June 22, 2015 / Written by Mackenzie Wagoner
When actress Rebecca Ferguson calls from Sweden on a recent Wednesday afternoon, she’s just been for a bike ride through the golden rapeseed fields near the small fishing village she calls home. “They were towering over my head,” says the actress dreamily. “If you walk into them, you just disappear.” That she might find such solitude appealing is understandable. Next month she’ll begin a whirlwind press tour for her lead role in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, a project that will have her hitting red carpets around the globe alongside costar Tom Cruise while cementing her place as a rising international star. For the next few days at least, she’ll let her auburn hair dry in the breeze and apply coconut oil and sunscreen to her freckled skin before returning to work on the London set of her next project, Florence Foster Jenkins, where she’ll play opposite Meryl Streep. Clothing options will be relegated to “wooly jumpers and socks. It’s a complete different energy—a beautiful contrast.”
If the tall, fresh-faced 31-year old mother with self-professed vertigo doesn’t seem like a natural for the stunt-heavy Mission: Impossible franchise, her résumé tells a different story. Ferguson’s critically acclaimed turn as Queen Elizabeth in 2013’s The White Queen proved not only her chops for playing a powerful woman, but also an ability to endure her fair share of physical obstacles. “Those dresses were so heavy,” she remembers with a laugh. So, too, did her years spent dancing and teaching Argentine tango—an off-screen passion that has provided ample training in the art of on-screen combat. “There’s so much tango in [fight] choreography.” Here, Ferguson talks about overcoming her fear of heights in favor of 120-foot falls, what to eat to stay in the best shape of your life, and how to maintain a natural beauty routine while keeping aging at bay.
How did the Mission: Impossible role come about?
I met with the casting director first. I got a call while I was filming The Red Tent in Morocco, sitting on a camel named Barbie, that I would need to meet with Tom [Cruise] and Chris [McQuarrie] in London. I flew there, and 24 hours later I was back on Barbie. They came back [to Morocco] to see if I could pick up choreography and to look at how I moved.
The physical aspect of filming a blockbuster action film must be quite rigorous.
When I first arrived, they drove me straight from the airport to the gym. For the next month and half, I trained for six hours, five or six days a week. Everything was physical.
What kind of training did it take to prepare?
Pilates was the ground floor. It’s such a good way of keeping your body safe. There is so much technique in fighting—how do you hold your fist, where does the motion come from. I had to learn to run fast—so we did a lot of explosive running. When we started filming, we kept the training up as much as possible. When you see a sequence that is 30 seconds long, it has taken weeks of preparation.
Tom Cruise is famous for doing his own stunts—were you expected to do your own, too?
I did nearly all of the stunts myself. I knew I could back out at any second—they had a stunt double ready. But I think that’s what made me do it. I had to jump off a Vienna rooftop with my legs strapped around Tom Cruise on the first day! Later on in the film, there’s a 120-foot fall. It is scary. You need to get a lot of camera angles, so we had to do it ten times!
With such an active set life, how do you stay healthy? Is there an on-site nutritionist?
Yes, because much goes into the training regimen. If you start being stupid and think that you’re going to look good because you don’t eat, you won’t be able to get through it. We’re given good carbs, good protein, lots of sweet potatoes. [My food plan] was completely dependent on the scene that I was doing. If I wasn’t exercising too much, I ate more salads and vegetables. I did cut out sugar for eight months.
This isn’t the first time that you’ve undergone a major physical transformation for work. You also dyed your hair blonde for The White Queen.
It’s not a big deal for me. I’m an actress. Storytelling and transformation [is part of that], and I will take it to a point where it’s healthy.
In terms of your skin, you’re quite fair. What’s your approach?
It’s not very sunny where I live, but I do wear SPF 30. I like having a bit of a tan, but that’s not more important than my skin. I like quite pure beauty products—I will use organic coconut oil or rose oil to moisturize. When I get tired of the smells I get into the habit of using olive oil. I’ll also create my own face mask with Manuka honey. It’s incredible—and you can eat it if you’re feeling a bit ill. I make a simple peel out of coffee grounds, too, with water and a little bit of oil and coffee. I love the smell. And I like Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream on my elbows, nails, and sometimes on my lashes. It accentuates the eyes.
What else do you do for makeup?
Little enhancements. A little bit of mascara—I always end up buying Max Factor 2000 Calorie Dramatic Volume. I’m used to it: I like the brush, it doesn’t elongate the lashes too much, and I’m quite pale, so it just gives a little bit. I like my freckles, so on set I love finding a base that doesn’t look or feel like I’m wearing very much makeup but just takes away red spots. If I’m going out, I’ll put a harder hand on something—a lip or an eyeliner. I keep the colors pretty earthy. I like lilacs because I think it brings out the green in my eyes.
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