Rebecca Ferguson was born in Stockholm to a Swedish father and British mother, Rosemary, who moved to Sweden from England at the age of 25. Rebecca grew up in the Vasastaden district, and attended an English-speaking school in Sweden and was raised bilingual, speaking Swedish and English. As a student, she attended the famous music school, Adolf Frederick, in Stockholm and graduated in 1999. As a 15-year-old Rebecca Ferguson had her breakthrough in the soap opera Nya Tider (New Times). She played Anna Gripenhielm, an upper class girl who falls in love with the working guy Hugo. Their love was not approved by the families. “Circumstances had put me in a casting but I wasn’t really game for it. I didn’t really enjoy it, being put on the spot and people watching me. But I was given the part and I remember my first day, I felt like a fish in water. I loved the energy and I thought, ‘Hey I could do this’. I liked the camera. Somehow I felt kind of protected. It’s a paradox, I know, if you think about how many people see you afterwards, but I never felt like people were watching me. I felt quite hidden. The role also meant that I had to grow up quick and take responsibility. I became a taxpayer and would pay rent. At the same time I got a lot of attention. As a kid, I begged for it, but I was ashamed when I got it. But when facing the camera, I felt different.” Ferguson stayed on the show for two seasons, then got her second role as guest-star Chrissy Eriksson in the Swedish-American production Ocean Ave.
After being through with her soap era, Rebecca Ferguson left Stockholm and moved to Simrishamn, a fishing village in the south of Sweden. Here she lived a fairly anonymous existence for several years. She didn’t forget about her acting dreams, but worked with other things to make a living. She met a man and had a child. “I never went to drama school. Perhaps I was afraid of not getting in. Instead I got a tudor and took private lessons. We worked together to break down my walls.” While raising her son, she only had a couple of small supporting roles in a few TV movies. Then, in 2010, at a garage sale in Simrishamn, Rebecca Ferguson met director Richard Hobert. The meeting resulted in a role in the film One Way to Antibes. In the film, which won the audience award at the European Union Film Festival 2012 in Toronto, she played against Swedish legend Sven-Bertil Taube, and the production meant that she got an agent and began meeting film people. That same year she was also nominated as a Rising Star at the Stockholm International Film Festival in Sweden. Then came the release of the highly anticipated Swedish indie VI, directed by her friend Mani Masserat.
In 2013, she was sent to England for a casting for the TV series The White Queen. Thanks to her British mother, she could speak English without an accent, but she had never done an audition abroad. As she came into the room, she noticed that it was not an ordinary casting. Both her co-star, the English actor Max Irons, and the producer were there too. The producers had not managed to find the right person for the lead role of Elizabeth, and the casting was in a hurry. “The meeting was to see if the chemistry between us was right. The most talented actors can get the roles, but if the chemistry isn’t there, it’s just not. Me and Max clicked immediately. We started filming The White Queen the following Monday.” After the meeting, an excited Rebecca Ferguson e-mailed to friends and acquaintances to ask for everything they had on the 1400s and “The War of the Roses”. The series took place during a bloody era in medieval England and the time you usually get for preparations weren’t there. “I knew practically nothing about Elizabeth when I started, but the character started to take form when I got in the heavy dresses. I also had great help from the author Philippa Gregory. I could ask her about everything.” For her portrayal of Elizabeth Woodville, Rebecca was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film.
Following the success of The White Queen, Rebecca Ferguson got multiple offers. She started filming Ridley Scott’s Showtime series The Vatican, but had to stop when the series was cancelled after the pilot episode wasn’t picked up by the network. Then, in 2014, she got another TV role, as Dinah in the bibilical story The Red Tent, the adaptation of the best-selling novel by Anita Diamant. That same year, Rebecca received her first part in a “Hollywood” picture – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Hercules. The cast also included John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes and Ian McShane. Johnson said this about his co-star: “One of the best things about Rebecca was the weight that she brought to her role, and she couldn’t have brought that without having lived a full life. It was a very unique, untangible x factor about Rebecca that knocked everybody’s socks off.”
Then came her big international break, catapulting her into the awareness of Hollywood studios, producers and directors – Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. “I was filming The Red Tent in the desert in Morocco. I had gone to London to do a casting tape for Mission, thinking, ‘This is never going to happen, never.’ But it’s always good to do casting tapes. It keeps you on your toes. And I went back to Morocco and I was on a camel called Barbie, doing a scene, and then I was told that Tom and Chris McQuarrie wanted to meet me in London the next day. So I was on a camel, and a couple of hours later I’m in London where a car picks me up and brings me to a meeting with Tom and Chris. And we talked for a couple of hours, did a few casting scenes, and we just discussed the characters, and my nerves disappeared really fast. I think because I was in a production already, I was more determined on how we could make it happen rather than thinking ‘Oh my god, I’m meeting Tom Cruise.’ We were just drinking coffee and laughing.” She, obviously, got the part of Ilsa Faust, a double agent for the British Intelligence. “Ilsa is an undercover agent, and we never really know whose side she’s on. She’s a mysterious woman – but she is Ethan Hunt’s equal, and she helps him try to bring the Syndicate down.” It’s the fifth in the series of highoctane spy films starring Tom Cruise as agent Ethan Hunt, saving the world once again, this time from the Syndicate, a near-mythical and deadly organisation of assassins and rogue spies.
A soon as she landed in London before shooting the film, Rebecca trained every day for a month and a half, five hours a day, six days a week: weapons training, holding my breath, running, choreography. “When I met Tom and Chris, knowing I was going into a Mission: Impossible film. Mission is about very cool stunts and fighting sequences, and I was extremely excited about getting to train and learn a physical role. And to watch Tom in action, how he works and trains, it’s phenomenal.” The movie became a hit worldwide, with Rebecca Ferguson earning praise from practically every critic and moviegoer for her performance in it. So much, that she will be returning for the next installment, coming in 2017.
She then chose to star in Stephen Frears’s Florence Foster Jenkins. “She got to me in a rather round-about way. As she walked into the room, I thought, She’s exactly what we need,” says the director. Set in forties New York, the film follows the true story of a likable heiress, Florence (Meryl Streep), who, enabled by her husband (Hugh Grant), deludes herself that she’s a concert-worthy singer. Ferguson plays Grant’s mistress with a sexy worldliness that jumps right off the screen. “Hugh is this mixture of wit and brilliance and grumpiness. When he’d get grumpy, I’d hit him on the arm, he’d come back at me, and then we’d laugh and go to work.” For his part, Grant appreciated their rapport. “She’s not deadly on the seriousness,” he says.
In 2016, Rebecca starred in The Girl on the Train, based on the twisty best-selling book. Ferguson plays Anna Watson, the new wife of Justin Theroux’s Tom Watson. The couple are being stalked by Tom’s ex-wife Rachel (Emily Blunt), who becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation. “What was lovely was the energy on set. I really, really love Emily. I’ve a bit of a girl crush on her.” The film, directed by Tate Taylor, opened to mixed reviews but a good start at the box office. And all three leading ladies – Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett – got great reviews for their performances. Even though their characters begin the film as mortal enemies, there was nothing but love from Blunt toward Ferguson. “Rebecca has the most beautiful, expressive face, and she’s able to reveal so much with so little. I’m thrilled she was cast as Anna because that could easily have been a derivative part-the new blonde wife in a cashmere sweater who’s the perfect mother. Rebecca brought a lot of the struggle of that life of being a stay-at-home mom.”
Next up for Rebecca is an impressive slate, consisting of five movies coming out in the next few years. These include the sci-fi Life, directed by Daniel Espinosa and co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds; the Jo Nesbo-penned thriller The Snowman, directed by (another fellow Swede) Tomas Alfredsson and also starring Michael Fassbender; musical The Greatest Showman, based on the story of American showman P.T. Barnum, founder of the circus that became the famous traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, in which she’ll portray famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind; the biopic The Lady and the Panda, about Ruth Harkness, who traveled to Tibet to search for the mythical bear that was said to live high up in the mountains; and the sixth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise.
“Much of my life feels like a coincidence, although I am not passive. I have not gone to any film school or grew up with dreams of becoming an actor. I was just going to school, thinking of what I would do. I declined to participate in the TV series Nya Tider several times. It was one thing to be the class clown, but I was not attracted to the attention. I think it’s about throwing yourself into a mess and to scare yourself. The happiness and fear all at once. I feel that I’m truly living a bit more when I work.”
Written by Rebecca Ferguson Fan, with information gathered from various interviews and appearances.