When it comes to summer blockbusters, studios tend to forget that women are more than just pretty girls, wearing pretty dresses, who need saving. However, that is not the case with the latest in the "Mission Impossible" franchise. In fact, in "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation," Rebecca Ferguson plays Ilsa, an undercover agent, who does some major butt-kicking while saving the life of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).
And she does it wearing a gown and high heels. How's that for girl power?
Ferguson is no stranger to playing strong characters on screen. She has also starred as the titular character on the BBC One series "The White Queen," and Dinah in the Lifetime miniseries "The Red Tent." But what you may not know about the Swedish actress is that she is also a working mom who did 70 percent of her own stunts on "Rogue Nation."
Mom.me had the chance to sit down with Ferguson for a roundtable discussion. She revealed what it was like being the only female in the cast, how she handled stunts and her thoughts on being a working mom in the entertainment industry.
Your character is such a strong female character. She reminds me a lot of Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca." Is that something you and writer-director Chris McQuarrie were conscious of when you created the character?
That is something that Chris had very much in his thought process when he wrote the script. She's called Ilsa, which Ingrid Bergman is called, and these are things I didn't really put together in the beginning. Watching this film a couple of times, everything in this film has a purpose. It's filmed in a beautiful, Hitchcock, "Third Man" kind of way with shadows, and that is also how we created her character with her clothes. We went back to the 1930s and '40s with these high trousers and shirts, sort of Katharine Hepburn-ish, and then roughed it up to a 2015 kick-ass attitude.
When did you realize your character is the opposite of the damsel in distress? You are saving Ethan Hunt over and over again, and that's amazing.
That was spectacular. When they told me about this, I couldn't actually believe that was going to happen, that Ilsa was going to save Ethan. That was phenomenal. That's what we created with the characters. Two undercover agents who are very similar, not lonely but misplaced because they travel and they need to be undercover. All of a sudden they meet each other and they are each other's match. This is shown by the way they move, and by her saving him, and by him saving her a couple of times as well. This is romance. There's no kiss, but it's beautiful. It's connecting with someone, a feeling of, "You're not lonely. You get me, and I get you."
How was it being the only female on set in the cast?
I never saw myself as the only woman on set. The first time I met Chris and Tom and they explained this role, they never used words that we can easily do in journalism and when we talk—when we say you're femme fatale, that's usually the words that separate us. They never used the words "sexuality," "woman," "female"—and they made a point that she would stand out from a crowd. They said she's an undercover agent. Ethan meets his match. She's vulnerable. She's talented. I never felt like I was on another space by myself, being a woman.
I think the challenge for me is a challenge any other working parent has. It's the wanting to be home but loving your job, and trying to make that life puzzle work.
And you are also a mother?
Yes, I have a son. He's 8 years old.
What challenges do you face as a working mother in your profession?
I think the challenge for me is a challenge any other working parent has—wanting to be home but loving your job, and trying to make that life puzzle work. We worked a lot, it was ongoing for eight months, but I think if you want to make it work you make it work. It's scheduling. It is being prepared. Having great people you work with. There were a lot of parents around in 'Mission.' People know: It's life. It's not a working machinery where the humanity part disappears. These people get it.
The press reaction to learning Tom Cruise did his own stunts was wondering about the insurance premiums and disbelief that he really does hang from a plane. What was your reaction watching Tom do most of his own stunts?
We were laughing at the stories about the insurance companies and how they hated everything he did, but that's what Tom does. This is his niche and he's brilliant at it. I think that's why I loved 'Mission' before I even got this role. There's always characters I can relate to as a viewer, and they have soul, they have charisma, they have vulnerability.
Did that make you want to raise your A-game?
It's not competitive—you can't feel competitive because it's dangerous. I could never be on a plane. Tom has done this for 19 years, I think. I felt that I was put in a position that I could actually try something out, but I also knew I could say no whenever I wanted, and I had an incredible stunt double who would jump in. It's just stepping over that threshold of fear, and knowing that you have everyone there to support you. And Tom was there. I had my legs strapped around him. He was the one who jumped. I'm the one who swore like my house on fire—every bad word there is.
Image via Alex J. Berliner/ABImages for Paramount Pictures