July 31, 2015 / Written by Ruth La Ferla
Rebecca Ferguson eased into a nappy armchair at the Paramount screening room in Midtown Manhattan last Monday and instantly lowered her voice.
Her hushed, near-reverent tone seemed oddly suited to the otherwise deserted space, its plump seating and high-pile carpeting absorbing stray sounds and lending it the aura of a velvet-lined jewel box. Or coffin. Or chapel.
“I feel the way I do when I bring my son to church,” Ms. Ferguson said, referring to the 8-year-old waiting for her back home in southern Sweden. “We love churches.”
Awe soon gave way to a sense of mischief, though. Ms. Ferguson, 31, looking simultaneously powerful and prim in a broad-shouldered Lanvin trouser suit, didn’t think twice before kicking off her five-inch Jimmy Choo stilettos.
Those wardrobe standbys were well suited to her current merry-go-round of public appearances, each built around the multicity premiere of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” in which she stars opposite Tom Cruise as a latter-day Mata Hari. (The film opened Friday).
“I think I need to make my feet rest in between,” Ms. Ferguson said, her bilingual upbringing (her mother is British) having left her with flawless English, apart, that is, from an occasional and un-self-conscious lapse in syntax.
She was “in the moment,” as they say, never mind that moments ago, she had been subjected to a photo shoot and, before that, a relentless succession of Q. and A.’s, among them four phone interviews and two preliminary interviews for the “Today” show, on which she was to appear the next morning.
That unforgiving schedule had left her little time to collect herself, or for that matter to feed herself.
“When I walk down the red carpet,” she said of a publicity tour that had whisked her from London to Vienna, Chicago, Toronto and New York in a handful of days, “I try not to think of the next premiere or next interview. That keeps me grounded.”
She added, somewhat distractedly, “I think I had some watermelon this morning.”
She was aware, as she spoke, that hair and makeup artists stood within earshot in the adjacent lounge waiting to transform her into a cinema goddess for the “Mission” New York premiere that night.
Their ministrations would be yet another inescapable part of the star-making machinery that Paramount is gambling will turn Ms. Ferguson into an overnight international sensation, a celebrity her handlers are bent on selling as the greatest Swedish export since Ingrid Bergman.
Ms. Ferguson is quick to acknowledge her Bergman-esque knack for conveying worldliness and infinite weariness in a glance, a quality that captivated the filmmakers.
There would be nothing seamy, nor particularly steamy, about Ilsa Faust, the character whom she plays. Neither Mr. Cruise, the producer, who cast her almost instantly, nor the director Christopher McQuarrie ever used the phrase “femme fatale” to describe her, Ms. Ferguson said.
“They were introducing a character who feels maybe a bit lost,” she said of Ilsa, whose continually wavering allegiance provides much of the movie’s suspense and emotional tug. “She is strong-minded and intelligent, but she is also very vulnerable.”
The actress expressed a tougher, more elastic side in the film, performing some of her own stunts. That included rappelling from a rooftop in Vienna, her legs clasped around Mr. Cruise’s hips.
But that’s about as physical as the characters get with each other.
“When people talk about romance, they’re expecting sex and snogging and closeness,” Ms. Ferguson said. What the script offers instead is a muted chemistry founded on shared experience. Ethan Hunt, Mr. Cruise’s character, and Ilsa “can communicate without communicating,” she said. “But they maneuver a room as if they’ve trained together, as if they’ve never done anything else their whole lives.”
As she spoke, she conveyed a stillness verging on solemnity. Her hands, though, were seldom at rest, raking through her shoulder-length hair or absently fondling the velveteen cushions that cradled her.
Their softness seemed to soothe her and to trigger the faintest wisp of melancholy. “When I did ‘Mission,’ it was so intense,” Ms. Ferguson recalled. “But the realization of what you’ve gone through — I call it de-Missioning — that only comes afterward.”
There will be plenty of time for that, she knows. Ms. Ferguson said, “There’ll come a day when I’m in an old chair, and I can relive every bit of it.”
© 2015 The New York Times