“I look for the simple relationship dramas of just going to the loo while somebody is brushing their teeth. It’s just a fucking shot and it’s just real. I want that,” says Swedish-born actor, Rebecca Ferguson. And although she wants a skin-and-bones realism when it comes to the films she makes, she is certainly a darling of the movie theater spectacle. In other words, Ferguson graces some of the most grand and big budget films known to earth-dwellers, that of the Mission Impossible series, where she stars alongside none other than Tom Cruise, or her effortless depth as Lady Jessica in Dune and the forthcoming Part Two, as well as helming post-apocalyptic Apple TV+ series Silo, which is slated for a second season, and these are just to name a few.
Ferguson speaks further regarding her process when it comes to choosing a project to work on, “I read a script and I like a script, and I like a character, and I like the director, and I like the ensemble.” But then she pauses, light from the street moving across her face, “But, honestly, I do get sick and tired of playing powerful women. Or being asked that question: ‘You like playing powerful women, don’t you?’ I think [to myself], ‘Ugh, no, I just like playing people with thoughts and actions and reactions.’ And I think why I’m loving these films and series (Dune, Mission Impossible, Silo), is because it’s an uncontrolled environment. I like an environment that takes you into something unsettling, taking control of you and you have to adapt.”
Ferguson has adapted, ladies and gentlemen. Considering her lengthy résumé, it’s as if she has punched a winning artistic lottery ticket. Additionally, her experience has now allowed her to be of service, which the star is grateful for and does not take for granted. “It’s quite nice,” she says, speaking of her chops offering virtues, “because we have new characters in season two of Silo, and they are nervous, and a bit younger, and it’s nice to nurture and care for them on set. Like, I don’t like flying, I’m claustrophobic, but if I fly with someone who’s terrified, I’m super cool. I think that happens on set as well. You can kind of pretend you’ve got your shit together.”
Pretending or not, Ferguson is interested in humanity, meaning, she is interested in people that care for one another, not just treating artists and the like as if they are capitalistic puzzle pieces. “I feel similar to Denis Villeneuve (the director of Dune) in the way I run a set. When I say ‘me,’ I mean that I’m the lead of it and I produce it, and I am part of the collaboration and safety—” note, Ferguson is an executive producer on Silo— “and to be a part of the bigger picture is really important for me. To feel connected because we’re people. And I do well with people who are character actors and quite self-obsessed. It’s interesting, I love drama and I think it’s fun as long as its kind, but I want a really good set. I want a happy set where everyone feels heard and seen.” She continues eloquently, “I think acting is so delicate and individual. But if you feel safe then the humanity of holding space for each other [can happen], so then you feel safe to explore. Also, when you get older...” Ferguson pauses, and a wry smile appears, “I want to have fun, man. I want to really come to work and enjoy it.”
Considering the milestone 25th anniversary issue at hand, we can’t help but ask if Ferguson would share some of her own career and personal-life highlights. She says that she likes to keep certain aspects of her personal life private, however, her work milestones seem to reflect that the lessons on set feed into the way she is off set. “Career wise, I was going to say it was quite recent, oddly enough,” Ferguson recounts, “I remember on The White Queen (a BBC One television series of which Ferguson was the lead), I was sitting with Max Irons on the thrones, I was playing the Queen of England, as a Swede, trying to elongate my vowels, and I looked out over all the people on set, and said to [Irons], ‘This is about us! We’re here! This is huge for me!’ We laughed, and it was not like, ‘I had made it.’ It was more of this feeling of: ‘I can’t believe I’m allowed to do this.’ I get back to that moment often because that moment taught me to now and then just stop and look at what I’ve done, and look at where I am because I keep on just going. It’s go and go and go, and project after project, and boom boom boom, and I don’t stop to just go, ‘Wow, I’ve done really well. I’m so lucky!’”
We pause and take in the silver lining of the artistic battle. The agony and the ecstasy therein. How the go go go can feel so good whilst simultaneously feeling overwhelming. It is wonderful to witness a star like Ferguson recounting not the money made or the awards won as milestones, but the experiences had, and the resultant upward spiritual shifts of her life. She goes on and let’s us in a bit closer, and we gladly listen: “The other time was the realization that I don’t give two fucks to say what I want on set. That is the most powerful moment for me. It was less than six years ago. I had something in my mind but I didn’t do [what I needed to do for myself]. I was terrified, and I felt really unfairly treated by an actor I was working with. I remember leaving that set thinking I have disliked this entire shoot, and I couldn’t stand that for myself. I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this if this is what it’s like,’ because I’m far too fragile, but the next film I did after that was amazing. I wonder if that was a transition for me, of being able to say: I don’t like this. Self-worth...”
And she lets that one fade away. We know what she means. Anyone with a pulse knows what she means. Self-worth and its multifaceted teachings. How self-worth allows us to be strong and steady and available. After all, what is the point of it all if we can’t help those that come after us? Ferguson laughs, “I remember saying to Tom Cruise once—and we were in a helicopter traveling to set, obviously—‘You know your life is really fucked up, buddy.’ And he was like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You travel in a helicopter to work... and I’m just going to leave it right there.’ He was quiet, and said, ‘Yeah, I know. But you know what? My experience is through you.’ And I loved that he said that. I thought, ‘I guess that’s what I feel with the younger people on set now,’ I get so much from them. One of them said [to me recently], ‘I’m really nervous,’ as it was a huge set, and I thought ‘It is a huge set,’ I walk on appreciating it and loving it, but I’m also very comfortable, but the young ones walk backwards whilst walking forward, and they look for me to help them.”
This all must be why Rebecca Ferguson continues to shine in some of the grandest roles and grandest productions. Not just because she can act her ass off or that her face is something Botticelli would weep over, but because of her remembrance of humanity. We get so much of entertainment backwards—we think it’s this parade of opening weekend decadence and red carpet façade, but it’s really this assemblage of hearts and minds aching to do good, aching to build community through magic. “We move on so quickly in life,” Ferguson says, as we nearly conclude, “We just had a moment now where I could have stayed at work for an extra hour and it would have helped them, but I also stood there going, ‘I’ve promised my daughter I would be home, and I’m actually just going to stick to that promise.’ I felt bad for leaving, as I would like to help them more, but to be able to stand there in myself and go: No, these are the moments in life that mean everything.”
The moments. The delicate balance. The balance between on-screen queen and at-home mother. The virtues collide betwixt the personal and the professional. The magic and the simple. Sometimes blurring the lines. And blurred or not, always keeping the silver-smithed love intact.
Photographed by Lee Malone
Styled by Mark Anthony Bradley
Written by Augustus Britton
Makeup: Emma Lovell at The Wall Group
Flaunt Film: Rodney Rico
Photo Assistant: Ben McManus
Location: Loft Studios