Cast: Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Rebecca Ferguson
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Genre: Action, Thriller
Running Time: 132 minutes
Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate - an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.
Mission: Impossible - Rouge Nation
Release Date: July 30th, 2015
Ethan Hunt In Extremis
The fifth installment of the 'Mission: Impossible" series redefines the term impossible.
It's something the film franchise has been doing since its box-office busting start two decades ago: with each new film, the team led by dedicated star and producer Tom Cruise has uncovered ways to match, then exceed, audience expectations, each time in different ways. Having begun as a cult phenomenon on 1960s television, 'Mission: Impossible" has become a 21st Century cultural phenomenon – a filmmaking event that consistently pushes that border where the classic drama of spy-versus-spy intrigue meets creative action sequences that have become legendary.
This time out, Tom Cruise's iconic character, Ethan Hunt, finds himself in non-stop peril – physical, mental and emotional -- from the film's literally high-flying opening moments through one relentless situation after another. Hunt's situation is precarious on every level. The IMF is on the outs, the CIA doesn't trust him, and now he's discovered a rogue agency with the spy-power to bring down any nation it targets – and they want him to join their crusade of destruction or they want him dead. On the brink, Hunt must test his team's loyalty, his own illustrious endurance and the agenda of the alluringly secretive spy who saved his skin: Ilsa Faust.
For Tom Cruise, a fifth time playing Hunt and serving as producer presented another chance to see just how far he can take the character, and the entire genre of sophisticated global espionage games. He loves moving the bar, often hurling the bar, with each new 'Mission: Impossible" film.
'Each time I think -I've seen it all' and I've been through every action challenge a film can have, the next film introduces new challenges of every kind -- because we're constantly pushing not only the action sequences, but the storytelling and characters," Tom Cruise says. 'To me the ultimate -Mission' movie is never just about action and suspense – though we love innovating in that area. It's really about the combination of action, intrigue and humor with this very specific, breathless kind experience we create for the audience. It's about giving audiences the greatest sense of adventure and scale - while keeping a classic sense of cinema. We do that more than ever in -Rogue Nation.'"
From its start as a TV show in 1966, 'Mission: Impossible" has always centered on the extreme pressure of the ticking clock – the urgent deadline to stop deadly plots. With the film franchise, that idea has blossomed into an entire movie-making philosophy based on amplifying the pressure on Hunt, and thereby increasing the creativity, nerve and maturity he needs to pull off his mission.
This has created a tough challenge for Tom Cruise and all the filmmakers who have joined the series, but it's one they adore. As executive producer Jake Myers puts it: ''Mission: Impossible' is not just a franchise, it's an entire ethos of it's own. I think that's the reason behind the popularity of the films – the audience knows they'll see something different in this film from any that's come before."
While the previous film in the series, 'Ghost Protocol," saw Hunt transforming from a lone wolf to a team leader, now he must hone his newfound leadership skills under fire. Hunt must keep the IMF team from fraying – even while he's trying to keep the world safe from The Syndicate. Says Tom Cruise: 'This installment is about the complications of friendship that happen when enormous pressure comes down on these guys. Who do you trust and who should you not trust? Who is really going to be there for you when the chips are down? Who is going to keep their head under fire? And how can they work together to make things happen? I think -Rogue Nation' is about finding that intimate aspect of true teamwork in the face of pure evil."
Producer J.J. Abrams, who directed 'Mission: Impossible 3," says: 'There is something about the -Mission: Impossible' franchise that is incredibly delicious and has evolved over time – this group of people who use all of the resources and tools at their disposal to fight for good. We get to join them in a world that is kind of a vicarious thrill ride. And then Tom always brings to that a great sense of humor as Ethan Hunt."
That sense of humor is honed further in 'Rogue Nation," says producer David Ellison, founder and CEO of Skydance, the company that also produced 'Ghost Protocol." 'I think one of the big surprises of this movie for audiences is going to be how fun and humor-filled it is – there are so many great laughs. In addition to the humor, there is also a level of intelligence to the story and how the characters interact; and of course there is always a sustained level of tension and high stakes. This film goes to such great lengths to create practical action live and in-camera, which makes for a hugely entertaining experience for audiences on all levels."
'Rogue Nation" also finds Ethan more dedicated to defusing the destructive power of evil than ever – in part because he's grown as an agent and a person. 'Ethan has evolved," Tom Cruise observes. 'He's learning to listen to everyone else while still following his own instincts. I think he's really progressed in terms of understanding people for who they are, including himself. I've always seen him as someone's who's highly skilled, who has a high level of athleticism and who will be relentless in pursuing what he believes is right all the way to the end – but he's not a superhero, he's very human."
Ethan's humanity is put under duress as Hunt confronts a nemesis who is his dark mirror image – an agent who has tossed his moral compass. 'In this film, Ethan and his team come up against a terrifying villain who is a match for them, someone who challenges them physically, intellectually and emotionally," Tom Cruise says. 'Right from the film's first moments, Ethan and the team are on their heels, desperately moving from one situation to the next. The action is gripping but true to -Mission: Impossible,' within the suspense, there's a lot of humor and romance."
Producer Dana Goldberg, Chief Creative Officer of Skydance, observes that for Tom Cruise, embodying Ethan Hunt is something that he never sees as a completed job but as an evolution. 'Tom Cruise always has a high bar of excellence in everything he does, but I think it is even higher when it comes to -Mission: Impossible,'" she observes. 'He approaches Ethan by asking: what is the real way that Ethan Hunt would respond given this situation and under this amount of pressure? That's one of the things that Ethan has always been good at – handling extreme pressure that never relents. But Tom Cruise also is revealing Ethan as a bit older and smarter, a spy who has grown up in some ways, who has come to accept what his role is and what the costs are. He's a man who has learned to truly rely on his team, and he's learned to reach out. You can feel the synergy between character and actor."
In his bid to continue the series' reputation not only for blending genres but also for innovation and visual pizzazz, it was Tom Cruise who wanted to bring in director Christopher McQuarrie – with whom he worked as a screenwriter on 'Valkyrie" and 'Edge of Tomorrow" and as a director on 'Jack Reacher" -- for the first time.
'Christopher McQuarrie has an incredible mind. He's an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary filmmaker and to see his sensibility applied to this genre is something I was excited about," Tom Cruise summarizes. 'What Christopher McQuarrie and I share is that both of us have that need to make every moment the best it can be."
As the brains and heart behind the entire franchise, Tom Cruise's total commitment is not just to the role and to the stunts, but equally to the filmmaking, notes Skydance Executive VP of Production Don Granger, one of the film's producers. 'It's so impressive that in the middle of a -Mission: Impossible' movie -- which has the most demanding stunts and the most physically exhausting schedule for Tom Cruise -- he not only gives an amazing performance as Ethan, but he's also there all day and all evening after we shoot, and he's always involved in an incredibly productive way with the big picture of the movie."
Christopher Mcquarrie And The M:I Legacy
Every director who has come to the 'Mission: Impossible" franchise brings his own stamp. Though each starts with the same iconic lead character and ticking-clock set-up, distinctive styles and tones have made each new adventure different and unpredictable. Says J.J. Abrams: 'One of the things that Tom Cruise decided early on about the -Mission' movies was that he wanted different directors for each one. He wanted each to have its own creative life, so while the movies always follow the continuum of the spy genre, each film has its own character and personality. You always get the characters that you like, a great bad guy, and incredible action sequences -- but it's fresh every time."
This time director Christopher McQuarrie brought his skills as one of today's most original action screenwriters and his renown for sharp, taut, suspenseful storytelling. He came in with the desire to pay homage to the most beloved characters and high-flying attitude of 'Mission: Impossible" while forging the next step in its future.
It all started with his screenplay.
Says Christopher McQuarrie: 'I wanted this film to pull together the Dream Team of -Mission: Impossible' and give all the members of the IMF a major role. Each of the four movies so far has had a different team dynamic -- but for this one, I wanted to reach back into the franchise to bring back the best of them all to create a kind of supergroup of players … of course starting with Ethan Hunt, but including Jeremy Renner's William Brandt, Simon Pegg's Benji and Ving Rhames' Luther Stickell."
He also aimed to take the series into unexplored territory. 'Two things jumped out at me that we hadn't seen before: a villain who was a real physical threat to Ethan and a strong, independent woman who would give Ethan Hunt a run for his money," Christopher McQuarrie points out. 'So those were priorities for me. I really wanted to bring in a woman in an equal role. Until now, women have played a more functional role within the IMF universe, but with Ilsa Faust, we've changed things up a bit."
It is the enigmatic Ilsa Faust who alerts Ethan Hunt to the reality of a grave threat: The Syndicate, which has ramped up to become a major terrorist crime empire. At the end of 'Ghost Protocol," the existence of The Syndicate is mentioned briefly as the IMF's next mission, but McQuarrie took that idea and ran with it in 'Rogue Nation."
'At first, Tom Cruise and I decided we didn't want to follow the thread of the Syndicate," McQuarrie admits. 'But the more we fought against it, the more it became organic to the screenplay. As soon as we began working on the story, we felt it was crying out for that kind of greater threat The Syndicate poses. What I have found is that the -Mission: Impossible' franchise is this living, breathing thing that makes demands of you and really does kind of push you in the direction it wants to go."
The denial of The Syndicate's existence by the CIA and the U.S. government also allowed Christopher McQuarrie to keep Ethan Hunt and the IMF in their classic underdog position. 'Ethan and the IMF will always be at odds with authority," Christopher McQuarrie observes. 'The government will always be about maintaining order, but the IMF team is governed strictly by what's right and what's wrong. This is a big, entertaining summer thriller full of fantastic spectacles, but it also plays a bit on the feeling of the real world, where justice and government are sometimes at odds."
Echoing Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie approached Hunt as an evolving man who has reached a new sense of what makes him tick in 'Rogue Nation." 'I think Ethan has come full circle at this point and accepted that this life is his destiny," the writer-director observes. 'Throughout the whole franchise there has always been a sense that he is a very reluctant hero. That's long been a central part of his charm; he's always asking -is this really what I'm meant to do?' But he has never been able to stay away from the missions when he is needed and I think he has come to acknowledge that the IMF is his family and this is who he is. He understands now that this is where he belongs."
The producing team was thrilled with Christopher McQuarrie's insights. Says Don Granger: 'The most special thing Christopher McQuarrie brings to this movie is his ability to write a scene in a way very few people currently working can write. Above and beyond that, he has a vision for action that is extraordinary in that he wants to do everything practically as much as possible. There's always a CGI-enhanced element, that's undeniable. But unlike other directors, Christopher McQuarrie must get everything in camera. Sets, stunts and physical action – we were doing it all for real."
David Ellison comments: 'Christopher McQuarrie wrote and directed an unbelievable movie in which audiences experience an unparalleled level of tension, jeopardy and high stakes. He and Tom Cruise have made a lot of movies together so they bring to the set a tremendous creative shorthand, which is coupled with Don Granger, who has worked alongside Tom Cruise for 20 years. It makes for an incredibly special brain trust and we hope to continue making films with them for as long as possible."
Adds Dana Goldberg: 'Christopher McQuarrie's screenplay creates a wonderfully intricate story where you never are quite sure which side people are on and that's a very exciting combination with -Mission: Impossible.' We worked with him on -Jack Reacher' and we knew he was insanely talented. But to take on both writing and directing a -Mission' movie is itself a nearly impossible task. It's hard enough to prep all of the sequences and work with the actors – but then he would also go home each night and tweak the dialogue! He and Tom never stopped perfecting the script."
From the first words on the page to the moment the cameras started rolling, Christopher McQuarrie worked in tight collaboration with Tom Cruise. The writer-director notes that as a creative pairing, the two have an unusual synergy, fueled by opposite energies.
'Tom Cruise really has been the core of -Mission: Impossible' in every sense – and he's so inherently involved in the character and the storyline that he has a unique sixth sense we all rely on," states Christopher McQuarrie. 'I love to work with him, yet we approach filmmaking in two different ways. I'm all about logic, order and problem solving. Tom Cruise is all about emotions and challenge building. And together that really seems to push us both. Tom Cruise always says to me, -How do we get character and humor into this moment?' He might be walking across the street but he wants to jam-pack every single second, every gesture, every line with character, and that's what makes this series work above and beyond the fantastic, thrilling action."
The entire cast was taken with the Christopher McQuarrie-Tom Cruise synergy. 'Christopher McQuarrie brings fluidity to every scene – there's a movement and a musicality to the way he directs," says Rebecca Ferguson. 'But the way he and Tom Cruise work together … it's like salt and pepper in food – they are such a good team together."
New To The Mission
While 'Rogue Nation" brings together the best and the brightest of the IMF in hot pursuit of The Syndicate, the film also bring several new faces into Ethan Hunt's world. Most notably, Hunt meets a woman who literally takes him by storm, with savvy and skills that rival his own.
To play Ilsa, the femme fatale who reverses the tables on Hunt, the filmmakers chose a relative unknown: Rebecca Ferguson, who hails from Sweden, and was recently seen in 'Hercules." She won the role in part because she was a total surprise, says Christopher McQuarrie. 'When I first saw Rebecca on tape, she was 180 degrees from what I thought I was looking for. But Tom Cruise and I just looked at each other and said, -that's her.' Immediately we saw that she had the energy we wanted – she was independent, elegant, full of grace and maturity," the director observes. 'We called her in to read with Tom Cruise and they instantly clicked. Everyone just stood back and watched the chemistry."
The only thing Rebecca Ferguson didn't have was a long resumé of action. But what Rebecca Ferguson lacked in experience, she made up for with a willingness to try things that terrified her. 'Rebecca Ferguson had only a few weeks to train before we started shooting," recalls Christopher McQuarrie. 'There wasn't a lot of time and she was very honest that she had a serious fear of heights and claustrophobia, but four weeks later, she was leaping off the roof of the Vienna Opera House! She never pretended she wasn't afraid, but she pushed herself and became so remarkably proficient that I think she had a great experience."
Tom Cruise was impressed with the way Rebecca Ferguson deftly tackled the role's huge physical demands without losing Ilsa Faust's intriguing feminine wiles – and a personality that has Hunt believing in her in spite of himself. 'I think she's an incredibly powerful actress and also incredibly charismatic. She exudes both elegance and intelligence," Tom Cruise says. 'Christopher McQuarrie and I talked a lot about what we wanted in Ilsa and we wanted a very strong woman, someone both powerful and mysterious who would have the audience leaning forward watching her, rooting for her and being a little shocked by her."
He goes on: 'Rebecca Ferguson had never done this type of action before, but luckily she's a natural athlete. She herself didn't realise how good she would be at it until the training began. When we were working together, I kept telling her, -look, you're really talented at this.' It's true. Her hand-eye coordination, the way she moves, it's instinctively powerful. I think we were quite fortunate to find her; and I also think audiences will be truly captivated by her."
Rebecca Ferguson knew right away what her approach would be to the role: to be Ethan Hunt's counterpart in an unapologetically feminine form. 'Ilsa is the female Ethan Hunt," she sums up. 'And that's why he kind of meets his match in her. What I love about her as a character is that she has both a very badass side and a vulnerability that entwine together. So she's very strong and driven, like Ethan, but I think she's also someone to whom people can relate."
She was also thrilled to find herself at the center of a series she has been enjoying for years as a movie-going fan. ' I have always loved -Mission: Impossible,'" Rebecca Ferguson muses. 'I love that you can always expect the unexpected. You know going into it there will be the coolest technology, stunts and exciting actors. This one is a great ride, but a ride with emotions, and that's the best kind."
With no time to lose, Rebecca Ferguson recalls that she had to throw herself into training with all she had. 'It was six hours a day and six days a week of stunt rehearsals, learning the specifics of hitting, ducking, jumping and moving," she describes. 'The training was very detailed and specific. At the same time, I was looking to find Ilsa's own personal way of moving and fighting. I came to think of her as a lot like a cat, someone who kind of claws herself into anyone who attacks her. She uses pure body momentum to take down much more massive guys. During the training, we found this robust, raw, animalistic style of fighting for her that is really cool – and unlike any man you've seen."
She says she didn't give herself time to question too much what she was doing as she literally dove headlong into the stunts – which was a good thing. 'Working on the stunts was a trip. I have claustrophobia and vertigo, but somehow, they got me to throw myself off high buildings and strap myself in underwater. I had to just do it and so I did," she offers.
J.J. Abrams was impressed with what she brought. 'It's great to see a woman in the world of the spy action movie, where men usually get most of the great moments, who brings as many great moments as any man in the movie. Rebecca Ferguson is a terrific actress," he comments.
For Dana Goldberg, Rebecca Ferguson's performance had a special excitement. 'Ilsa is such a wonderfully three-dimensional character and I just love seeing a true kick-ass woman at the center of -Mission: Impossible,'" she confesses. 'Yet, even while maintaining her physical prowess, she has the smarts to get herself in and out of all these perilous situations. One of my favorite moments in the film is the look on Tom Cruise's face when he first sees her in action -- he's as blown away by her as we are in the audience."
Also joining the 'Mission: Impossible" franchise for the first time is Oscar® nominee and Golden Globe and Emmy winner Alec Baldwin – bringing his sly gravitas to officious CIA head Alan Hunley, who puts little faith in Ethan Hunt or his belief that The Syndicate is about to strike. Cruise was gratified to have the chance to bring Baldwin into the 'Mission: Impossible" world.
'Alec Baldwin certainly doesn't disappoint. He is enormously entertaining as the CIA head who is a natural antagonist to Ethan and brings the pressure down on his entire team," Cruise says.
Adds Don Granger: 'Alec Baldwin brings something special to the role that I don't think we could have anticipated. It's half Jack Ryan, half Jack Donaghy from -30 Rock.' He's great to watch."
'Hunley plays a very important part in the story and Alec brings another great personality to the mix," says Dana Goldberg. 'He might be part of the resistance against the IMF, but he's not exactly a bad guy. He's a patriot and he's also a voice of reason – yet he can't escape the unsettling fact that what the IMF is doing seems to work. He brings a really fun perspective."
For Alec Baldwin, the thrill of 'Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" was in having the chance to go bold, as actors only can when tackling such larger-than-life characters. 'This is a big, big, big action film with lavish sets, an incredible cast and mind-blowing stunts -- things that can only be done in the movies. This is what movies are all about," Alec Baldwin observes.
Knowing there was a track record to uphold also intrigued him. 'This franchise has been so successful because they got it right the first time, then the second time and then the third time and again the fourth time. And throughout it all you really saw Tom take the reins and become his own kind of action star," Alec Baldwin says. 'Right away, I had high hopes for this fifth film because I knew the combination of that with Chris McQuarrie was going to be wonderful." Alec Baldwin got a kick out of working with Tom Cruise in the dual capacities of co-star and producer – and being initiated into the hectic, non-stop action of a 'Mission: Impossible" shoot. 'Tom the producer is almost identical to Tom the actor: very vigilant, very hands-on," Baldwin describes. 'And he sets a tone that is wonderful for this because it is, in a word, intense. I mean there are laughs, there is camaraderie, but the focus always comes back to the work."
The most shadowy newcomer to 'Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" is the most dastardly archenemy the franchise has seen: Solomon Lane, the former British spy who has turned to the dark side of espionage with his formation of The Syndicate. Of all the villains in all the 'Mission" films, he may be the most equally matched with Ethan Hunt. 'One of the really fun things in this movie is that this bad guy is really able to going toe-to-toe with Ethan," says JJ Abrams. 'The Syndicate is a kind of anti-IMF, agents who have been trained just like the IMF – but to do the work of evil."
Lane's capability sets him apart in the 'Mission" world, notes David Ellison. 'You've never seen Ethan go up against someone who has both the intellect and the physical ability to compete like this: this is the Mission where Ethan truly meets his match," he says. 'What's fantastic about Solomon Lane is that every time you think Ethan is a step ahead of him, he's actually falling behind. They play out a fantastic physical and mental chess match."
Once again, the filmmakers sought someone unexpected. They cast Sean Harris, best known for his role as a crewmember of an alien-threatened spacecraft in Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus," who brought a riveting gamesmanship to the role. From his first days on the set, it became clear Harris had taken the villain to heart. 'Sean was amazing to watch," says Granger. 'He owned the sociopathic nature of Lane and makes you believe in how he is with Ethan: half brutal, half trying to seduce him."
Adds Dana Goldberg: 'Solomon Lane is one of those bad guys who speaks softly yet carries a very big stick. The way Sean plays him, you know this man is dangerous and will stop at nothing."
Says Tom Cruise of Harris: 'Sean is a very kind, humble, soft-spoken man, so it was really exciting to see how he transformed into this dark character. He created someone who exudes calculating manipulation and I think it will be quite terrifying for audiences to watch in action."
The IMF Team Reunited
Ethan Hunt has never needed the other members of the IMF more than he does in 'Rogue Nation" – and despite the appearance that the force is done, they all come together, unpredictably as ever, to take on The Syndicate as only the IMF can. The result is that Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames had a chance to take their characters more than a few bounds forward.
'I love the dynamics between Jeremy, Simon and Ving on this film as you see the IMF team come under pressure and almost fracture," says Tom Cruise. 'It looks like the IMF is about to split apart and the whole story is going to blow up basically – and that's integral to a Mission movie."
As Luther Stickell -- the computer expert who first appeared in the original 'Mission: Impossible" directed by Brian De Palma – and William Brandt – the IMF agent assigned to guard Ethan Hunt in 'Ghost Protocol" -- team up to track Ethan, it was a blast for the filmmakers to watch Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames riffing off each other.
Says producer Don Granger: '20 years after he first took on the role, Ving just fits on Luther like a glove. He's the elder statesman of the IMF. Luther has known Ethan the longest, and in a way, Ving has known Tom the longest. So they bring an intimacy and warmth that transfers to the screen. Jeremy, on the other hand, is sort of this live-wire counterpoint to the other characters, while Simon pinballs between all of them. It's so much fun to watch them all together."
Christopher McQuarrie was thrilled to give the returning cast more screen-time than ever. 'We really wanted to get to the -Best of the IMF' in this film. What's fantastic for me as a director is that each of these actors brings their own special quality and my job was simply to find everyone's individual rhythms and synch them together," he explains. 'And of course throughout it all, Tom was the anchor. He's so deep into this world, everyone looks to him for inspiration and wants to play at his level. The real upside of having Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg and Ving, who are so well-versed in this universe, that you start with a very strong grounding – which allows you to then take things in exciting new directions."
David Ellison says it was thrilling to see the best and the brightest of the IMF united. 'This movie really has an Avengers-style team quality " you get the feeling that -the boys are back' when they're all on-screen together."
Tom Cruise could not have been more exhilarated to reunite with Sean Pegg, who always brings out the comedy that contrasts perfectly with Ethan Hunt's unceasing intensity. 'Everyday I had so much fun with him. Every single day we laughed and still we were able to focus, work hard and find that live chemistry that Christopher McQuarrie and I wanted. In the car sequence, Simon Pegg had to totally trust me. I was thinking, -I don't want to tell him how dangerous this really is,'" Tom Cruise recalls. 'So I'm driving high speed, drifting into very narrow allies, slamming up against the wall at times, really trying to push it to the edge while he was cracking me up with his performance!"
Says J.J. Abrams: 'I was excited to see the dynamic between Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg in -Rogue Nation' taken even further than it was in -Ghost Protocol.' In this film, Simon Pegg gets to do quite a bit of action with Tom Cruise. It was great to see him used in that way and I think Simon Pegg killed it."
Adds Ellison: 'Simon Pegg is hilarious but he also brings in a phenomenal new incarnation of Benji from the one we first met. He used to be the guy behind a desk but now he's officially out in the field as a full-fledged agent. When you see him willing to risk his life for Ethan out of true friendship, it feels incredibly authentic."
Says Jake Myers of Simon Pegg in 'Rogue Nation": 'He brings a comic angle of course, but he also brings a dramatic angle that plays really well off Tom Cruise. His character continues to develop. As we start the film, he's working in a CIA data processing center and not being challenged – but he misses the field and the draw of his old friend brings him right back into the action in his own inimitable way."
Simon Pegg admits that he could hardly wait to head off on another 'Mission: Impossible." 'When you get that call that they're doing another one, it's always exciting," he explains. 'Then you wait for the script, hoping your character doesn't die!"
Benji has had his scrapes, but he's come a long way from his first encounters with Ethan Hunt in 'Mission Impossible: III" and 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol." Explains Simon Pegg: 'Benji's been out in the field for a while now so he's gotten a little bit more mature; a little more experienced, but … he's no less Benji! He has new skills, but Benji always will have this wild, wide-eyed appreciation of what he does and the world he moves around in. Still, -Rogue Nation' finds him in a serious dilemma. He's in limbo because the IMF is being dissolved and absorbed by the CIA. So now Benji is stuck behind a desk. Brandt is also back to being a mere analyst. It's kind of all gone to hell really!"
Things have changed, and Benji's relationship with Ethan is also up in the air as 'Rogue Nation" kicks off. 'I've always thought that Benji was Ethan's biggest fan - and they've experienced genuine peril together, so Benji has extraordinary affection for Ethan. So that only makes it more interesting to see that Benji has apparently rejected him at the beginning of the movie," he demurs.
One thing that hasn't altered, says Simon Pegg, is the appeal of the 'Mission" premise – that there are people willing to attempt the impossible to keep the rest of us safe. 'Here we are 20 years later and we're still out there saving the world – so this story obviously has still got a lot to give," he reflects. 'The world has changed and the missions have grown more complex, but there are still a lot of bad guys out there who should be stopped and I think -Mission: Impossible' is a wish fulfillment in that respect. There's seriousness to that idea, but at the same time, we play with it with such a sense of adventure and fun that you can't help but be swept up in that."
That might be more the case in 'Rogue Nation." 'What I love about this one is that it's a story about friendship, loyalty and trust – all wrapped up in the most exciting chases and explosions and fights," Simon Pegg summarises. 'The tension keeps rising, but amid all the craziness, -Rogue Nation' is about a group of friends helping each other get out of trouble."
Perhaps the greatest pleasure of rejoining 'Mission: Impossible" for Simon Pegg was getting to dive back into his inimitably playful repartee with Cruise. 'I think my real-life relationship with Tom is quite similar to the one between Benji and Ethan," he laughs. 'Of course there's the Tom Cruise who is Ethan Hunt and then there's the real Tom Cruise who is slightly different. But I really love working with Tom Cruise, He has amazing focus and a peerless dedication to what he does, which raises everyone's game on set. Yet, he's also a lot of fun, and it doesn't take a lot to get him messing around."
Simon Pegg shares an example: 'We had an absolute hoot in Morocco during the car chase. We were in that car for days on end, so we ended up having a battle in terms of who could sneak the other one's seat heater on – which is highly annoying in the heat of Morocco. You'd think, -Why am I sweating?' And then you'd realize that Tom Cruise has turned on your seat heater! So we did get silly, but Tom Cruise also knows when it's time to be serious and buckle down, and then there's no stopping him."
Upping The Action
Scale – epic, heart-hammering scale – has been at the heart of 'Mission: Impossible" since the original television series, which took viewers on grand escapades that broke the boundaries of television's usually narrow scope. But in an era when audiences have seen so much in the way of dazzling effects and clever stunts, how do you keep pitching the bar higher and higher?
The answer, says Christopher McQuarrie, is to not think about the bar at all. Instead, think about telling the story in the most visceral, uncompromising way you can.
'I think a big component of how we approached this was to not talk about comparisons," he counters. 'You can see that the Torus sequence follows in the tradition of the Langley Heist that Brian De Palma did in the first film; or the A400 plane sequence follows in the tradition of the Burj Khalifa climb in -Ghost Protocol'; or the Morocco motorcycle chases follow in the footsteps of John Woo's climactic chase in -Mission: Impossible II.' But I think trying to compare them is apples to oranges. The more important question is: am I doing the continuation of the story in -Rogue Nation' justice? The thing we've seen is that it's not only about creating spectacles. We found that the more intimate we made this film, the greater the audience investment was, and the higher the stakes, in every scene."
Nevertheless, the sequences Christopher McQuarrie mentions most certainly did push cast and crew to places they never even foresaw going.
Dana Goldberg notes that Tom Cruise is driven by a total commitment to full-scale action realism. 'Tom Cruise likes to say these are deceptively hard movies to make. They might not involve a lot of high-tech visual effects, but instead of visual effects, you're working with extreme practical action, lots of challenging locations, and it's all very intense, hands-on work."
For Tom Cruise, the hands-on work begins early: every single 'Mission: Impossible" film kicks off with a period of intensive physical preparation. Only this time he had to start anew, honing skills that haven't come into play before. 'The way I work on -Mission' movies is that I like to spend months and months and months ahead of time prepping every sequence, really breaking them down and sectioning off the proper time for the physical training," he explains. 'I go into each movie expecting to learn new things and learning new ways of doing things where I already have skills."
This process on 'Rogue Nation" was carried out in careful calibration with Wade Eastwood, the film's stunt coordinator. Born in South Africa, Eastwood was an athlete before taking on his first film job: jumping out of a helicopter for a war movie. From there he was hooked on performing and creating the most creative stunts he could imagine, rig and bring to life.
Dana Eastwood says there could be no better partner for truly creative stunt work than Tom Cruise. 'Tom Cruise is so good at this he could have been a great stuntman if he wasn't already a great actor. So working with him is like working with the very best stunt person … except he's combining performance within the action in unique ways. He does 100% of his own stuff – and that's not just for the media, that's the truth," Dana Eastwood asserts. 'For him it's never just about the stunt, but about fully creating his character as an agent who has learned to survive by the skin of his teeth."
He adds: 'The best part of working with Tom Cruise is that he's never satisfied. He always asks: how can we better this? That's exciting and we both came to -Rogue Nation' believing we were going to create the best stunts we've ever been involved in. We were always looking for those little unique moments that make the action in this film feel new and different."
Tom Cruise says Eastwood walked the same tightrope the franchise walks. 'Wade is very conscious of safety but he also knows, this is -Mission,' so we've got to push it all the way to the edge. He can do that because all the people he works with are top of the line."
No one was surprised that Tom Cruise refused to rest on his laurels when it came to the action. Jokes J.J. Abrams: 'I think one of the hardest things about doing any -Mission: Impossible' movie is just trying to convince Tom not to literally do every possible life-threatening stunt, because he just will go to that place."
Winging It On the A-400 Aircraft
Many people thought the film's opening stunt was so outrageously impossible, it could only be created digitally. But true to the 'Mission: Impossible" spirit, the stunt was pulled off 100% live, giving the audience a wild ride that cannot be imitated.
In the sequence, Ethan Hunt gets on a plane – not in a plane, but quite literally gripping on to the outer skin of an in-flight A-400 military transport plane. It's the kind of fantasy – or nightmare – pilots have but would never entertain in real life. 'When I'm in a plane I'm always thinking what would it be like to be out on the wing," Tom Cruise admits. Now he would have a chance to find out.
Just getting the clearances to use an authentic A400 was a major coup. But then rigging it for Tom Cruise's audacious flight was a whole other massive challenge. The wind shear alone on him was so great that in order to keep his eyes open he had to have sclera lenses fitted over his eyes. Engineers worked around the clock to calibrate every element.
Tom Cruise picks up the story of how the shot was accomplished: 'I couldn't sleep the night before. I was going through it all in my mind. I knew that once we took off, if something went wrong, no one could do anything. But on the day, I felt very confident with our team, with the pilot, with Wade … and when I got on the side of the plane I was very excited. I was thinking only about the audience, about the shots we were going to get, about the performance. We started taxiing and I remember we were at the end of the runway and I'm hanging on saying to Christopher McQuarrie -let's go, let's go, let's go.' And suddenly, boy, that throttle goes and we are hammering down that runway like -holy s**t' – the force of it! But then I was thinking -Now do I say my line? Is my lighting good? Am I in shadow?' So all these other things started occupying my mind."
Though each flight raised the risk and chilled Tom Cruise to the bone, he repeated the gravity-defying stunt 8 times to assure Christopher McQuarrie would have all the coverage he needed.
Says Dana Eastwood: 'It's one of my favorite film sequences of all time – but what you don't see is how much work went into it logistically. It started with our unit production manager, Tom Hayslip, fighting the battle to make sure we could even make this happen with a real A400. Then, we had a legendary crew from Airbus who we convinced to do this. Then, from my side it started with doing a ton of drawings and pre-engineering work to get Airbus to trust that we wouldn't damage their plane. Yet once we had their trust, it came off absolutely flawlessly."
J.J. Abrams says that the sheer reality of a stunt like that is priceless in movie-making. 'It's beyond believable because Tom Cruise really did fly on the side of this plane," he points out. 'It's an exciting idea because we live in such a world of artifice. Everything you see these days is hard to believe is real, so there's something about Tom Cruise actually doing these stunts -- without the visual effects anyone else would likely use -- that makes the movie feel even more like a big event."
David Ellison explains the feeling generated by capturing such a moment of adventurousness on film: 'I think the A400 may be the single most ambitious set-piece that has ever been built," he offers. 'I'll never forget watching the dailies of that sequence for the first time: you see the plane take off with Tom Cruise hanging on the side of it … and the camera doesn't cut. You wait for it to cut but it never does, giving you a feeling deep in the pit of your stomach like nothing else can."
Simon Pegg had a different perspective on the sequence, playing Benji who's communicating with Ethan, aghast, from a runway field. 'The A-400 sequence very much cuts to the essence of our relationship in this film: Tom Cruise was strapped to the wing of the airplane, while I was lying in the grass in a furry, green suit," Simon Pegg quips. 'But really, it was pretty insane to watch what Tom did. For me, it even surpassed the Burj Khalifa sequence in -Ghost Protocol," because in that he was high up but he was still attached in some fashion to the ground. In this scene, he's even higher but he was not attached to anything. He was on the outside of a plane! It was kind of mind-blowing and ridiculous. I don't know what he's going to do next to top that. Maybe he'll go into outer space …"
Diving Into the Torus
Actually, Tom Cruise may have topped the A-400 already with a more subtle but even more physically demanding stunt – holding his breath for several minutes at a time while carrying out an audacious heist inside the under-water Torus facility.
Ethan Hunt has broken into secure facilities before, but this one takes the cake as Ethan must plunge into a hyper-secure, deep-water facility – without the noise-making scuba gear that would give him away. 'The Torus is like an incredible underwater obstacle course," says Jake Myers. 'It's something audiences haven't seen anywhere before."
Tom Cruise is no stranger to underwater work, but decided to literally go to new depths in his training so as to make the sequence as lung-bustingly real as possible.
'My big question about this scene was: how can we make it even more tense for an audience -- and have them experience what it's like to hold your breath for that long, long period of time? We had this great design for the Torus that Jim Bissell came up with and these great ideas Christopher McQuarrie had, and I felt the performance had to stand up to that," Tom Cruise comments.
To get that kind of performance, Tom Cruise began in intensive apprenticeship in free diving – sometimes called the 'world's most dangerous sport" – in which elite athletes dive to depths greater than 200 feet with no mechanical equipment or oxygen, risking hallucinations, blacking out, dreaded 'lung squeezes" and getting the bends. Despite the peril, the true masters of the technique have turned it into a meditative art form, carefully calibrating their internal metabolisms and learning to slow their heart rates to the point that they can survive at depths many used to think was indeed impossible.
Tom Cruise trained diligently on both timed breath-holds and underwater maneuvers with veteran athletes in Florida and the Cayman Islands, building up to a 40-meter free dive. But his aim was different than most. Rather than simply learning to relax in an oxygen-less state, he needed to learn how to carry out a complex action sequence without air.
'I have to say physically, it was without a doubt the most challenging aspect of this film," Tom Cruise states. 'We were doing long shots and when your body is moving that much it is burning oxygen much faster so there was just a lot of physical stress. Physically what it did to me was quite interesting … what I went through doing that -- it took me much longer to recover from than any other sequence."
Tom Cruise admits that the stunt team had to be convinced that such prolonged breath-holding wouldn't be too grave a danger. 'They didn't feel comfortable initially because typically in movies, an underwater sequence might involve someone holding their breath for 10, 15 seconds max," the actor explains. 'So I had to prove to everyone that not only is this safe, but it's far better that I've learned these techniques for long breath-holds because now, I'm going to be very relaxed about it. In terms of the breath-holding, everything was always under control, but physically it was very grueling. I had pain in my tendons from doing so many takes like that. But it was also really fascinating to me. I learned so much about my body and how it works."
Ultimately, Dana Eastwood says Tom Cruise's demonstration of what he could do won over the stunt team. 'Like everything Tom Cruise does, he really went for it in this field and he could actually do a 6 minute static breath hold, which requires a very, very Zen state," the stunt coordinator notes.
The sequence summed up what has made Tom Cruise and Ethan Hunt an inseparable pair. 'Tom Cruise makes movies for audiences. He doesn't make them for himself," explains Granger. 'So when you see him pushing himself, working 20-hour days on the underwater Torus sequence, getting out of the tank everyday just shattered from holding his breath again and again and again … he's doing it because he loves the idea that audience will be holding their breath with him."
An Operatic Leap in Vienna
Another proud tradition of 'Mission: Impossible" is spanning the globe and utilizing a series of awe-inspiring international landmarks as set pieces. 'Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" continues that with a sequence at the Vienna State Opera House, the ornate Renaissance-era building in the heart of one of Europe's most architecturally rich cities.
Shooting there was a dream come true for Tom Cruise. ' I've been to Vienna many times and I always think it's so beautiful and elegant, so I was excited to see the kind of romantic quality it could bring to this movie," he says. 'We knew the Vienna Opera House was going to be a signature sequence. Ever since I was a little kid I would be inside big buildings and think, -could I rappel down this building if I had to?' So getting to do that kind of action was very cool – and it's even more stunning that it's all going on during the performance of an opera."
When he read the script, Wade Eastwood knew the Opera House sequence could never be done with mere green screen. 'You need that real sensation and jeopardy of being up high," he points out. 'It's such a spectacular location, but this being -Mission' you see it more from the top of the building than any other way! It wasn't easy getting access to the roof, but the Vienna Film Commission was incredibly helpful and we made it happen."
The building, which opened its doors in 1869 with a performance of Mozart's 'Don Giovanni," also offered exceptional beauty with its sumptuous frescoes, winged statues and dramatic arches. It also hosted a 75-foot drop that had Rebecca's Ferguson heart in her mouth.
'For Tom Cruise, the jump was nothing, but we had to work Rebecca Ferguson all the way up from a 12-foot drop in our stunt rehearsal area to doing a 75-foot drop 40 times, without showing any emotion or any fear," explains Dana Eastwood. 'I give big kudos to her because with this scene, she entered the world of -Mission: Impossible' in a very fast and frightening way. Within hours we were doubling the combinations and then tripling the combinations, but she just nailed it. She not only nailed it but she brought the energy of Ilsa Faust nailing it."
Racing Through Morocco and London
Some of the most intense action of 'Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" is also its most primal: classic, pure adrenaline road chases that push the pedal to the floor. For Tom Cruise, taking things to the nth degree behind a wheel comes naturally. He's raced cars and done plenty of stunt driving, but he says of this film, 'we wanted to take it to a whole new level so that we could do very extreme things with relative safety."
That meant getting out on the track with Wade Eastwood, whose top specialty is car stunts. Eastwood was licking his lips at the possibilities from the moment he came on board to train Tom Cruise. 'In this film, there is a lot of high-speed, precision driving using very fast cars and very fast motorbikes on very dangerous roads," he says. 'So experienced as Tom Cruise is, I suggested that we go back to basics, so that he would come out an even better driver than he was before. And of course Tom Cruise always gives 120% and just went for it and exceeded every expectation."
Dana Eastwood continues: 'Driving is my genre so I can say that the quality of Tom Cruise's driving was ridiculous. There is no stunt man I would have rather used for these chases instead of him, because he has those skills mastered as much as anyone, and is in character the whole time."
Tom Cruise had the chance to handle a car that befits the 'Mission: Impossible" mix of the classic and exhilarating -- BMW's nimble, high-performance M3 sedan -- as well as BMW's s1000rr sport bike.
'We were so lucky to have the M3 as our signature car on this film -- it's the boy racer beast," states Eastwood. 'And we had BMW's full tech support as well, which was fantastic. We fitted some handbrakes and the like, but apart from minor modifications, the cars we used were all stock. Testing the M3 on tracks around Britain was, for me, the very best part of the job. The BMW motorbikes are also exceptional. We truly had the best hooligan car and the best hooligan bike. That bike has a lot of horsepower, which makes it exciting, but on the downside, it is easy to crash for even the best rider. Tom Cruise worked until he had tremendously great control of it and that way he was able to make it safe."
Shooting in Morocco brought its own set of challenges – from the scorching heat to the scorpions – but that was all taken in stride when the filmmakers saw the kind of shots they were getting. 'When you see the helicopter shot swooping in over Casablanca, your breath is just taken away," comments Jake Myers, 'the way the city is situated right on the water with all the towering minarets. And then you have these narrow, labyrinth-like streets and it was just amazing to see these BMW bikes zooming through them at high speeds."
The bikes take off at a velocity that is unprecedented. 'I think the Morocco chase sequence is really going to surprise audiences," says David Ellison. 'We used rigs that have never before been used – and the result is you get the chance to truly see Tom racing on a motorcycle at top speed. There are no special effects. As with the A400 sequence and the underwater breath-holding, Tom is doing exactly what Ethan Hunt must do, which is what makes each -Mission' movie so unique. Of course, we make sure the stunts are as safe as humanly possible and go through endless rehearsals, but at the end of the day Tom Cruise is willing to put himself in jeopardy, which makes for a one-of-a-kind performance."
One of Tom Cruise's favorite sequences is the most stripped down of all – a race on foot through the heart of London. 'It's a city that I love and we get to create a bit of a love letter to London in this chase: you get the cobblestone streets, the fog, the Tower of London. I really enjoyed running with Rebecca Ferguson through these streets on a really cool cat-and-mouse kind of chase," Tom Cruise says. 'It was a lot of fun figuring out the logistics, scouting it all, finding just the right streets and then letting the story unfold through the action."
Tom Cruise's comment about allowing the story to unfold through the action seemed to sum up much of the production of 'Rogue: Nation." Dana Goldberg points out that even though the cast and crew pulled off some of the most incredible live-action stunts ever attempted – and the bar was indeed hurled past any previous point -- what people love most about the movie are the many funny and emotional moments in the midst of the tension that never lets up.
'Great as the stunts are, they only resonate for the audience if they are involved in the story and feel something for the characters," Dana Goldberg concludes. 'The small moments where you see the characters having fun and revealing themselves are what make the big moments even more exciting."
Rogue Style: The Look
Bringing the efforts of the IMF team to halt The Syndicate to life required another crack team – the crew Christopher McQuarrie recruited to tackle 'Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation." They include Oscar®-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit and Oscar®-nominated production designer Jim Bissell, who previously collaborated on 'Ghost Protocol", along with Oscar®-nominated costume designer Joanna Johnston and editor Eddie Hamilton.
'The crew as a whole truly achieved the impossible," says Christopher McQuarrie. 'They had an ever-expanding appetite for invention and they absorbed every challenge with intelligence and boldness. From the photography to the design, from the special effects to the props to hair and make-up, we were surrounded by real artists making incredible contributions in every detail."
Christopher McQuarrie continues: 'Jim Bissell came in with such an innate sense of the -Mission: Possible' ethos that every aspect of the design came from a place of exploring character. And Robert Elswit was indispensable. He was the one who would always ask that one pointed question that immediately pointed out our blind spots. He really pushed me out of all my usual tried-and-true processes to try things in different, revealing ways. Thanks in large part to him, I had a completely different process coming out of this movie than going in."
Tom Cruise is equally effusive about the duo of Bissell and Elswit. 'Elswit's a guy who can shoot something on the scale of the Vienna Opera House sequence, and yet bring equally wonderful drama to the more intimate moments. He's an incredible collaborator," he says. 'And this is the third film I've made with Jim. The guy knows movies and knows how to build a set that tells a story.
We were constantly discussing narrative and character, always asking what tone do we want here and what complications do we want here? I have great admiration for his contribution."
The decision was made early on to shoot 'Rogue Nation" on film, rather than digital, for that classic celluloid sense of glamour. And, as shooting got under way, everyone could sense the excitement of the visuals. 'Elswit is one of the greats," comments Alec Baldwin. 'Knowing he's behind the camera really kind of psyches you up. It makes you feel good to know you're out there with someone brilliant like that."
Joining the 'Mission: Impossible" crew for the first time is Oscar®-nominated costume designer Joanna Johnston ('Lincoln," 'War Horse," 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") – who not only sought to capture that trademark aura of suave elegance, but also to create clothing that could withstand being stretched, scuffed, soaked and taken through every extreme human motion conceivable.
A prime example is Ilsa Faust's dazzling yellow dress at the Opera House sequence. 'I love that dress -- so elegant and sexy and romantic and perfect for the Vienna Opera," says Cruise. 'The way Joanna works, she always comes from the point of view of the character – and she knows just how to dress actors in a way that is glamorous yet not overstated and has a sense of fun."
Simon Pegg even fell in love with Benji's costumes. 'Joanna and I had so much fun coming up with Benji's looks because she really emphasized his eccentricities. We came up with crazy t- shirts and mismatched looks. She starts and ends with character, which is the best way to do it," he says.
Composer Joe Kraemer also joined the team, having worked with McQuarrie and Cruise on 'Jack Reacher." 'I loved his score for -Jack Reacher,'" says Cruise, 'and he and Chris have been great friends and collaborators. And I love what he did with the music, particularly the opera sequence, which I think is really exceptional. He has designed the music to fit beautifully with the edit."
Kraemer also had a chance to put his own twist on the indelible, retro Lalo Schifrin theme that millions can whistle on cue. 'I remember even as a kid just when you heard that theme, it just gave you a certain feeling of excitement," says Tom Cruise.
That excitement has never really changed, for Tom Cruise or for millions of fans. Tom Cruise concludes: ''Mission: Impossible' is the first film I ever produced – and now here we are at our fifth one. I love making these movies. I love the spy genre, I love this character, I love the wonderful challenge of making these films and I love the chance to invite all kinds artists to come in and create these incredible, suspenseful adventures. Most of all, I love seeing the fun audiences have with these films. That's the thing I've always wanted to do with whatever kind of film that I'm making: give audiences something enormously entertaining."
Mission: Impossible - Rouge Nation
Release Date: July 30th, 2015