Rebecca Ferguson climbing up the Hollywood A list
It’s not that many years since Rebecca Ferguson thought about giving up her dream of an acting career.
However, a chance meeting in a market in Simrishamn, Sweden changed all that – and now she flies all around the world to work with superstars including Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman and Michael Fassbender.
This is Rebecca Ferguson
Lives: House in Simrishamn, southern Sweden. Apartment in Richmond, London.
Family: Partner and 10-year-old son, Isac. Ferguson’s dad is Swedish, her mom is English.
Roles: A One-Way Trip to Antibes, The White Queen, Hercules, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Girl on the Train, Florence Foster Jenkins
Upcoming: Life, The Snowman, The Greatest Showman
“I’m happy with life and I’ve now learned that I can also say no to new roles. And I always have my other foot in family life. My son is ten. I try not to disrupt his routines and give him as much time as I can and try to take him with me on my travels,” Ferguson says.
Home for Ferguson and her son, Isac, is Simrishamn, in the far south of Sweden. It’s a tiny coastal town in Österlen with around 6,000 inhabitants that is famous for its beautiful nature and the fantastic interaction between land and sea. Ferguson, who was born in Stockholm, says,
“My mom moved here and I often came to visit. Gradually, I felt I would be happier living here than in Stockholm. So I moved down.”
She has recently bought a house in the town, where she and her new partner spend their time constantly renovating their home.
“I buy old things that go well with the house and I’m doing building work here. I love working with my hands, but it’s difficult to find old wooden flooring. And it’s expensive.”
Like fellow Swedish actor Alicia Vikander, she has also bought a second home in London. Ferguson’s apartment is in Richmond.
“I live there when I’m filming in London. Before that, I would stay in an apartment in Notting Hill, but I’m not a city person. In Richmond, I’ve got the park and I often rent a boat and go out rowing on the Thames,” Ferguson says.
Won a role in a TV soap
But it’s in Simrishamn where her international career can be said to have started. First, though, let’s go back a few years to the teenage girl who unexpectedly won a role in the Swedish TV soap Nya tider. At the time, becoming an actor was far from her mind.
“It was just by chance that I was cast in Nya tider. I was 15, I had been a student at Adolf Fredriks Musikskola, and I could sing,” she says modestly.
Adolf Fredriks Musikskola is the most famous music school in Sweden where a long list of famous Swedish artists have trained.
Ferguson laughs and says that it was her mom who thought she should apply – and the actress herself was very surprised when she was accepted.
“My mom, who comes from England, is an exciting avant-garde person who worked with ABBA and on various TV projects, a real cultural figure. But I hadn’t grown up with theater. Nya tider was cool, it was fun and I felt very free.”
“But after that I was still not sure what I wanted to do. I had missed upper secondary school because of my TV work, so I left home, did different jobs and studied in the meantime. I ended up in the US where I picked up a role in a Swedish-American TV soap. Imagine, 17 years old, and in Miami Beach for a year, where the biggest quandary was pool or beach!”
So after that, was it obvious which career path she would choose? Not at all.
“I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did some traveling, went to Thailand and got my diving certificate and wanted to become a diving instructor. Even though I suffer from claustrophobia, I love to dive and I love the sea. But I have actually not been diving since Isac was born.”
‘I always have my other foot in family life’
Discovered by a foreign agent
Things took another turn when Ferguson met director Richard Hobert in Simrishamn in 2011. He asked if she wanted to be in his upcoming movie A One-Way Trip to Antibes. Ferguson played a cold-hearted woman who tries to con an old man. The movie was critically acclaimed, and Ferguson was spotted by a foreign agent. Not long afterwards, she did a screen test and won the leading role in the BBC series The White Queen. The result was a Golden Globe nomination and an international career that has taken off like a rocket. Not least as the female lead in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Tom Cruise himself chose her) for which she was highly praised by critics and audiences alike. If all goes well, she will probably play the role again in the next part of this successful movie franchise.
“All I know is that there is no script yet, and, of course, Tom is everywhere and works all the time. I hope it happens, though. I miss the character because she is so grounded and at the same time, cool.”
I met Ferguson for the first time just after her success with A One-Way Trip to Antibes and we have stayed in touch ever since. I visited her on the set of Hercules in Budapest when she was filming The Snowman in Oslo and we met again when Mission Impossible had its world premiere in Vienna. Despite a heavy cold, Ferguson soldiered on, trying her best to give interviews to the assembled world’s press, whose representatives justifiably felt she had stolen the movie.
Has she changed? No, I don’t think so. She is still devastatingly charming, a quality she proved during our lunch at the Gundel restaurant in Budapest, where the entire staff fell in love with her.
Ferguson has a very Swedish way of looking at her job and the consequences of it. The nude and sex scenes, of which there were plenty in The White Queen, are a case in point.
“I don’t feel especially comfortable doing sex scenes, but I am in control of the scenes I do and what I am revealing. The couple that Max Irons and I played had many children, so there were just as many battles as sex in the series. When I was interviewed in the US, there was a great deal of talk about the sex scenes. I just said ‘how do you make babies in the US? This is how we do it in Europe.’” Incidentally, two different versions of the series were made, with more sex and nudity in the American version than the one shown in England. Sex sells, that’s the way it is.
Ferguson’s work takes her around the world and she often lives out of a suitcase, but you can tell that little Simrishamn is home and that her love for 10-year-old Isac keeps her grounded. When she’s on her travels her son lives with his dad.
“I don’t want to interfere with Isac’s routines, so it won’t be boarding school for him. I see him at least every three weeks or so. If I can’t come to Simrishamn, he comes to me.”
She hasn’t acted in Sweden since A One-Way Trip to Antibes, but she has worked abroad with a couple of Swedish directors on international productions – first Tomas Alfredson, who made The Snowman (premieres in the fall 2017) and then Daniel Espinosa, whose Life opens in March.
“Working with him felt a bit like being at home. The movie was made in English with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, but Daniel and I could switch to Swedish now and again and create our own little cocoon.”
That gave her an entirely different energy.
Life is a science fiction film and Ferguson says that she never thought she would one day make a big movie in that genre.
“We’re a group of astronauts investigating a mystical object, and trying to keep track of how it will react,” she says – but she won’t say any more than that, beyond calling it “Taxi Driver in space.”
When we chat in early January, Ferguson is at home in Simrishamn before heading back to the US in a few weeks. There she’ll play the legendary Swedish singer Jenny Lind in The Greatest Showman, opposite Hugh Jackman. Even though Ferguson can sing, they’ve hired a singer she will mime to.
“All the more work for me, it should look like it’s me. But I will sing for real when we shoot. It’s an extravagant, cool musical,” she says.
Later this year, she’ll probably also do a movie to be shot in China and Tibet about a woman in the 1930s who confirmed that rumors about a mythical panda were true. Shooting was due to start in the spring, but “there is lot of movie politics involved,” Ferguson says.
“And I am supposed to be spending a couple of days doing a short film in Sweden, simply because I want to do something at home. It will also give me a chance to show Stockholm to my partner. He’s never been there.”
Text: Gunnar Rehlin
Published: March 16, 2017