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Interview: Rebecca Ferguson on "Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation"

by Peter Sobczynski

Actress Rebecca Ferguson talks about her breakthrough performance in the quiet new indie film "Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation"

Unless you happened to catch her on television in such projects as "The White Queen" (where she played Queen Elizabeth), "The Red Tent" or the Dwayne Johnson version of "Hercules," it is entirely possible that you may go into "Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation" with absolutely no idea of who leading lady Rebecca Ferguson is. However, that will almost certainly not be the case after seeing it because as Ilsa Faust, an undercover British intelligence officer who may or may not be helping super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) to destroy an insidious underground terrorist organization that may or may not exist, she more than holds her own against one of the biggest movie stars in the world and lends a new spark of excitement into a series that has until now never quite managed to create any especially memorable female roles.

Recently, the Swedish-born Ferguson came to Chicago to promote the film and got on the phone to talk to me about the experience. It should be noted that since I had not yet had an opportunity to see the finished film before this interview, she had a certain advantage over me in regards to the conversation but having seen the film, I can assure you that having an advantage over others is something that comes quite naturally to her.

What was it that first got you interested in acting--was there a particular performer or film that spurred your interest?

I was never raised to grow up thinking that I would become an actress--I was never really goal-oriented in that way. I was asked to cast for a television series and they turned me down. I was asked to do it one more time and then I got it. On the first day of shooting, I was standing in front of the camera and that is when I felt "This is it." I loved the dynamic. I loved going onto sets. I loved going into hair and makeup. I loved not having to take responsibility for the character's choices. I was sold from that day.

How did your casting in "Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation" come about?

I did a tape submission when I was in London and then went back to Morocco to film "The Red Tent," which I had been shooting. I remember being on my camel, called Bobby, when they came up and said "Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie would like to meet you in London but we need you back in 24 hours." I flew to London, pretty nervous walking in, and there was Tom Cruise and Christopher. We drank coffee and talked and played around with a couple of scenes and chatted about camels and deserts and then I left. I think it was a couple of days later that they flew over a stunt team to see how I moved and if I had some kind of physicality to me and if they could train me. A week later, I got the part.

During this casting process, how much detail do they go into with you regarding the physical nature of the part in terms of the stunts?

Well, when I got the part, I knew I was throwing myself into a "Mission" film and I was a "Mission" geek even before I did the casting for this film. You know that something will be coming up but you don't quite know what it is to expect. "Expect the unexpected" was sort of my motto for the next eight months. Right after I got the part, the first day, they took me to the gym and we just started training. I had never done martial arts or anything like this before. We just gradually trained for whatever was needed for the sequences that were coming up. I had vertigo and I had to train to get over that fear because the first day of shooting was rappelling down the opera house in Vienna.

What can you say about Ilsa Faust, the character that you portray in the film, without incurring the wrath of the higher-ups at Paramount?

I play Ilsa Faust and she is an undercover agent. You don't really know where she is from--she is sort of rootless. She is sort of the female version of Ethan Hunt--he meets his match, as does she. In one of the first sequences, which has been shown in the trailer, they kick ass together even though they have never met.

The previous projects, such as "The White Queen" and "The Red Tent," were things that were based either on historical events or novels that you could use to help develop your approach to the character. When playing an original character like Ilsa that doesn't have those things to fall back on, is that easier for you to do your work as an actress when you are able to develop that character by yourself?

I kind of want to say yes because there are still expectations of living up to being a very good actor in a group dynamic that is always creative. The "Mission" team is there and you have to fill the spot and that is a challenge per se, whether or not that is a girl who has ever existed or not. Playing Elizabeth, the challenge was to try to find facts about her--and thankfully, I had Phillippa Gregory, who was like a female Sherlock Holmes when it came to those facts. It is hard to try to interpret someone else--to try to embody and articulate someone who has already existed. That is harder, of course.

For a role like this, do you still do some type of research in order to get into the character's head?

The research I did was actually the training research. If you are playing an undercover agent, you need to know how to fight and there are specific moves for everything--for how you hit and duck--that any martial arts expert would see. Of course, I would want to do my best in that and I had an incredible stunt team that trained me for it. There is also weapons training to learn how to handle guns and water training. There are so many different aspects for a film like this and there is research in all the training that I was doing.

b]What was the trickiest stunt for you to pull off in the film?

I would say that the hardest one, mentally, was doing the jump on the first day of filming. We trained a lot for that--I was put in a harness and we worked ourselves up to the height that was needed to drop, which was 75 feet. I think I always knew that I had a stunt double on set who could do the jump whenever I felt nervous and it was because I knew that she was there that I was able to step over that threshold of fear to do it. After doing it for the eighth time, it became intoxicating and I wanted to do more and more and more.

Does it ever become a sort of competition among the actors when it comes to doing their own stunts--at least until Tom Cruise comes in and dangles off of an airplane?

I think they said "Well, at the beginning, we are going to be on a plane" and I remember saying "I think you will be on a plane and I will be drinking coffee and reading a magazine." I don't think that "competition" is quite the word to use because the stunts are pretty goddamn dangerous and you don't want to compete in that area. It is more supporting each other and having each others back and pushing each other forward while making them feel safe and happy to do whatever is needed. I am happy I was able to deliver what I was able to deliver in the film.

What has it been like for you to go out and promote a film like this with such a enormous built-in awareness factor among audiences throughout the entire world?

It is overwhelming. It is overwhelming because it is such a big franchise and there are expectations. I know that if I wasn't in this film, I would be expecting a new and incredible "Mission: Impossible" because I find them to be really good and I would want the next one to be even better. Now I am a part of it and that means your heart races a bit more. My hopes that people love it are extremely high and I can't do more than tell people how much I enjoyed doing it and I look forward to seeing it for myself.

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3822
originally posted: 07/30/15 23:23:29
last updated: 07/31/15 09:34:54
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