Between two Mission: Impossible, the actress impresses in the role of Dame Jessica in the slaying Dune of Denis Villeneuve.
Dune, which finally hits theaters on September 15 (our review is here), brings together a cast of box office demigods and demigoddesses: Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Zendaya … and Rebecca Ferguson. Revealed by the historical series The White Queen and introduced to the world of blockbusters thanks to Tom Cruise who gives her the role of spy Ilsa Faust in Mission : Impossible Rogue Nation, the Swedish-born actress gropes for the big show (The Greatest Showman, Alex, the fate of a king, Men in Black International) and found in Dune a perfectly fascinating character: Dame Jessica, concubine initiated into the mysteries of an order of mystical nuns seeking to create the galactic messiah by political-genetic manipulations … A mother and a fighting woman in which Rebecca is totally involved. We met the actress, extremely cool and relaxed, through Zoom, just after Denis Villeneuve.
Denis Villeneuve: “With Dune, I tried to make the most popular film possible”
We learn thanks to Dune that if you and Oscar Isaac have a son, he looks like Timothée Chalamet …
Not bad is not it ? Having said that, I know that the role of Paul was written especially for him. Denis called me by Skype and we talked for, pfff… at least an hour and a half. From his vision of Dune. I knew the film but not too much the book, it is not my field. And there, to find oneself projected in his passion, in his 14-year-old teenage dream… When someone talks to you about that with so much passion and love, it’s hard not to fall in love with it too.
Eric Roth, the screenwriter, told us that what Denis Villeneuve liked best about Dune, it was the female characters.
Yes of course. I don’t think he put us on a pedestal. He knows full well that history cannot move forward without the Reverend Mothers of Bene Gesserit. And it can be felt in the way he frames us, the way he puts a character in the shade or in the light… It was only when I saw the finished film that I realized that he was emphasizing on my silences – we shot from different angles. Even when Jessica is silent, she has a certain presence.
It can be felt, for example, in the scene of Paul’s ordeal, with you and Charlotte Rampling …
(she takes a deep voice, and rolls the “r’s”) The Gom Jabbar… It’s a great name, isn’t it?
Yes, and there are a lot of alien names like that in the universe of Dune. It sounded nice to pronounce them …
We had to practice, believe me. You shouldn’t say “Awakis” but “Arrrrrakis”. Denis had a clear idea of how to say each word. We also had to learn an invented sign language. Oh, there are also the “Frrrremen”, especially not the “Fwemen”.
We come to the Voice: this power used by your character to give orders to others. It was all digital, right?
Yes of course. When we were shooting these kinds of scenes with the Voice, we didn’t yet know what it was going to look like. I suggested making some really loud noises. It did not work. (laughs) Fortunately, Denis just told me to speak normally, but with determination. And that he was going to tweak it all in post-production. OK, but I couldn’t resist showing them my best Donald Duck impersonation.
What were you doing, specifically? Are you screaming? Did you have a weird accent?
In fact, I was going out of my voice register. We all have a register, a “neutral” level, and as soon as you can identify it, you can exit that register at will and create a weird impression.
And you have that in your actress toolkit. You learned that on The Greatest Showman ?
No, I work with all kinds of coaches: for the voice, the languages… They give each other all kinds of different names. I went to music school when I was young, but it doesn’t teach you anything about using your voice as an actress. The control of the breath, of the position, that can only be learned with years of practice. And a good dose of curiosity.
Speaking of The Greatest Showman, would you like to remake a musical?
(silence) Yes. But it depends on the director. And the theme. I can’t take myself too seriously, I find it difficult to make a musical because it’s something very serious, like in opera you have to make your emotions sing …
Did you find the role of Lady Jessica difficult to play, or was it natural?
If I found that too natural, then that meant that I had to work a little more to precisely find the character, to define it subtly. How to say ? Take my step. It’s easy to be hired for a role just for your presence, so you walk normally, you don’t do anything more. And yet, you have to think about how you breathe, how you look, and how you walk. I had to break my mold, actually. That was hard. Find a way to be fragile, then angry, then dominate Paul to submit, then choose his own path.
Precisely, to return to the “gom jabbarrrr” scene …
What would I like to speak French. English is so polished. There is such a dose of I-don’t care (“fuckoffness”) in French.
So, in this scene, you go through a very wide range of emotions, you are bossy, angry, scared, submissive …
Yes, the shooting was very “schizophrenic”. I laugh. But yes, we had to shoot over several days. And this scene shows all sides of Jessica. Not easy to do. In short, playing Jessica was like playing a martial arts practitioner. But she is also the mother of a potential messiah, who can drag the universe into chaos and destruction. She knows it. She is strong, but she is vulnerable. This is what it is to be the mother of (she rolls the “r’s”) “kwisatz haderrrach”…
Thank you. But deep down, Jessica is afraid, she feels love for her son and she is afraid for him. This is the key, this is why there is this litany against fear that keeps coming back …
Dune was shot a lot “hard”, with real sets.
I haven’t shot films on a green screen a lot, and I tell myself so much the better: if I don’t believe what I see, how are you, the audience, going to believe it?
And compared to filming a Mission : Impossible ?
I do not compare the shootings of these two films … But Mission : Impossible, it’s physical, tense, explosive, boom, pan, quickly, run, jump, hide, jump! Besides, Tom (Cruise) and Chris (McQuarrie) bring more and more depth to the characters in the series. Denis takes us rather in an indie film feeling, with a more tightened up team.
Otherwise you don’t find that Dune has a soap opera side?
(She bursts out laughing) If that makes you happy! Well done, this is good journalism. Thank you good night !
No, but since you played in a soap opera in Sweden when you were young, I wondered if you were ready to play Lady Jessica for years …
I keep my fingers crossed to play in the sequels of Dune, but we’ll see what happens, because for the moment nothing is done … But playing like in a soap opera, the same thing all the time, all year round? Pfff … Kill me. Now. (laughs) I need some movement! Having said that, OK, TV shows are at a phenomenal level today … but compare Dune to soap opera? There, frankly, no. Soap is synonymous with style, imagery, flat lighting, cheap and easy dialogues… That’s it, soap opera.
But it’s also dramas, family plots, blood …
Sure. Okay, now I’m going to tell Denis Villeneuve that you compare Dune to soap opera.