With the release of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, all eyes are on actor Tom Cruise’s newest leading lady, Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen). Though Cruise has shared the screen with a several high-profile co-stars in his spy series, Ferguson, 31, certainly holds her own as she kicks ass and steals scenes as mysterious operative Ilsa Faust. (All while dressed to kill, obviously.)
Here, the Swedish actress spills about her first meeting with Cruise, facing her fear of heights, and the challenge she’d like to tackle next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First things first. You grew up in Sweden and began acting at 15, right? Did you always want to be an actress?
REBECCA FERGUSON: I was going on 16 when I started acting in a drama series in Sweden. [But] no, I went to music school. It was mostly vocals and choir singing. Circumstances had put me in a casting but I wasn’t really game for it. I didn’t really enjoy it, being put on the spot and people watching me. But I was given the part and I remember my first day, I felt like a fish in water. I loved the energy and I thought, Hey I could do this. I liked the camera. Somehow I felt kind of protected. It’s a paradox, I know, if you think about how many people see you afterwards, but I never felt like people were watching me. I felt quite hidden.
I heard that Tom had seen your work in the Starz period drama, The White Queen, and was immediately convinced you would be a good fit for the Mission part.
That’s his side of it. I never knew he actually watched The White Queen. I was actually a bit shocked, sort of like, “Did you? You watched The White Queen? Wow.” That’s exciting. It’s always appreciated when someone becomes acquainted with your previous work.
What’s your side of the story about how you were cast?
I was filming The Red Tent in the desert in Morocco. I had gone to London to do a casting tape for Mission, thinking, “This is never going to happen, never.” But it’s always good to do casting tapes. It keeps you on your toes. And I went back to Morocco and I was on a camel called Barbie, doing a scene, and then I was told that Tom and Chris McQuarrie wanted to meet me in London the next day. So I was on a camel, and a couple of hours later I’m in London where a car picks me up and brings me to a meeting with Tom and Chris. And we talked for a couple of hours, did a few casting scenes, and we just discussed the characters, and my nerves disappeared really fast. I think because I was in a production already, I was more determined on how we could make it happen rather than thinking “Oh my god, I’m meeting Tom Cruise.” We were just drinking coffee and laughing.
How would you describe your character?
Tom, Chris, and I had talked about bringing in this old starlet idea. If you look back at Veronica Lake and Ingrid Bergman, that style of the ’40s and then roughing it up with a 2015 sort of f— off attitude. I loved the mixture because she’s very mysterious this woman.
What kind of training did you have to do for the movie?
When I arrived at Heathrow for filming, the car that came to pick me up took me to the gym. From that day on, it was five hours of training, six days a week. It sounds crazy intense and it was. We had a month and a half to prep. I had Pilates to build up muscle and understand how your body works and to elongate muscles, and then very physical training for running. I had to be able to sprint half a mile [with] Tom Cruise. It’s very difficult to keep up with him. [Laughs] And then martial arts and fight choreography training.
Did you have to brush up on your swimming skills? You have a very impressive underwater sequence in Mission.
I’ve always loved water but even if you are comfortable, you have to hold your breath and act. I’ve never done anything like that before. But for me, one of the scariest things was dealing with my vertigo. I had to jump off a 120-foot tall roof for the Opera House scene. That was crazy scary. But I did it!
Was using a stunt double for that scene at the Vienna Opera House ever an option?
They were also very aware of my height problem, and I could have had stunt doubles. I didn’t have to do it, but there was a little part of me thinking “I’m in Mission and I really want to challenge myself. If I can do it, how cool is that?” That was my first day on set. Welcome to Mission! Are you ready to jump, baby?
What’s next for you?
Now, I’m watching Meryl Streep sing, because we’re doing this film called Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s a Stephen Frears film about an opera singer who’s tone deaf. I play a girlfriend of Hugh Grant’s character. Meryl is playing the opera singer. Man, she’s phenomenal because she really can sing — even if has to just be a tad off. [And next] I want to try something quirky. I want to read a script where I feel, “Uh, I can’t do this.” I want to play an awkward, Tim Burton-esque, weird creature. Something where you really have to change, even if its just body language or voice. I like to be challenged.