“I Want to Shock Myself” – Actress Rebecca Ferguson’s Movie Star Mission, Chosen and Accepted
The first thing you notice upon meeting Rebecca Ferguson, the Golden Globe-nominated actress currently starring with Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, is how exquisitely poised she is—perfect hair, eyes, skin, posture and near-melodious greeting. But as soon as I inform her that I am her last interview of the day, she’s suddenly almost sporty, advising me to ‘kick my feet up,’ ‘relax,’ and to ‘sit anywhere I like.’ What follows is an off-script, free-flowing, non-sequiturial chat piqued by the throaty, good-time laugh of the European actress turned America movie star, primed for a huge career yet content to live anonymously in a small, Swedish fishing village.
We sat on the sofa of a tony Trump hotel suite in downtown Chicago late on a Friday afternoon, her closing the first leg of the North American press tour for a huge studio picture and me, well, the final stop. Ferguson, who scored that Globe nod for her stunning work as Queen Elizabeth in the 2013 BBC miniseries The White Queen before starring in 2013’s Hercules, has by all accounts a promising career ahead.
Up through the ranks of a musical education and stint on a Swedish soap opera where she found her passion for acting, the actress is fiercely committed to her passion for craft—she trained six hours a day for six weeks to deliver Mission Impossible’s stunts—but is, at heart, a well-balanced mom happy with a modicum of limelight.
You’re playing a very mysterious character in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. So secretive, in fact, that I haven’t even been shown the film yet.
(Laughs) She is a mysterious person. She is undercover and her history is not so much of interest, but it’s more her thought process going forward.
So you don’t look backwards when constructing?
I do, but I won’t let anyone else in on it. And then also if anyone should complain about the dialect, I would say ‘She’s a traveling woman,’ and that helps any situation! (laughs)
What is your career like at the moment? You are in both highbrow fare as well as Hollywood action, and you also got a Golden Globe nomination for The White Queen. Are you thinking consciously about mapping it out strategically? There are huge opportunities now for you, and the business is also quite tough for women.
Yes, it is really, really tough. I think for me, first of all, I don’t see the film industry as centralized anywhere, and that makes it really easy. In general, America will distribute most films of course because there’s money and brilliant filmmakers, but I’m quite good where I am because a lot is done in Europe—England, Sweden, Budapest. So I don’t know if I have a plan! I just love how I can travel around. I think my plan in general is I want to shock myself with my choices, and to not know where I’m going. I wish for the scripts to come in and to sit down and go, ‘This is just impossible.’ I can’t use that word anymore! But to go through it and sort of go, “Let’s do it. Let’s try it.”
When did you know you wanted to be an actress? I know you studied music in high school.
I went to music school in high school, but I was asked to cast for this soap opera in Sweden. The idea of having attention when not asking for it was scary.
You must have that in public today.
I’m handling it fine, and people are great. I can walk down the street without people recognizing me.
Not for much longer!
Yes. I’m taking it sort of a day at time.
I interrupted you.
No, it’s fine! Where was I?
Music, soap opera…
Oh yes! Then I went to a casting and tried it, and got the role. So I could either continue school and choose a subject, perhaps philosophy, or work in television. I tried it, and I loved it! From that moment I loved being in front of a camera, not taking any responsibility for a character’s actions. I never thought how many people would be watching it, but it was more the ambiance of set. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a set.
How wonderful is it? I love it! It could be pumped up or odd or strange. There are so many different people involved.
Then you break it down and go on to another one.
Yes completely different. It’s always, ‘God I hope it’s over!’ or ‘I don’t want it to end!’
What is the best part about your job?
Meeting people and culture and clients and… Clients? What was I thinking? Clients? (laughs) Telling stories. I get to tell stories in the most incredible milieus and environments with incredible people. I study people.
What was it like to get a Golden Globe nomination? Or are things like that meaningless, as some say?
No! Nothing like that is meaningless. I think it’s odd when people say it isn’t meaningful. I don’t strive for a statue or a medallion. I strive for leaving something and feeling proud. And that’s hard enough. My own expectations for myself are very high, and I love the feeling of going, ‘I did it! I managed.’ And for someone to actually say, ‘We think so too, and we are going to nominate you with these brilliant actresses’ – that is pretty spectacular!
What were you doing when you found out?
I was standing there rolling meatballs thinking, ‘What have they done? They are not thinking correct. This is the weirdest thing ever.’
Is that a surreal moment?
Yes, very surreal! There I was in my little fishing village in Sweden, rolling meatballs, and my agent texted and said, ‘Janet McTeer is nominated for supporting actress for The White Queen.’ I was jumping and screaming. Then she said, ‘Your category hasn’t been brought up yet.’ It hadn’t even crossed my mind. And then my heart just skipped out! I think a neighbor happened to walk outside the door. I opened the door and said, ‘I need to hug someone!’ And I had meat on my hands!
Speaking of Janet McTeer, have you seen Tumbleweeds?
No, I haven’t!
She got an Oscar nomination and is terrific. She is on the road with her daughter and an unorthodox mother.
I did see her in Albert Nobbs. She was fantastic in that one. I need to see Tumbleweeds! She is absolutely phenomenal. I have been blessed with having her as my mentor and drama buddy. And then of course Dwayne Johnson, who is like a teddy bear, and Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep.
Tom Cruise has to be one of the hardest working, most professional actors out there. Every single performance he really delivers it.
He is completely phenomenal, but I’m not going to cast aside Meryl Streep for that.
Best that there is. I was talking about her the other day, and remembering the first time I had seen her in the 70s. At that time, she was this cool, blonde person, in Still of the Night, The Seduction of Joe Tynan and Kramer vs. Kramer.
And over four decades she has given us diametrically opposed characters every single time out. No traces between them.
Nothing. And that would be my goal. I want to look back at my career and say exactly that sentence.
Don’t they say careers are made of what you turn down?
Someone said you are as smart as the choices you make.
Same thing I guess.
Yes, I think so.
So you live in a small town?
Yes, a fishing village.
Do you fish?
I like fishing like I like playing cards.
I’m going fishing this weekend in Lake Superior, up by Canada.
God I’d love to do that! I love traveling to Canada! I feel like I am always in and out though!
I interrupted you again. I’m so sorry.
No, that’s fine! I like it! (laughs) It’s more me having get back on track. I love this. Fishing is like when you play cards and pick up your hand and you don’t know what you are going to get. I love it. I’d probably be a gambling woman. Thank God I’m not.
You know what’s heartbreaking? When you are reeling it in and it falls off the hook or the line breaks.
My comparison would be when you actually catch it. I get so excited, and then once the fish is on the hook I am absolutely terrified! That is when my motherly instinct comes in and I think, ‘What is happening?’
Do you throw them back?
Tell the truth!
I scream and jump and turn my back and leave that for someone else to do. I think after I had my son I thought, ‘If I can’t kill it, I’m not going to fish it.’
How old is he?
That’s a great age.
It’s such a great.
They have a great vocabulary and you don’t have to entertain them every second, plus you can have a little time away sometimes.
But I’m longing to get home.
What should we end on?
I wish I had something fantastic. Not ‘What’s next?’ We’ve done the stunts. I don’t know. What do you think?
I’ve got one. Do you still feel the same excitement when the camera is on that you felt the first time on that soap?
Oh, good one! Yes, I do, even more now because I know what to expect, which is like expecting the unexpected. You have no idea what is going to happen. For a film like this, you have someone like Tom Cruise who is actually a producer and has energy (snaps fingers) that is so intoxicating; you have someone like Simon Pegg who is funny and warm and embracing; you have a quick weird, incredibly sexy man called…
Alec Baldwin! And Ving Rhames! And then you have Sean Harris, who is a scary, intense character actor and you just don’t know what he is going to do next. You just don’t know what is going to happen.