Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from the movie Life.
Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from the movie Life. Alex Bailey

Fame's not alien to Rebecca

In the new sci-fi thriller Life, Swedish actor Rebecca Ferguson floats on to the screen in zero gravity during an elegant, unbroken sequence following astronauts around the International Space Station as they prepare to intercept an incoming delivery from Mars.

It's an entrance that sets up the camaraderie of this team, scientists "trying to answer questions that thousands have wondered when we look up into the stars - if there's any kind of life form out there," says Ferguson.

And it's another fine set-up for Ferguson to deliver a noteworthy, tough performance.

Three years ago, on the set of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Ferguson recalls Tom Cruise doing everything possible to ensure her butt-kicking double agent Ilsa made "a wonderful entrance".

What Cruise and Co. came up with didn't just make Ilsa a worthy counterpart to Ethan Hunt, it became Ferguson's entry into the big league.

Her phone has rung hot ever since, thrusting her into the thick of the mystery of The Girl On the Train alongside Emily Blunt, playing Hugh Grant's mistress in the crowd-pleasing Florence Foster Jenkins and (later this year) doing Nordic noir with Michael Fassbender in The Snowman.

The only downside for this 33-year-old mother of one has been deciding which great offer to take.

Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from the movie Life.
Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from the movie Life. Alex Bailey

"It's a puzzle," says Ferguson, who now splits her time between London and her fishing village home in Sweden. "You can sit with a great script and think, how do we puzzle that into the schedule? Then there are things I'd love to do, but it's offered to other great actors. Then there's family life ... I mean, for anyone who travels and has family, how do you make it work?"

Every now and then, however, the choice is clear.

Like when Hugh Jackman asked her to sing and dance alongside him in The Greatest Showman.

"That was a given," Ferguson laughs. "Even my son said, 'What do you mean, Wolverine? Go! Are you kidding?' "

Ferguson plays 19th century Swedish opera sensation Jenny Lind to Jackman's circus ringleader P.T. Barnum in the new musical, but she's quick to point out she won't be heard singing soprano when the movie opens on Boxing Day.

Rather, the cast will be performing songs by La La Land Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

"I would not be doing it if it was opera!" she says with a laugh. "Well that's not true, I would have mimicked as best as I could. But they've done a modernised version - every song is new. I'm not singing the way that Jenny Lind did back in the day."

Of course, Hugh Jackman could probably sing soprano, alto, baritone ... Ferguson was incredibly nervous about stepping on set with the Aussie who can do it all.

"Then we had the rehearsal day and in he comes on a bike, in grey jogging suit, and runs up and gives me a hug and thanks ME for being in his film. He was just incredible from day one."

By contrast, Ferguson jokes that Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds spent the Life shoot picking on her, big brother style.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from the movie Life.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from the movie Life. Sony Pictures

Their "great rapport" and constant joking infected the whole set, making it "a very humoristic, relaxed environment," says Ferguson.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Life begins in triumph as the six-person ISS crew discovers the first evidence of life on Mars. But this single-celled life form doesn't take too kindly to being prodded and the tension ratchets ever higher as the crew realises the threat they - and all life on Earth - now face.

"If you think about it," says Ferguson, "if you're hovering out in space and someone takes you into an ISS and starts researching on you, you'd probably react (badly) to that. It's interesting how far we go in the name of research - it's beautiful that we can, but the question is, how far should we be able to go?"

Life's ISS crew is rounded out by Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, Russian Olga Dihovichnaya and Brit Ariyon Bakare - a blend a friend described to Ferguson as 'United Colours of Benetton'.

"I thought that was brilliant," she laughs. "Is that not the way the world looks? It is quite authentic, to be honest."

Working in a replica of the real ISS built in a UK studio, the cast were taught multiple ways to 'float' in zero gravity, including hanging from harnesses that were manoeuvred by puppeteers sitting in the rafters.

"When I was studying astronauts, I remember they said the top of their feet resembles the bottom, due to their constant linking into things. Moving around and attaching my feet to things in this replica, I completely understood ... 0.1 per cent of what real astronauts actually experience."

She laughs.

"But it was a good 0.1 per cent!"

Ferguson is the team's microbiologist, Miranda North, a "crosser of t's and dotter of i's". That wasn't a stretch: Ferguson's favourite thing to do when she gets a script is to organise it into sections with highlighters.

She loved digging into the psychology of how long it would take an outside threat - "whether alien or someone else's will" - to knock Miranda out of her routine.

She also wonders about her own psychology, were she to go up into space.

"Would you do it? If someone offered you to go?" she asks.

Not after witnessing the terror these astronauts uncover in Life!

"Well no," she chuckles. "Gosh, can you imagine? It must be terrifying of course, but you must also feel a nothingness floating out there; you'd think, we belong in just this minuscule little part of what we're looking at ...

"I mean, god, what is life about? It must be meditative on a grand scale."

It would also drive you bonkers.

"Oh completely!" she agrees. "Off my rocket. I'd be doolally."

Life opens in cinemas tomorrow.

News Corp Australia

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