For the past decade, Rebecca Ferguson has been building a body of work that is, quite literally, out of this world. She played a Machiavellian-like member of the Bene Gesserit in Denis Villeneuve’s sprawling space opera, Dune. She served as the mysterious femme fatale tormenting Hugh Jackman in the dystopian drama, Reminiscence. She’s bested and bailed out Ethan Hunt as the elusive, conflicted spy Ilsa Faust in a few Mission Impossibles. She’s been a psychic cult leader, an intergalactic arms dealer, and an astronaut in a losing battle with a homicidal extraterrestrial organism.
In her latest role, the Swedish actress plays a rebellious mechanic working to uncover a conspiracy within the closed-off ecosystem of a place simply known as “the silo” where society is sectioned off into levels. Those at the top enjoy power, wealth, and the privileges those bring while those in the down deep scrape to get by. The Apple TV+ show, which borrows its name from that futuristic, underground bunker, is based on a post-apocalyptic fiction series penned by author Hugh Howey and brought to TV courtesy of Justified’s Graham Yost. It’s yet another entry in Ferguson’s sci-fi repertoire. I mention that, asking if the “queen of sci-fi” feels like an apt title for her at the moment.
“Can we just say queen, full stop?” she jokes. “Rebecca, you are the queen.”
Fair enough. She’s been that too, in the 2013 British historical drama The White Queen on Starz. That series marks the last time Ferguson played a lead character on TV and her experience with Silo couldn’t be more different.
UPROXX chatted with the star about taking on an executive producer role this time around, why she almost said no to the show, and keeping up with Tom Cruise.
There’s so much action that builds as the series goes on. You’re running, you’re fighting, you’re scaling walls. Has Tom Cruise rubbed off on you a bit?
I know. Kind of, I guess. It’s written in the books. There needs to be a bit of running. So I do the running. I just happen to be good at running and I enjoy it. I mean, I’m not Tom Cruise.
When you were doing promo for Dune, you got asked about the “strong female character” stereotype quite a bit. You talked about analyzing what strength is, and what makes a character strong. Do you have an answer to that question?
I’ve never investigated what a strong female character is. I think I question when journalists quite lazily say that I play strong female characters because they can’t find other words to describe what it is to be a cool female.
To answer your question, on my own terms, I would say I like finding cracks and flaws and I like seeing reasons. I like seeing the aftermath of a situation unfold. There’s something that happens. We make decisions, we use our voices, and what is the repercussion of those decisions and how does it affect people around us? Accepting vulnerability and strength and flaws, it’s what makes us human and that can easily be seen as strong. But I think we throw around the word ‘strong’ because we want to make equality between men and women because that’s how we see men. And I think what I’m saying is that is not how I identify. I don’t identify as strong. I speak my mind, I listen, I learn, and I want my characters to do the same.
Your character starts as a rebel and as she moves up through the silo, she becomes something else. How did you mirror that evolution on screen?
For me, there wasn’t much to create. It was on the page and it’s what I fell in love with. It’s the fact that we have someone who has been so lost and left vulnerable, and people have died. Instead of having therapy, like a lot of us have, they don’t have the option. You sediment it, you lock it in and she becomes very good at one thing, nearly Autistically so. She has a tool and she can fix a machine, and one plus one is fucking two. Right? And then gradually she’s put in a situation where her anger forces her to look for the truth because people are lying about a cause that suits her, her love for someone.
Throughout searching for the truth of this lie comes new truths and revelations that change her perception. She has to battle her own demons and she has to become something else. And throughout that, we have her stop at junctions and think, ‘I don’t want to go forward. I want to go back to my tool room and I want to hold my tool and I want to hit something hard.’
It’s much easier.
There’s a theme that runs through this season on truth: what is the truth, who decides it, and who benefits from covering it up. Did you notice real-world parallels to that while filming?
Of course, there are. And there would be because it’s written by a thinking man. Hugh (Howey), we were having lunch just now, and he said, ‘I wrote the books because I felt like it’s a controlled society out there, and the only way for this little group of people to see it is through the eyes of a screen. And you have to start questioning the screen you’re seeing it through.’ So obviously, his entire thinking is based on the comparison to the society he feels he’s living in. That’s why science fiction and futuristic things are so interesting.
Is that why you’re drawn to the genre?
I don’t know if I go for sci-fi. It comes to me. I think maybe the world intrigues me because it’s an endless pit of imagination. Someone asked me what my favorite story was as a little child; it was Alice in Wonderland, it was Alice Through the Looking Glass, and it was The Secret Garden. It was all of these imaginative worlds where I was small, where I [didn’t mean] much in this bigger world.
How did you find not only coming back to TV but taking on executive producing a title for the first time?
It was not too bad, to be honest, because I had opinions and thoughts in the [initial] meeting with Graham. It wasn’t a given role. I didn’t say yes straight away. There were a couple of things I wasn’t sure about and I kind of left. I said no, and then they came back and said, ‘Why did you say no?’ And I said, ‘I said no, because of this and this and this.’ And they came back and changed it. I saw how communicative they were and collaborative they were. They thought that my ideas were good and they made sense and worlds kind of merged. And then they said, ‘What about being an executive producer? Would you want that?’ I kind of googled it whilst we were talking. I was like, ‘What does an executive producer do on television compared to film?’
I was like, ‘I don’t want money. I don’t want people to complain to me. I just want to be a part of the creativeness.’ I had the power to create a really good feeling set in the sense that I was free to give people space. I have the power to say, ‘Wait, what do you feel? What are you not happy with? Do you feel prepared?’ It was a wonderful feeling to give that to other people because I know I want it.
What level of the silo would Rebecca Ferguson feel most comfortable in?
There’s literally just one level and it’s the down deep. I like the gritty. I like the real, I like the relationships. I like the fact that people get pissed off and I like the feeling of a wrench throwing, and I like the guttural emotion of reality. And I feel like the further up you come, the more complacent you become. The further up you get, the more you kind of just follow the rules and the more you stick to the frames.