Even if you don’t know Rebecca Ferguson by name, trust us: You know her.
Though the Swedish actress has a Golden Globe nomination under her belt (for the 2014 miniseries “The White Queen”), it wasn’t until her scene-stealing role as MI6 agent Ilsa Faust in 2015’s “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” that most of the world realised she was a star in the making.
Since then Ferguson, 33, has been on a breakneck schedule: working opposite Meryl Streep in the Oscar-nominated “Florence Foster Jenkins,” starring in the adaptation of the best-selling book “The Girl on the Train,” and now sharing the screen with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds in the sci-fi thriller “Life” (opening in theatres on Friday).
It’s the latest smart choice by an actress who made her bones in the business modelling as a teenager and starring in a soap opera in Sweden.
In “Life,” Ferguson plays Dr. Miranda North, one of a handful of astronauts/scientists on the International Space Station who have discovered life on Mars and are tasked with researching it. That is, until things go wrong and that life turns on the crew.
Moviegoers have been familiar with the alien thriller for decades, and no other movie has more perfectly executed that setup than Ridley Scott’s 1979 “Alien,” with Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the hero going head-to-head with a murderous alien.
About halfway through “Life,” Ferguson’s soft-spoken Miranda seems like a mirror image of Ripley. But it turns out that’s not the case, and Ferguson admits that’s why she took the role.
“I actually turned the film down in the beginning because I thought, ‘How is this not going to be compared to the Ripley character?'” Ferguson told Business Insider, hours before presenting “Life” as the closing-night film at this year’s SXSW festival. “And the producer said, ‘Just talk to [director] Daniel [Espinosa], let him explain,’ and it was literally 10 minutes into that conversation that I was hooked. He said, ‘Take the alien out of it and look at the drama between the characters and their storyline.’ It’s a character piece set in space where we take something from its natural habitat and we try to control it and provoke it and what we’re doing is basically creating our own disaster. Which is a beautiful mirror in how we are treating ourselves on earth.”
Then Ferguson joined Reynolds, Gyllenhaal, and the rest of the cast, working with dance instructors and training with wires to imitate conditions on the International Space Station.
Everything has been so fast-paced since starring in “Rogue Nation” that she admits it’s tough to reflect on any of her success.
“The biggest shock is how quickly everything has gone and how lucky I’ve been,” Ferguson said. “I never have the break, or give myself the break, to go, ‘Wow, let’s process that.'”
But with that commitment, she gets less time with those she loves, like her 10-year-old son.
“I’m in a situation where I can fly from one set one evening to another set and start straight away,” she said. “I think for any working person no matter what field they are in, it is maintaining a structure for your family life as well. That’s very, very hard. I find it to be the better and better it goes, the harder and harder it is.”
Along with limited personal time, being more recognisable has also led to Ferguson getting questions that the major stars answer, like about the gender wage gap in Hollywood. In “Life,” she stars alongside two of the biggest male actors alive, and she has more screen time than either. Was she paid the same amount as Gyllenhaal and Reynolds?
“It’s always a sensitive topic when it comes to equal pay,” she said. “It’s something we struggle with, but I can say that I have a brilliant team around me and they are very much aware of how the politics work in the world. From my aspect right now, I’m pretty darn happy with the offers I get and how things are working out for me. And what I love is I don’t feel like a woman on set with men. I feel one amongst everyone.”
Right now Ferguson is in training mode for the sixth “Mission: Impossible” movie, which she says begins shooting in early April.
“Tom and I are in hardcore training right now,” she said, referring to Tom Cruise. “Tom never stops. I don’t know how he does it.”
She says she has no major requests in changing up the Ilsa character for the next movie.
“I’m so relaxed when it comes to my Ilsa character because [director] Chris McQuarrie did wonders, I think, with the last film,” she said. “I was so happy with the way that we shot her with her independence, with her strength, with her vulnerability, with her relation to Tom’s character, and I think we’re all on board where we’re just going to maintain her characteristic traits for this film.”
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