More Than Just a Pretty Face
While many might still be reeling after the tragic death of Carrie Fisher, her incredible performance as Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2016) reminded us that she was much more than just a pretty face. Fisher not only portrayed Princess Leia, but she also co-wrote the script and basically filled the character with her own personal life experiences. And even then, she only got to show us parts of what she was going through in the film. Many fans still mourn her passing and consider her the queen of fan fiction.
And while Fisher’s portrayal of Leia has become iconic, it was initially an unexpected turn. Prior to portraying Leia, Fisher was best known for her role as Blanche Dubois in Broadway’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958), for which she won a Tony Award. The playwright William Inge wrote the part of the scheming, adulterous woman specifically for her.
While performing in the play, she decided to add a little bit of Leia to her persona. “I realized I was playing an incredibly nasty woman who was completely without any moral convictions, and for the first time in my life, I found myself identifying very strongly with a character,” she said in a 1983 interview.
Fisher’s performance as Leia turned her into an overnight sensation, and people began to realize that she was more than just a pretty face. When she returned for the sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), many fans were still in awe of her transformative abilities.
And when she signed on to play a fictionalized version of herself in the ABC sitcom The Practice (1988-1993), it marked a turning point in her career. In The Force Awakens, Leia is seen as a mentor and leader, while also displaying the personal qualities that made her an icon in the first place: strength, independence, and intelligence.
This is a sharp contrast to her previous sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977), where she played a character named Rhoda Morgenstern, a single Jewish mother struggling to make it on her own terms. In the early years of The Force Awakens, Kathleen Kennedy, head of Lucasfilm, said that Leia’s strength and resolve will inspire audiences.
From Hollywood to Broadway
After wrapping filming on The Force Awakens, Fisher traveled to New York City for the start of the Broadway run. While in the city, she took the time to visit some of its most iconic sites, including Ellis Island and the Broadway Theater. After touring the island, she performed on Broadway, where she was an instant hit with audiences. The following year, she returned for the sequel and then for the prequel trilogy as well. Each time, she garnered rave reviews, particularly for her performance as the cunning and calculating Leia.
Her performance in The Force Awakens is seen by some as the culmination of her entire career. That is certainly one interpretation. For many others, it was the start of a new phase of Fisher’s remarkable life. After years of portraying women who were ditsy and dim – often to the delight of audiences – she finally got to play someone as powerful and intimidating as a princess could be. And she did it with aplomb.
The same year as The Force Awakens, Fisher also portrayed the iconic Judy Garland in the musical film A Star Is Born (2018). While on the surface, this might seem like a cameo appearance, it was actually a major role by Fisher. Garland’s character is introduced at the very beginning of the film, and later in the story, she is seen as a mentor and ally to the protagonist, who is played by newcomer Lady Gaga.
Fisher’s performance as Garland is seen as a standout, particularly among older audiences. While many have praised her for her portrayal of a “true legend,” there is also criticism that she didn’t bring enough of her own personality to the role.
A Life Full of Flair
One of the most exciting aspects of Fisher’s life was how full of flair it was. Even as a child, she was an out-of-the-box thinker, and she continued to develop this skill throughout her life. In an essay for Vanity Fair, Fisher’s sister, Debbie Reynolds, remembered their childhood, when their mother would make up characters and stories to amuse the girls. As children, they would play along – and when they were asked to choose a favorite, it was inevitably Fisher who would reply, “I don’t have a favorite. I want to be able to think outside the box for every single one.”
In old age, this creative spark manifested itself in a number of ways. Not only did she continue to develop stories and characters for her novels; she also got to be creative director for a popular fashion blog. While much of what she did was in secret, she did occasionally share her work with the public. In fact, her literary agent Bob Miller revealed that she had finished a trilogy of novels by the time of her death, and was working on a stand-alone novel as well as a book of short stories.
And then there is her designing. In addition to creating costumes for the Broadway stage, Fisher designed outfits for herself as well as for other famous actors. For Halloween 2019, she wore a striking ensemble that featured a long burgundy dress with a high neckline and long, trail-blazing train, as well as a pair of white gloves. This was the quintessential ‘70s look: elegant, frilly, and fierce.
For many years, her designs were seen as the product of a brilliant mind, and it wasn’t until later that people began to see them as the result of her playful personality. It started with her costumes for The Force Awakens. While Leia is often seen as a calculating and scheming character, in one of the film’s early scenes, she wears a gorgeous gold dress with black accents and an apron made of green and burgundy fabric.
To complete this memorable look, she added gloves, boots, and a hat featuring a gold buckle. It is clear that this was a look that she was especially proud of, and it perfectly matched her character’s theme. While the film’s costume designer, Melissa Stewart, said that she based the design of Leia’s outfit on the outfits worn by women in the ‘70s, as well as those worn by Taylor Swift and Rita Ora, Fisher is a name that is practically synonymous with ‘70s fashion. And to top it all off, she accessorized the outfit with a pair of sunglasses and matching gloves.
Many have noted that these were some of the most iconic dresses of the last decade. As time went on, Fisher became more and more involved in fashion, particularly in the world of lingerie and swimwear. In 2017, she was named the most stylish woman of the year by Elle magazine. The following year, she appeared in a glamorous black gown worn by Grace Kelly at the christening of Prince Rainier III in Monaco.
And then there is her philanthropy. An active supporter of many humanitarian causes, including the American Foundation for AIDS Research, Fisher created the Carrie Fisher Foundation, which supports cancer research and AIDS awareness. In 2019, she was honored with the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Arts Philanthropy. This is a prestigious award that is given to those who have made a “significant and enduring contribution to cultural life in the United Kingdom.” In 2020, she received the Léonore-Arnault-Auermann Fellowship from the American Institute of Stress.
While many might consider Carrie Fisher’s life full of adventure and excitement, there was also struggle. She said in an interview that she found fame rather challenging, particularly after the death of her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, in 2018. “It’s a very lonely game. You don’t have anyone to share your triumphs with, and when you’re having a bad day, there aren’t a lot of people around to help you out,” she said about fame.
Fisher described her mother as “my lighthouse, my guiding star; without her I wouldn’t be here today.” It is clear that Debbie Reynolds was a force to be reckoned with in her own right. In 2018, she was ranked number five on The Huffington Post’s list of “The Top 50 Most Influential Women in Entertainment.” And back in 2011, Forbes put her at number eight on its list of the wealthiest celebrities.
Fisher came from a wealthy family and was able to rely on their support. While she was certainly busy making her name in Hollywood, she also found time to attend high school and college. And even after she became famous, she continued to work, appearing in films like The Game and Once Again, with Walt Disney Presents. While she might not have had time to spare, she certainly had the money to support her lifestyle.