She is strong, and goddamn badass. I miss her!” Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation star Rebecca Ferguson still feels attached to her character, Ilsa Faust. In describing her breakout role in the fifth Mission film, which opened on July 31st, she says, “The film is about the team of Mission Impossible, who’s trying to eradicate MI5, it’s sort of agent versus agent, bad versus good. This time, I think, Ethan Hunt meets his match!” The challenging stunt-filled role will undoubtedly put her on the map in Hollywood, with the film topping the box office since opening. She not only holds her own against co-star Tom Cruise, but steals scenes as the ass-kicking secret agent.
Raised by creative parents, Rebecca was active in the arts from a young age. “My environment at home has always been very artistic and creative and free-spirited. I went to music school when I was young, and creativity has always been in the back pocket of my entire upbringing. It’s always been there. I’ve had the avant-garde of cultural life surrounding my home environment.” She started acting on TV in Sweden from the age of sixteen in popular soap opera, Nya tider (“New Times”). Following her soap success, she acted in several independent films, although eventually she took a step back from acting to redirect her creative energy in order to ensure she was taking on the right roles. “I did a couple of independent films, and I turned down some films that I felt would niche me more than make me flourish and grow as an actress, and I came into the world of dance.” Her immersion into dance brought her back into her body, helping her to develop skills that would ultimately become a crucial skill set for her acting career. Three years ago she crossed over from her homeland to the British market. After her first audition abroad, she landed a role on British television drama series The White Queen, which set her career in motion and earned her a Golden Globe nomination in 2014.
REBECCA FERGUSON BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO – THE #GIRLPOWER ISSUE 8
Photography and Video Direction by Iris Brosch
Rebecca has a history of playing some pretty badass characters, from Princess Ergenia in Brett Ratner’s Hercules, to Elizabeth Woodville – the consort Queen of England from 1464-1483 in the drama The White Queen, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. “The White Queen was written from a female perspective…there isn’t much information about women from back in those times; usually it’s men writing history about men. There was a bit of Sherlock Holmes action going on in order to find Elizabeth’s history. [The series] is the story of how, when Edward IV fell in love with her, the door to high society and court life opened up to her. She was then able to empower different areas where women were not previously allowed.” Unlike how we might conventionally picture women in Medieval times, Rebecca insists “They weren’t sitting at home sewing or knitting, they were actually managing battles from home, which was really incredible, and it’s so interesting to read about.”
Her role in Hercules also had Rebecca playing a period piece, although one obviously dating further back in time. In playing iconic female roles that have spanned the arc of history, Rebecca notices a few distinct common threads. “History changes, and we develop, but we are still fighting the same battles that we did back in the day. It’s just that, thank god, women have more rights than we did back then, but still, if you look at it, we’re still battling. It’s just that the stakes aren’t equally as high. The question back then is, if you’re on the throne, you’re safe, and if you’re not, you’ll be killed…[Ergenia] is a princess…a strong woman, the mother of a child, a widow. And fighting.”
Fast forward to the present day, and to her biggest and most physically challenging role to date as Ilsa Faust in Mission: Impossible, Rebecca found herself scaling entirely new heights of female badassery. “I had a wonderful stunt girl who would always be on stand by and help out if necessary. But yes, I try to do all the stunts myself.” Rebecca did not shy away from the extensive physical training required for the role. “From the day I got the part and I arrived in London, the car drove me to the gym, and from that day, for a month and a half, I trained about five hours a day, six days a week.” And that wasn’t just your average running on the treadmill, either. “It was the height training, there was choreograph training, there was BMW motorbike training, swimming underwater, holding my breath, all of it.” Her dancing background became a valuable tool for her performance in the role, giving her confidence in the physically challenging scenes. “I love using my body as a tool, and I use it a lot now. For instance, talking about Mission, in the action sequences that were created.”
Given her composure about getting literally thrown into the stunt- heavy role, which required jumping off a 120-foot tall roof, it’s hard to believe Rebecca was struggling with vertigo the whole time. “I can barely be on a ten meter trampoline,” She laughed. And while never forced to do any stunts she wasn’t comfortable with, she was determined to give it a go. “It was the first day of shooting in Vienna, and we were on the Opera House roof, and in the scene Ethan Hunt and Ilsa Faust need to escape, and of course, the best way is to jump off the roof, as one does. I remember jumping up, wrapping my legs around Tom, and I’m thinking, ‘Jesus Christ!’ But he laughed, and he looked at me and was like, ‘are you okay? Because I always have a choice to not do it. I’m not forced into anything. I remember then going, no no no no no no! And he goes like, okay, okay, and I’m like, okay, go! And he just jumps. It was just like being on a roller coaster!”
Of her character, Ilsa, Rebecca references starlets of yore as exemplars. “Just think Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Veronica Lake, Katharine Hepburn.” Perhaps Rebecca’s name will be added to that list in the future. As for role models, she says, “I’ve never really had a certain specific actor or actress that is my role model. I find people in general who I find intelligent inspiring. Whether it’s a poet, an author, an actress, who I love…” Her own experiences as a woman in the acting industry have been positive ones. She says, “I’ve been very lucky, because I have been surrounded by people who are as equally-minded as I am when it comes to gender, thank god. And also, I was raised very strong…my mother is a very strong woman, and taught me to stand my ground.”
In addition to being physically stalwart, Rebecca knows how to use her mind to keep her grounded in the acting business, a tough stunt to pull. Her wise advice? “If you love something, be yourself and believe in it. Listen to people around you who you love and trust, and yourself…when you go home and you go to bed, to know you’ve been true to your own feelings and thoughts is enough.” A sound foundation for a serious acting career. Of that career, she looks forward to playing more complex roles. “I haven’t had that kind of a guttural deep dark character yet, where [you] really need to get into it. I look forward to doing that.”
Plan to see a lot of Rebecca in the near future in a slew of complex roles. She recently wrapped the Stephen Frears film, Florence Foster Jenkins, about an opera singer who’s tone deaf, with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, and has been confirmed for the lead in Tate Taylor’s thriller The Girl on the Train, opposite actress Emily Blunt, due to release this year.
Interview and creative direction by Indira Cesarine
for The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue
Photography and video by Iris Bosch
Stylist: Deborah Latouche
Make-up by Caroline Barnes
Hair by Carlos Ferraz
Photographed at Blake’s Hotel
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015), pick up a print edition of the issue today!