Rebecca Ferguson Talks ‘Dune: Part Two,’ Bene Gesserit Fundamentalism, ‘Dead Reckoning & More [Interview]

Denis Villeneuve’sDune: Part Two” opens this Friday, March 1, and returning for the film as the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica and Paul Atreides’ mother is actress Rebecca Ferguson, known for the “Mission Impossible” franchise (read our review).

As I noted earlier this week, Ferguson can be a mercurial interview; she’s spirited, unconventional, can turn on a dime, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Interviewing her can be an unpredictable and disarming experience, but she’s largely very outspoken, first and foremost, which is a trait all journalists love.

READ MORE: Denis Villeneuve Calls’ Dune: Part Two’ A “Dark Tragedy,” Talks Potential’ Messiah’ Sequel & More [Interview]

In the film, the sequel to part one, which picks up almost immediately after the first film left off, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (Ferguson) have taken refuge with the indigenous population on the sand dune planet of Arrakis known as the Fremen. In ‘Part Two,’ Atreides tries to try and unite the Fremen people while seeking revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family. But not everyone believes he’s the chosen one; his own visions of the future have nightmare-ish consequences, and Lady Jessica begins to stoke the flames of Fremen’s fundamentalist belief in order to ensure her and Paul’s safety, something that may have its own dire repercussions.

This is what the bulk of our conversation comprised: the moral complexity of ‘Part Two’ and the way Ferguson’s character… doesn’t break bad so much but tests the audience’s sympathy throughout (at least, I found).

READ MORE: ‘Dune: Part Two’ Review: A Darker, Devastating Blockbuster & Cautionary Tale About Prophecy, Fate & False Idols

I’ll be 100% honest: I love Rebecca Ferguson. She’s so candid and eccentric, but I’m not 100% sure she understood me fully in this interview—seemingly disagreeing with me and then agreeing with me. Or maybe I was taking gibberish. Either way, I’m willing to take the blame cause she’s terrific. Here’s my conversation, which, of course, kind of started with her turning the tables on me and asking me questions.

Tell me about his big spectacular movie, which I thought was incredible.
[Ferguson eyes me suspiciously, a dubious look, which sort of throws me off]

No, really, it’s really immense. And there’s so much moral complexity to it, which I kept finding myself writing in my notes.
Why did you write morally complex? Why did that kick in?

Uhh, me? Well, quickly, with blockbusters, we often expect big triumphs and clear delineations of good and evil, and this gets muddied with a lot of people playing a kind of strategic intergalactic geo-political chess, which I think your character is definitely doing.
Yeah, yeah. Could you just take the quote there and just put it on me instead? Say, Rebecca said that? That would be amazing, thank you [laughs].

But to be honest, I think you nailed it, and that’s what we, actors, love about these roles and working with Denis. It’s not the simplicity of good vs. evil. It is always the moral imbalance of a human being, you know? Even if you’re out in space and the stakes or high or whatever is there. That’s what makes it—the shades, the nuances.

Sure, I would say that this film pushes it as far as you possibly can with a blockbuster; you start to question your allegiance to seemingly heroic characters.
It’s interesting. I think that’s really fascinating, and I think I’m going to have to, after these interviews, think about it. And I think you’re right. There were moments where, Oh gosh, I can’t go into it too much, but I remember talking to Denis and thinking, “Oh my god, she’s so driven by her belief!” You know if I were my own daughter, I’d be going sod off, stop it!” Like I felt this eagerness to separate, to cut the umbilical cord, but I obviously have to love my character and understand her.

It made it easier understanding the world of the Fremen—without giving anything away in that sense—but when she becomes a reverend mother, all of the information handed down into her, all the layers that she needs to carry inside, is something that she needs to deal with as well, whether she loves it or not.

That’s one of the key elements to me of the movie: characters like yours and Paul’s who are making difficult choices and ones that could even possibly alienate the audience, like the choice Paul has to make with Chani at the end...
You’re basically comparing the inner journey of my character architecturally designing war and Timothee choosing between two women [laughs]. I think he has bigger issues than that, buddy! [laughs]. But I think you’re right; it’s within your choice, and reason comes the fall of simple love, the domino effect of a higher stake. And that’s, I think, is the brutality with which the character of Jessica needs to penetrate through him. It’s the play is bigger than your emotions.

I was going to ask if it’s hard playing these choices, but when you think of her as a mother-to-be, again, maybe the protective nature of all of it makes more sense.
[Shakes her head in agreement] I think one of the difficulties I had tapping into, which was challenging, was that I’m not religious at all. And I would say that Jessica is somewhat, or becomes, a fundamentalist, right? In her belief. And it is so completely the opposite of who I am as a human being. So tapping into it and embracing it and understanding it was a really interesting journey for me, internally.

For sure, there’s a fervor of fundamentalist, but at the same time, I sort of read some of her behavior as a chess move of protection to make sure the Fremen are on her and Paul’s side. It all seems too tenuous for them.
Yeah, that’s what’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s how you interpret, and I agree, but I also believe the moves that are made are made on a pillar of actual belief. What she actually believes in her son, what he is, it’s a very strong belief, call it fundamentalist or just call it very strong belief. The point is that, this is her mission throughout the entire duration of this world is to push forth her belief.

Right, well, then, were you ever concerned about your character coming across as… I dunno, scheming? Duplicitous? The Bene Gesserit aren’t evil, but it’s maybe fair to say they have their own hidden agenda.
Yeah, they do, and it’s a little bit like back in the day, isn’t it? I compare it a bit to when I did “The White Queen” [TV series] back in the day, and it was a chess game. The men were out in the battlefields, and the women were plotting the houses. You marry France, that’s a good alliance—but I don’t love him!— surdoué, better army, stronger bonds. It’s sort of like [make little noise like moving figures], the plotting, the chess games, right? It’s kind of what the sisterhood is all about. So the question is, is this what we have had [all along], even if it’s a science-fiction, action film,  based on the idea and the idealism of what we have in society, which is women are at home and plotting the stronger bonds and the bigger fight. But what’s nice is here, we have a mixture because Denis lets women onto the battlefield as well, and that’s what’s so wonderful: we’re mixing it.

This film ends the way it ends— let’s call it a cliffhanger. But it teases so much more, a holy war, a daughter for your character. I assume you want to see more and potentially play opposite your daughter at some point in the future?
I mean, I do, but… there’s never just a yes or a no. I’m very much what’s on the page, the story needs to be there, there needs to be reason. But it’s Denis. Denis wouldn’t write something that I wouldn’t want to be in. I love him. I think he is exquisite, he’s exquisite as a director, I think he is so creative. I think he is so smart, and especially when he talks about how the world is going the way the studio lies, and the creative freedom that is gradually taken away from us. I know what he wants, which means I believe in him.

So if it came [to a sequel], of course, I’d want to, but also, I want to take my character into a place that’s interesting to me. There’s always the balance. If you’re going to dedicate your four months to something, it needs to be worth it, right?

I need to wrap up, but I wanted to quickly ask you about “Mission Impossible” and your character’s death, which I thought was fitting with the film thematically—the idea that Ethan may lose everyone he loves in this mission and the great cost of it all—I wanted to hear how you felt about it. Was it bittersweet?
I think, for me, when they came to me with the offer, and I said I wasn’t interested, that was the result; it was very much what was planned in my schedule. And how it was executed was very much, umm, an interpretation for everyone. I guess I [would] wish my husband would grieve me more than Ethan did [makes a cheeky clacking with her jaw]

To be honest, with that said, cheekiness aside, I believe that Chris McQuarrie and Tom [Cruise] make fantastic films and they are always wanting to go in directions that are unexpected, and darker, and interesting.

So when the relationship came to a point where—there was not more to be done really with Ilsa, and we have three picture deals in Hollywood, and when they come up, we as actors have the decision to say yes or no to a continued offer; they will make a good, something dramatic out of it, and all I can do is embrace it.

I hope people enjoyed it; I know a lot of people didn’t, and I know there are a lot of articles out there— and I’m not the writer. I do my job, and I do it as well as I can, and I serve the character because I think Chris wrote a fantastic character. And I’m so honored and grateful that I got to play her.

“Dune: Part Two” opens on March 1. Read our review here.