm reviews from critics.
Jones told BBC Breakfast that with Jennifer Lawrence starring in The Hunger Games and Daisy Ridley as the joint lead in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, female action heroes are now “absolutely the norm”.
She said: “It’s a wonderful moment for cinema and there’s a great appetite for female action hero leads.
“Going back to Sigourney Weaver in Alien, there’s a great tradition of wonderful leading female heroes.”
In her case, Jyn Erso was modelled on pop star Beyonce, Jones revealed.
“Beyonce is one of those women who has enormous power but is also not a diva,” the actress said.
“She doesn’t seem precious, and so she was definitely an inspiration for Jyn.”
Jones also said she had watched Harrison Ford films, including his performances as Han Solo in Star Wars, and as Indiana Jones, in preparation.
“There’s such an irreverence that he has and a playfulness that I wanted Jyn to have too,” she said.
Jones said she identified most with Ford’s character when watching the Star Wars films when growing up, and hopes young boys – as well as girls – will now identify with Jyn.
“I hope absolutely that young boys go and see the film, and young girls see the film, and that they both identify with the film.
“The characters are in a time of war, they’re in a battle, they’re not from privileged backgrounds, they are ordinary people who are fighting for their lives and I feel like you can’t help but identify with them.”
Rogue One brings to life the story told in the opening text that scrolls across the screen at the start of 1977’s original Star Wars film, A New Hope.
“We wanted to be very true to those ’70s films – the humour, the playfulness that they had,” she said. “We literally watched them and thought, what can we do to make our film as good as those?”
Jones has made the leap to top billing in a Star Wars film after starting her career playing Emma Grundy (nee Carter) in BBC Radio 4’s long-running agricultural soap opera The Archers.
And, somewhat controversially, she believes Archers fans are even more devoted than Star Wars fans.
“Nothing beats an Archers fans for their level of devotion. Nothing,” she said.
“Because it is radio, obviously you conjure up an image of the character which is so powerful.”