If you were a fan of the BBC One series THE WHITE QUEEN, chances are you already know that Rebecca Ferguson is a total badass. She’s really the perfect package; intelligence, charisma, elegance, beauty and a superbly zen attitude. And there’s no better place to showcase her talent than in co-writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION. In the must-see film of the summer, she plays Ilsa, an agent equal in every way to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).
We spoke with the affable actress at a recent press event where we discussed everything from the film’s classic Hollywood influences, to her character’s strengths, to what it was like doing those death-defying stunts whilst swearing and clutching on to a mega-watt superstar. As you’ll notice below, Ferguson is bold, brilliant and – swoon – just all around magical.
Were you relieved you didn’t have to run in those heels?
I did have one running scene – first day of shooting – on the rooftop. On one of our days of rehearsal and fighting, there’s a scene I do where I leap up on a guy and twist him down. And Tom said, ‘Yeah that’s great. Should we just take the shoes off?’ I said, ‘That’s why you’re good. Why would I leap up on him with shoes on? She’s a practical undercover agent.’ We made it into a thing. So when we were running on the roof, I said, ‘Shouldn’t I ask you to take my shoes off?’ And he said, ‘Yeah. That’s brilliant!’ It creates chemistry in quite a fleeing position.
I loved how Ilsa is the epitome of the “strong female character.” You remind me a lot of Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA. Is that something you and the director were conscious of when you created the character or did that not even enter your mind?
Actually, that’s something Chris very much had in his process when he wrote the script. She’s called Ilsa, which Ingrid’s called. These are all the things I really didn’t put this together in the beginning. I was more nervous about meeting Tom and doing the casting and everything. Watching the film a couple of times, you’ll find that everything in this film has a purpose. It’s filmed in a beautiful Hitchcock/ THIRD MAN kind of way – with shadows and mystique. That’s also how we created the character with her clothes. We went back to 1930’s- 40’s with the high trousers – like Katharine Hepburn and rough it up to 2015, kick-ass action shoot. But you’re right – that was very much in line.
Speaking of that, Ilsa saves Ethan plenty of times. Tell me about when you realized that was your role and, as a mother, knowing your son would see this, what were your thoughts?
That was spectacular when they told me about this. I couldn’t believe it was actually going to happen – that Ilsa was going to be saving Ethan. That’s phenomenal. But that’s what we created with these characters were very similar. When they meet each other, they meet each other’s match and fight like they’d never done anything before. This is shown by the way they move and by her saving him – and by him saving her a couple of times. A lot of people talk about romance and that there’s no kiss, etc.. But this is romance – it’s about connecting with someone.
As for my son, he gets to see the other side. He gets to see the making of it, which I find is even more fantastic. He’ll come to set and see mum strapped into something and he’ll go, ‘Can I go?’ ‘Yeah, sure. Just stay with the stunt guys. I’ll pick you up in three hours.’ I go and come back and he’s been thrown off something. He sees the work behind and I think that’s very important for him to understand we’re just telling a story.
What was your training like?
She’s a multi-talented character – there was a lot to do. I didn’t know we’d have a massive underwater sequence. That sort of appeared later, gradually. You have to train for the upcoming part rather than focus on the whole aspect of it because that’s too much. I did 6 hours a day, 6 days a week of training. That was Pilates as a ground tool, which I love. There was a lot of sprinting – Tom likes to run. Choreographed sequences. The first scene was on the Vienna rooftop so I had to overcome vertigo. So it was a lot of training with that. Holding the breath, bike, weapons training.
What kind of insurance policies were there?
We were laughing about that! So many good stories about the insurance companies and how they sort of hated everything he did. But basically, that’s what Tom does! This is his niche and he’s brilliant at it. That’s why I loved MISSION before I got this film was because there was always characters I relate to as a viewer. They have soul, charisma, vulnerability. I love that they show Simon Pegg in this film. These incredible fighting scenes and knowing that Tom is actually doing it.
Does that make you want to raise your A-game – like ‘Yes, I want to do more stunts too!’?
It’s not competitive. You can’t feel competition because its dangerous things. I could never be on a plane. Tom’s done this. I felt I was put in a position where I could actually try something out. Working on flight was such a massive deal for me.
How do you get over that? Because I can’t even.
They put you in a harness in the studio and gradually work themselves up to 75 feet, which was the drop. [I make a terrified face and cover it] See, that was my reaction in the first place; now, I’m doing interviews on the 43 floor but before I would be on the ground level. We worked up – like one meter, two meters, five meters. I had a month and a half. I knew I could say ‘no’ whenever I wanted. I had an incredible stunt double who could jump in. It’s stepping over that threshold of fear and knowing that you have everyone there to support you and you can say ‘no.’ And Tom was there – I had my legs wrapped around him. He was the one who jumped. I was the one who swore like a house on fire – every bad word there is, I said. He laughed and went, ‘Great! Does that mean you wanna go?!’
That gold dress is pretty amazing. What was it like factoring the dress into your stunt work?
Basically, here’s a woman that’s very practical. She’s going to the opera but has a purpose as well – and the dress is made for that purpose. Joanna Johnston, our costume designer would be with me during my stunt rehearsals and she’d be looking at how I move – these things we don’t think about. She’d look at how I twist my body or how I did the jump up with the guy, she’d see I’d be jumping with the left leg and that’s where the slit would need to be or she can’t move. I remember Tom and practicing sliding down the roof and we got a bit caught, so we needed to look at what fabric would make us slide. There’s so many aspects to it. It’s basically a stunt dress made for any occasion.
Silly question, but did you get to keep the sketch of yourself?
No. My mom asked about it. I have a picture of it. Maybe I should ask to have it.
You should! If you’re ever going to keep something…
It’s fab, isn’t it? I don’t know who did it but they were so brilliant at capturing every detail.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION opens on July 31 and is rated PG-13.