Rebecca Ferguson on Prepping for 'Dune' and Her 'Mission: Impossible' Future
Rebecca Ferguson is on a roll.
After 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout set the franchise’s box office record with $791 million, Ferguson returns to the big screen with The Kid Who Would Be King, writer-director Joe Cornish’s long-awaited follow-up to 2011’s Attack the Block. During Fallout’s production, Ferguson’s co-star Simon Pegg actually played the role of matchmaker as he convinced his longtime friend Cornish to reach out to Ferguson.
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Ferguson was so taken by Cornish’s passion for a story he’s wanted to tell his entire life that she accepted the role of Morgana, King Arthur’s half-sister and evil enchantress, without even reading the script.
The character of Morgana is the first of three villainous characters that Ferguson will portray on the big screen over the next year. The others include Doctor Sleep’s Rose the Hat and Riza, the big bad in Men in Black: International. In response to her upcoming string of darker roles, Ferguson jokes, “I just tapped in and now it won’t stop.”
The star is currently prepping for one of her most ambitious projects yet, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, a big-budget adaptation of the classic 1965 sci-fi novel in which she’ll play Jessica, the mother to Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) and member of the powerful Bene Gesserit sect. She’ll be flying out for a costume fitting next week.
“There’s a calm empowerment to being the Bene Gesserit that she is,” Ferguson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m reading the book; I’ve read it. I have the script and Denis’ ideas so I feel like I have so much to work with already.”
In a conversation with THR, she also discussed shooting The Kid Who Would Be King and Mission: Impossible – Fallout concurrently at the same studio, her preparation for Doctor Sleep, as well as her reaction to filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie’s commitment to two more Mission: Impossible movies.
Joe Cornish recently wrote about his favorite films of 2018, one of which was Mission: Impossible – Fallout. In the process, he relayed an anecdote regarding a certain actor’s helicopter that happened to interrupt several takes of The Kid Who Would Be King. Were you aware that Ethan Hunt was haunting your next movie?
Oh, that’s quite funny. I had no idea Ethan Hunt was hunting Morgana as well. Well, actually, it doesn’t shock me because we were filming at Leavesden Studios. So, during the weekdays, I was shooting Mission: Impossible, and then during the weekends, I was shooting The Kid Who Would Be King in the same studio. So, to have Tom do some helicopter scenes while The Kid was filming sounds about right.
And you were shooting both movies before cinema’s most famous ankle break?
Yes, that is correct. They did some of the helicopter sequences in other areas besides New Zealand.
When you’re living in two markedly different characters’ headspaces at the same time, is that as challenging as it sounds?
Probably, if you had a very challenging role in that sense. I just found Morgana so much fun to do. It was only eight shooting days for me (four weekends). So, it wasn’t very hard. What was quite difficult was I’d never done four hours of prosthetics before shooting. So, it was call time at 3:30 AM, or 4 AM, to be on set for 10 hours.
Are you already anticipating your next role with elaborate prosthetics, or did you get your fill as Morgana for a while?
Conor O’Sullivan, the prosthetics supervisor who does all of the monsters, was so lovely and so knowledgeable. It was so much fun seeing all of these vines and tree roots growing on to my body. His work is phenomenal, together with makeup designer Sharon Martin. What I would not want to do again is a cast of my face where they put clay all over your head.
Was The Sword in the Stone, or the Arthurian legends in general, popular in Sweden when you were growing up, or did your mother [who’s British] introduce you to the story?
I think the Arthurian legends are something that we’ve all grown up with. In Sweden, it’s an incredible fairytale amongst others. And then, they do all the remakes so we had our own version with a little Swedish boy finding the sword in the stone. The Walt Disney version, of course, was very popular. The Kid Who Would Be King is so fun because it’s a combination of the old Arthurian tales, but also told from the aspect of a working-class boy, in a hoodie and sneakers, who actually gains the power and becomes king in 2019 London, which is wonderful.
Did you hear about the 8-year-old Swedish girl who found a 1500-year-old sword in a Swedish lake last summer? The media dubbed her the “Queen of Sweden” given the obvious King Arthur and Lady of the Lake parallels.
I did! It’s incredible. What happened with that?
She [Saga Vanecek] gave the sword and scabbard to a local museum to preserve. Their archaeologists concluded via carbon dating that it’s from the Iron Age and approximately 1500 years old. Apparently, enough money was raised to make the little girl an exact replica of the sword.
That’s incredible. That’s fun because as I was filming The White Queen in Bruges, they found Richard III’s corpse in a car park in London. How about that? [Editor’s note: In The White Queen, Ferguson played Queen Consort Elizabeth Woodville whose brother-in-law and adversary was Richard III.]
Somehow, your roles lead to relevant discoveries in each of your respective homelands.
It’s all connected.
The White Queen was also described as having “dragon eyes.” She was even accused of witchcraft. In The Kid Who Would Be King, Morgana shapeshifts into a dragon and engages in plenty of witchcraft.
It is all connected.
Compared to the start of your career, are there types of scenes or specific emotions that no longer intimidate you due to the experience you now have?
Yes, I’m very good at giving birth. Birth scenes are my speciality. I can do it in a dungeon; over a barrel; in a bath; on stairs… If I have to do it again, how do I do it now when you’ve done it all?
[Laughs] Blindfolded birth! Oh my God, that takes Bird Box to a completely new level.
You have a notable scene with Patrick Stewart [Adult Merlin]. What do you remember most about filming that day?
We do have a very notable scene, but the scene is one thing. I think the most beautiful moments are the ones in the makeup trailer when we gossip, talk and laugh. He is so charming; he is so wonderful. So, I feel very lucky, and a little bit sad, that we didn’t have more scenes to do. I have my agents on it; they’re following him around to see what we can do next. I believe they represent him as well so that’s good.
Since both characters pursue children in order to achieve greater power, did Morgana help you prepare to play Rose the Hat in Doctor Sleep?
Actually, that is very true. Yes, Morgana was helpful, however, the brutality of Rose the Hat goesfar beyond what Morgana would ever do. Morgana is more “get in, kill the kid quickly and get out” whilst Rose is more for the torture. The longer she tortures, the better...
You’re also the antagonist in Men in Black: International. Thus, January 2019 to January 2020 will introduce audiences to the dark side of Rebecca Ferguson thanks to three villainous roles in a row.
I know! What does that mean? I just tapped in and now it won’t stop. That’s when my agents come with a script and they go, “This is great.” I’ll go, “Do I kill anyone? Are they a child and do I look mean?” Otherwise, I don’t go and do it. [Laughs]
Are you able to watch your own work?
I do, sometimes, but I never watch playback. When we were shooting The White Queen, I remember Max Irons’ dad, Jeremy Irons, saying, “When you watch your playback, it’s not about criticizing what you did wrong; it’s trying to redo what you think you did well.” I think that’s a really good twist on it.
But you won’t go as far as skipping your own premiere screening?
No, I like watching the films that I’ve done, even though I’m sometimes quite uncomfortable seeing myself. I want to see everyone else. It’s respect for all those involved.
You’re known for having quite a sense of humor, especially during your press tours. Have the powers that be pitched you a comedy yet?
No, I’m not funny, and I’m not going to do a comedy. My husband, however, is the comedian in the family; i’m the drywall. That’s true, but thank you. I find comedy scary because it’s one thing to be a bit funny in an interview, and it’s also rapport between you and me. When it comes to comedy and the amount of takes you need to do, I look at Simon Pegg who’s very funny. His comments, even in Mission, are quick and witty. It’s because he happens to think of something in a scene and he just does it. The issue is then redoing it, and doing it over and over and over again in different scenes and still keeping the humor fresh. I give him applause for being able to do that.
If I have the story right, Simon Pegg also played matchmaker between you and Joe Cornish?
Simon Pegg is my pimp; that is very true [Laughs]. He knows [producer] Nira Park and Joe very well. He said, “I think my friends are going to contact you for a film. They’re really cool; you’ll like them.” Obviously, I knew Baby Driver, which was incredible and Nira had just produced it. Attack the Block, too, which is just a weird film. Then, I met Joe and fell madly in love with his love for the film. I said yes before even reading the script.
I have to ask you about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, which keeps adding to its impressive cast (e.g. Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard).
I know! I find out when it gets released. My mother called me the other day and said, “Charlotte Rampling signed on!” and I went, “Really!?”
Are you still shooting in March? Are you mostly relying on the novels to prepare versus watching other actors’ interpretations of Lady Jessica?
I would never watch anyone’s interpretation of Jessica. Obviously, I did watch David Lynch’s Dune back in the day, and Jessica comes with characteristic traits. So, you can’t mess around with it. There’s a calm empowerment to being the Bene Gesserit [a powerful and ancient order of women in the Dune universe] that she is. I’m reading the book; I’ve read it. I have the script and Denis’ ideas so I feel like I have so much to work with already. So, I’ll just rock it as it comes I think. I’m flying over next week for a costume fitting which will be really exciting.
Christopher McQuarrie shared some news recently. Even though he insists that he’s done with Mission: Impossible after each film, he’s now signed on for two more Mission movies and is shooting them back-to-back for summer releases in 2021 and 2022. Were you remotely surprised that Tom twisted his arm for more madness? Are you overwhelmed just thinking about what you’ll be asked to do next to top Rogue Nation and Fallout?
I didn’t actually know that McQ had gone out and publicly announced anything. I called him 10 minutes ago; he’s a good old friend. I’m not shocked that Chris would do it. Both Tom and Chris are very close, but I also know what kind of discussions go on. It’s a big thing to throw yourself into and accept another however long the shoot would be. There are rewards and repercussions that come with it. We’ll see what happens to Ilsa because it’s not written. We don’t really know yet what’s going to happen. All I can do is keep calling him to say, “Don’t throw me out of an airplane. Don’t lock me inside a box.” So, we’ll see.
Are you excited to venture into space, en route to the moon?
No! I’m really not excited to visit space or the moon. I’m really happy on the ground.
If Morgana was a warm-up for Rose the Hat, then Life was clearly a warm-up for Mission in space.
[Laughs] Nooo. Where the heck is it gonna go now? Is it gonna go deep? Is it gonna go far down? I’m talking submarine life. The abyss? Enter the void?
I actually have to say that I love watching them as well. They say it goes downhill after the second or third in a franchise, but they’re doing very well. They’re still really fun to watch, even if I‘m part of it.
The Kid Who Would Be King is now in theaters.
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