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A Chat with Rebecca Ferguson, Star of “The White Queen”

August 21st, 2013 | Posted by Melanie McFarland in If You Only Watch One Thing... | Q&A | Starz

The day will soon come when Rebecca Ferguson, star of Starz’s lush and lusty period drama “The White Queen,” will require no introduction to American audiences. Already an up-and-comer in the UK where the limited TV series began running in June, next year will find Ferguson sharing the big screen with Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes in Hercules: The Thracian Wars, playing the King’s daughter Ergenia. The Anglo-Swedish actress also co-stars with Kyle Chandler, Anna Friel and Bruno Ganz in Showtime’s pilot “The Vatican“, which has yet to be officially picked up to series — but if (when?) it is, she’s likely to become a household name… at least among premium cable-subscribers.

As as far as the media is concerned, the red carpet is already waiting to accommodate our curiosity. Elle UK gushed that she  “shimmers like a young Cate Blanchett.” Vanity Fair, The Daily Mail and other publications have already categorized her as one to watch- quite a bit of attention for a 29-year-old actress who, until recently, had only a few roles in short films and a soap under her belt, and lived a relatively quiet life in the Swedish coastal town of Simrishamn.

Currently American viewers are getting to know her as Elizabeth Woodville, a polarizing figure in England’s War of the Roses and the titular star of Philippa Gregory‘s novels, upon which the series is based. Elizabeth is a perfect romantic heroine, a Lancastrian commoner who seduced Edward IV (Max Irons) after a flirtatious roadside encounter in 1463. Edward wed her and bedded her in secret, ruining the plans of his advisor Lord Warwick (James Frain) to forge an alliance with France through political marriage and earning his ire as well as the enmity of many other powerful women in the King’s court. In this week’s episode, airing Saturday at 9pm on Starz, the young Queen and her mother (Janet McTeer) use drastic methods to fend off their enemies.

Jumping from portraying a historic royal (Elizabeth) to a figure based on Greek myth (Ergenia) gave Ferguson, never much of a history buff in her youth, an interesting education.”What you do is you just go deep diving into history,” she said. “It’s fun. It’s a privilege.”

We recently caught up with Ferguson on a phone call from Budapest, where “Hercules” is currently in production, and chatted with her about what it’s like to play a pair of royals and how she won the role of Elizabeth Woodville after spending so much time out of the spotlight.

Ferguson also revealed that she has very interesting hobby.

IMDb: How much preparation did you do for your role in “The White Queen”?

Ferguson: I wasn’t really given much time to prep. When I was asked to cast for “The White Queen”…I was thrown into a chemistry test (with Max Irons) and I think it went really well. …I did some English lessons to see if I could work on my English accent– I’ve got quite a lot of Swedish intonations in my English –just to see if I could carry it.

Then I sort of gave up because I didn’t hear anything from them. Then they called me and said they wanted me to be… at the last casting. I flew over on a Sunday. On a Monday, I had my last casting. Tuesday morning they said, “It’s yours.” During that day I got to color my hair blonde. I had to read the script with all the actors in the room. I got some weird dyslexia, which I have never had – I was so nervous! – costume fittings, and two days later I had moved to Bruges. Three days later, we started shooting. It was sort of thrown in gear.

But since everyone was well aware of that, I had Philippa Gregory, I had Emma Frost – the author and the screenplay writer – they were on set. I got a breakdown of my character, where she starts and when she ends. My family was Googling things and e-mailing me until I said “Stop, that’s enough, I can’t even read right now.” And then I gradually I grew into it whilst filming and reading the script.

IMDb: Recently at the Television Critics Association’s Summer Press Tour, Chris (Albrecht, CEO of Starz) said that you sent in your own tape to audition for that role

Ferguson: (laughter) He did talk about that! That was really weird!

IMDb: –and you were very, very coy about what was on that tape. So what was actually on it?

Ferguson: …I can’t stand doing these things, because I feel so stupid and I feel naked, and I never really know what to say. And I never prepare, because I think that always looks very fake. I mean, if you burp or laugh, yeah, OK, that’s life. I didn’t, by the way. However, I did build up this bookshelf thing, I put my camera on it, I pressed play and I just talked about various things: Who I am, my dreams in life – not too private, of course – that I own a windmill, that I love projects. And I just gave them a profile, everything that I know that a casting director does, because I’ve done it so many times. I just gave them a little private message.

IMDb: Wait a minute. Did you just say that you own a windmill?

Ferguson: I do. (Chuckles.) I know. Not a lot of people in Sweden do, by the way.

IMDb: So, um…what exactly does that do for you?

Ferguson: Nothing. (Laughter.) I love architecture. I love houses. I love buildings, and I love the idea of people buying old run-down houses and restoring them. Going in there and finding the authentic details. I’m not very good at it, but I love it. My partner, he had just found a windmill. And we sort of said, yeah, let’s buy it. Let’s renovate it. It was a good price and it came with an apple orchard. When in doubt, buy a windmill. It’s sort of our little hobby that we have great plans with.

…I’m going to give you a little secret now: I love weird things, and when I get to a new place when I travel, the first thing I’ll do is find out about the oddest, strangest places. I love farmers markets, and they have gorgeous ones here in Budapest. … I found this sort of bistro thing, and it’s a circus wagon that they’ve placed on a beach. And they serve great coffee… they have a couple of chairs and they have circus lights. It was literally, for me, being home in my garden.

…I think the world is moving so quickly when it comes to technology and God knows what. I think that owning a bit of land, if you have the possibility of buying it, and being able to grow your own vegetables, it’s a good investment for the future and for your children.

IMDb: OK, back to “The White Queen”. What was the most unexpected thing that you learned about this character as you started to embody her more over the process of the production?

Ferguson: …First of all, I hadn’t done much. I’ve done a couple of things in Sweden. Lots of short films. And then I was thrown into this massive production, so if you just talk about a learning process, it was school for me, going to set and watching these incredible actors like Janet McTeer, who is just marvelous, I love her. That was the basics of everything. That was my school.

But then, also, when it comes to history, just that deep diving into the facts of what happened in England during medieval times from a female perspective is very, very interesting. We’re still fighting the same battles today… when it comes to religion, when it comes to love and safety and children. It’s just we deal with it in different ways.

…At TCA, (Philippa said) there’s not a lot of literature or books or facts on Elizabeth. You have to follow the men, to see where the women were, and count backwards when it came to the births. Where would she be? You’d have these small letters of sanctuary, you’d have these different leads. It was so impressive. And there’s so much more that we don’t know.

The latest episodes of “The White Queen” make their U.S. premieres each Saturday at 9pm on cable’s Starz.

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