Glass talks to Swedish actor Rebecca Ferguson


Back to the Future – Glass talks to Swedish actor Rebecca Ferguson about her roles in Dune, Mission: Impossible and the lessons we can learn from spaghetti

REBECCA Ferguson is on location in Budapest, possibly dressed up as a sci-fi high priestess with glowing blue eyes and a three-pronged bouffant. Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s 2020 reinterpretation of David Lynch’s 1984 Frank Herbert adaptation, needs reshoots of its own, so Ferguson is talking to me over the phone in between takes from what sounds like a galaxy far, far away …

Rebecca_Ferguson, swidish actress

Rebecca Ferguson. Photograph: Nick Thompson

In accordance with “soon-to-be-released-Sci-Fi-epic” law, Dune is shrouded in secrecy. As yet there are no behind the scenes featurettes, and no leaked stills to give an insight into Villeneuve’s vision for Ferguson’s character, Lady Jessica, the age-agnostic mother of Timothée Chalamet’s cosmic hero, Paul Atreides.

So, I do the only thing you can do when imagining the new cast of a reboot and attach Ferguson’s disembodied head to the beheaded body of her Lady Jessica predecessor. Et voilà, Rebecca Ferguson: live from Budapest, possibly looking like a futuristic, blue eyed, heavily bouffanted, Lynchian high priestess.

Rebecca_Ferguson, swidish actressRebecca Ferguson. Photograph: Nick Thompson

She’s called back from a location with better phone coverage and we’re discussing cities, from the “incredible” (Budapest), to the inhabitable (London, Ferguson’s second home), via LA, which, putting it mildly, fits neither criteria in the 37-year-old’s glowing blue eyes. “The idea of moving to LA has never, ever, ever been on my agenda,” she declares.

The first thing that strikes you about Ferguson is that she’s passionate talking about practically everything. “Look, there are people I love, who love it there … and I get it. When people there look at you and smile, there is a joy,” she pauses, reliving early encounters with LA, and smiles … “And a happiness which is so lovely and endearing and light – but I can’t take it too long. I just want to smoke a cigarette and kind of blow it in someone’s face.” An apology seems on the tip of her tongue, but she decides it would ruin the joke, and merely says, “I don’t actually smoke, by the way.”

She spends much of the year in a Swedish fishing village – “a different world”, she says, possessing all the things she loves: row boats, the ocean, her friends, grilling fish and just the right amount of smiling and joy. Ferguson’s open and only slightly sardonic disdain for the folly of wanton joy suggests, to me, two things. One: that while she clearly loves Sweden, the place of her birth and homeland of her father, the English side of her mother is potent.

Rebecca_Ferguson, swidish actressRebecca Ferguson. Photograph: Nick Thompson

And two: the ability to “get in and get out”, as she puts it, remains a priority. As a teen, Ferguson was unknown to the world but famous in Sweden as the star of soap opera Nya Tider. When the show ended and she was 15, she got out. “I studied, had a beautiful child, worked in restaurants, shops, God … in hotels – I did everything.” Everything but act, other than a couple of minor, un-recurring TV roles and student films in exchange for free lunch.

“I never wanted to go to drama school, mainly because I didn’t want to be like every other Swede in film. Not to criticise Lars Norén or … Ingrid Bergman, but all I could think was ‘I don’t want to be a drama student with a fucking purple beret on my head, I don’t want to be like them’. I think, now, looking back, I was just terrified I wasn’t going to get in.”

Eleven years after Nya Tider, Ferguson starred in Swedish language film, A One-Way Trip to Antibes. “And that was the gateway for me.” Soon after she was cast as Queen Elizabeth in BBC period drama The White Queen, which was less a conveyer belt towards ‘the big time’ as it was a treadmill cranked to 11. But playing Queen Elizabeth on the BBC isn’t without its drawbacks – play the role well enough and the whole world will think you’re English.

Being called Rebecca Ferguson probably doesn’t help, and her English is too perfect to be considered a second language. Most of all, though, it’s to do with the version of Englishness that lives so prominently in Ferguson: her mother’s version. “My mother is quintessentially English,” she says. “When she came over to Sweden, words and expressions like ‘whoops-a-daisy, ‘holy moly’ and ‘kerfuffle’ still existed – it’s how she spoke and it became the natural way of speaking for me, too.”

Rebecca_Ferguson, swidish actressRebecca Ferguson. Photograph: Nick Thompson

It made Ferguson a convincing Brit, laying the groundwork for the most seamless England/Sweden switcheroo since Ferguson’s own mother integrated so adeptly into her adopted home that, in 1975, she was awarded the ultimate endorsement: appearing on the sleeve of an Abba album. And yet, beyond the whimsical lingo, Ferguson is neither stiff, stoical nor repressed – three fundamentals of Britishness.

On chat-shows, she’s gregarious and tactile and warm, and this confuses people who go by the “if it looks like a Brit and sounds like a Brit …” metric. It’s a little like painting a cat with black and white stripes and saying, “what’s wrong with that zebra and why is it such an outrageous flirt?” “I’ve seen those bloody comments! It’s so weird. It makes me think I should stop touching people altogether, which is sad because, you know … we’re here, we’re together, we’re human beings.”

Rebecca Ferguson, swedish actreess

Rebecca Ferguson. Photograph: Nick Thompson

The problem is, when your wagon’s hitched to a vehicle like Mission: Impossible, where each instalment is an event, and every instalment ends with the promise of another instalment (Episodes 7 and 8 are in the works), chat show appearances are unending. Rumour is that number seven will be filmed in space, which is a worthwhile trade for the talk-show couch merry-go-round, depending on where you stand on heights. “In space? That’s news to me, but with TC nothing surprises me.”

TC is, of course, Mr Mission Impossible: Tom Cruise. “So,” I ask her, would she do it? “I would probably say ‘fuck off’ to that. Heights are my greatest fear and I’m not doing cognitive therapy acting … then again, I never thought I would jump 40 metres off that house in Vienna (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation). That was bloody terrifying. But I did it … and got to do something that I never thought I would do, so maybe it is all just therapy?”

He’s a force of nature,” Ferguson says. “I’ve never met anyone like him.” There’s a unique fascination around Cruise, due to his personal life and the idea that the line separating him from his Mission Impossible character, Ethan Hunt, has become almost non-existent; that the actor has permanently morphed into the character, who now spends his days playing the role of the actor he once was. Which is a crazy suggestion, obviously, but Cruise is so intensely fascinating that I can’t help such ideas whirl through my head whenever I see him interviewed “out of character”.

Rebecca_Ferguson, swidish actress

Rebecca Ferguson. Photograph: Nick Thompson

I ask Ferguson what it’s like to have a relationship with someone so divisive, who invokes such strong opinions, and whether she feels strangely protective of Cruise. “I don’t think I can. I feel there’s no need to be protective of him. He’s powerful …  just the way he is. I feel like I’m supported by him all the time.” Nor does she tire of being asked about him. “He’s an interesting person to talk about, and a very interesting person to get to know.

The boyish charm, the need to always be doing fun things for everyone while making sure everyone feels safe … Sometimes we’ll start laughing and unbuckling our seatbelts just to fuck with him,” which weirdly is the only Tom Cruise anecdote I think I’ll ever need. “We’ve had some beautiful moments filming together.”

On which note, with our allotted 30 minutes long expired, I ask Ferguson what ‘together’ means to her, but she seems to have re-entered whatever foreign galaxy she started the interview in, and the question gets chewed up on its way over. She responds, “spaghetti?” which, after some clarification and deliberation, we decide to stick with, despite the kerfuffle. “Because togetherness is the opposite of isolation and segregation,” and nothing represents the importance of togetherness like than the profoundly sad sight of a lone strand of spaghetti.

by Charlie Navin-Holder

Photographer NICK THOMPSON




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