Rebecca Ferguson on That Time She Leapt From a 120-Foot Building With Tom Cruise

The Swiss star of Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation talks performing risky stunts alongside the world's most famous movie star.

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation.

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation.

Rebecca Ferguson, the lovely 31-year-old Swiss ingénue who stars alongside Tom Cruise in the latest Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation, doesn’t scare easily. On her first full day on set, in location in Vienna, she had to jump off a large building while being wrapped around Mr. Cruise, facing her fear of heights, and her fear of accidentally crushing the ribcage of the most famous movie star in the world. The espionage thriller finds her jetting around on a high-octane motorcycle in Morocco, holding her breath underwater for minutes at a time in order to save Cruise’s character from an underwater centrifugal chamber, and beating the living hell out of a bunch of turned-agent thugs all over the world. In Philly to promote the film, she happily plopped down on a couch in a posh suite at the Ritz Carlton, and held forth on the responsibility she felt toward the franchise, doing her own stunt work while suffering from vertigo, and what it was like to work with the aforementioned Mr. Cruise.

So this is a huge franchise, with a pretty long legacy. Was there any extra pressure, being part of something so well-received in the past?
I love action movies, and I’ve been lucky doing horse-and-sandals movies [Hercules], playing the Queen of England [“The White Queen” for the BBC], and the Countess of Italy [“The Vatican”], and “The Red Tent,” I called my agent and said ‘Do you think we could kick some ass soon?’ And they said they’d check in to it. Mission was casting, but I figured that wasn’t going to happen. I had just done a tape, and was in the desert on a camel named Barbie, and they called and said ‘Tom Cruise wants to meet you in London’ but we were filming, so they needed me back in 24 hours. I still can’t really understand what happened, but I flew in and met him, and got the part a month later.

I imagine that was somewhat of a surreal moment, no?
Completely! Basically, I fly into London and the car takes me to a place, and I walk in and think I’m going to sit down and relax a bit, wiping sweat away and trying to look normal, but from the car I walk in, and there he is, black jeans and a black T-shirt, big smile on his face.

As an actor, what did you take away from working with him?
One thing with action movies, there’s never any stupid questions. He said to me “If there’s anything you want, ask. Check everything yourself, ask millions of questions, study, double-check, triple-check, quadruple check. Make sure you know what you’re doing.” It’s about understanding and being part of a team. That’s something he starts very quickly, you’re a part of this now, on this film, and with that comes responsibility as well.

So, let’s talk about these stunts. Cruise famously does most of his own, as I am to understand. Did you follow suit?
I did my stunts, basically all of them. As much as I could do, I did it. I’ve never done stunts before, so this was me throwing myself into deep water and realizing I can swim in it. But it’s a lot of work. From the day I got the part, we trained six hours a day, six days a week.

Any particular stunts frighten you the most?
I have massive vertigo. I wouldn’t jump off a trampoline five meters up in the air, and Tom said on the first day of shooting it would be us jumping off a rooftop at night. I told him about my vertigo, and he said “Yeah, we can put you in a harness and gradually take you up a meter at a time, we’ll have a month.” We eventually got up to 75 feet. So on the first day of shooting, we’re running on the roof, sliding down the first bit, and then we’re on the edge. I straddle Tom, wrap my legs around him, and we jump. Straight down. I remember the scene: We’re up there and I’m swearing all the words you can swear and he’s going “Are you okay? Do you want to go?” and I’m saying “No, no, no! Yes, yes, yes!” And then we jump and he says ‘That was awesome! The next thing we’re doing is a 120-foot freefall.” Smashing!

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens everywhere Friday.

Piers Marchant is a film critic and writer based in Philly. Find more confounding amusements and diversions at his blog, Sweet Smell of Success, or read his further 142-character rants and ravings at @kafkaesque83.