September ‘15
Insight Interview

September ‘15


Tell us about the big car chase?

A: It was a lot of fun doing that car chase. The key thing was that most of the time when we were doing the driving, the cameras were looking in, rather than tracking the car, so a lot of the time it was on our faces. Tom was doing all of the driving, and not only was he doing that, he was doing it with a camera mount on the car, which makes the car another meter out of sight. It was just so much fun. We just did a lot of crazy corner turning, through these crazy alleyways in Casablanca, knocking stuff over, crashing. It was extraordinary.

How long does a sequence like that take to do?

A: I guess it took us about a week of trying to shut down the streets of Casablanca on a daily basis, which is not an easy task by any means. It was really tough to get the folks, who were obviously very excited about Tom, to not get run over. But Tom is such an extraordinary driver. Our stunt coordinator, Wade Eastwood, said that there was no point in getting a stuntman in to do it because he can do it, and he can probably do it better than most stuntmen.

Does Tom do his own stunts?

A: Yeah, it's very important to Tom that people have that experience of knowing that it's not a stuntman. It adds a degree of tension when you know that it's the actor doing it, because it stays in your mind that it's still the character onscreen. It's important for the film that there's a layer of extra tension whereby the audience is going, 'Oh my god, he's doing that. He's on the side of that plane, he's driving that car.' Often when you see stunt performers they have to turn away from the camera and you can see that it's not the person it's supposed to be. I was watching something the other day and the stunt doubles were hilarious. You could see that they were completely different people, but with Tom, and with the whole production really, it was like, let's give a degree of jeopardy here. There was never any kind of safety hazard, really, because everything was so well coordinated, but it just makes the difference, I think.

So much can be done with CG now, what does it bring to the film when it's actors doing the sequences for real?

A: I think it's a fantastic tool, but one thing it does do, is it removes the question of, 'How did they do that?' Because you have some abstract idea of some person busily compiling data in order to create something - it's almost a more tangible way of doing a special effect. You think, 'Oh yeah, it's done on a computer.' It's a very easy definition of what it is. It's much more complicated than that and it requires extraordinary skill, but I think for the audience when something is real and in camera, it's just so much more dazzling, because you do start to ask the question, 'How do they do that?'

Were you there for the scene when Tom is hanging on the outside of the aircraft as it's in flight?

A: I was. Yep, that's a typical day on set for Mission: Impossible - Tom hanging onto the side of a plane! I was on the ground doing my bits, and there were moments when Tom and I were in the shot together, when he pulled round on the plane. When he actually did the take off, I wasn't shooting my scene, so I actually got on the plane just to have a ride in an A400. They said, 'Hey, you want to come and sit on the plane?' So I did one circuit in the cockpit with the pilots, which was fun, for my own enjoyment, and then I sat back in the cargo bay, for when the door opened, where the monitor was, and that was fun, because basically the plane just opens and you're looking out into the void. Meanwhile Mr. Cruise was on the side of the plane... That was a truly memorable day, I can tell you. But then on these films you have a lot of memorable days.

That's an extraordinary scene. You wonder how he could ever do anything to top that one'¦

A: The thing about Tom is that he relishes this stuff. He enjoys it. It's not like these things are easy to do, because they're not, but he relishes the challenge and the effort it takes because I think he likes to be stretched. There's a reason why he is where he is and why he is who he is, because he has this dynamic kind of thrust. I worry in a way - like if we do Mission: Impossible 6, he's going to have to go into space (laughs), because he can't get any higher. He did the Burj Khalifa, and it was like, 'Okay, let's do that again, but let's not be attached to the ground.' It's fantastic to watch but you do wonder where he'll go next.

Do you get the script and think, 'how on earth will they do that?'

A: Well you read the script and you're reading it as an actor, so you might think, 'Oh great, there's a bit of action there, a bit of a fight there,' but it isn't until you get to the set and see the physical manifestation on the set, and you see it come to life, that you think, 'Holy s***! This really is going up on an aeroplane.' You see 'going up on an aeroplane' in a script, and you might think, 'I wonder how we're going to do that. Probably a bit of green screen.' It isn't until you get on set on those days, and you start realising the way they're going to practically do it that you start thinking, 'Ooh.' By which time it's too late.

What's it like to be involved with something of this scale?

A: It's really fun to come into work knowing you're part of something like this, because there's such an important place for pure entertainment, and I think it's extremely fun to watch it and it's extremely fun to be part of it. To turn up on set and know that today we're going to be shooting something on the Vienna subway, or hanging off an aeroplane, or doing a car chase - it doesn't get any better than that.

This is your third Mission: Impossible film. How has Benji evolved from film to film?

A: It's a very unexpected kind of evolution. When JJ Abrams called me about the third one, way back when, almost ten years ago - in fact it probably was ten years ago, because it was 2006 when we shot it - I was thrilled that he'd thought of me, and I was very chuffed that he'd seen Shaun of the Dead, and I thought, 'This is going to be a fun little thing to do.' It was a couple of days, and then since that period of time, JJ and I have become very good friends, and of course Star Trek happened. When they started talking about Ghost Protocol, I got an email from JJ one morning saying, 'Hey, what do you think about Benji being an agent?' I was like, 'Well yeah, of course! That would be fun.' And so in Ghost Protocol, we see him being this sort of freshly trained, quite enthusiastic, not very jaded, young agent, and then here we are on Rogue Nation, number five, and that character has grown so much, and his relationship with Ethan has grown. In the third one he's a little bit star-struck around him because he's the star of the IMF, and he risks his job to help him. Then in Ghost Protocol it's like, 'I'm in the field with Ethan Hunt, this is amazing.' In this one, he's been out there a while and he has a very abiding affection for Ethan, but he's not the same guy he was. He's matured a little bit, and he'll still do anything for him, but he's not afraid to stand up to him. It's nice to have that opportunity to play a character across that arc - to play a character for ten years, it's nice.

What can you tell about 'The Syndicate?'

A: As you see in the trailer, Benji refers to it as the 'anti-IMF'. It's our mirror image, but for the good of evil, if you'll excuse the oxymoron there. By its very nature, it's the ultimate adversary, because it's basically ourselves. They're people that are as equipped, as dedicated, as skilled as we are. The enemy that Ethan is looking for is kind of like his dark self. Meanwhile, the whole thing is about questioning why we're doing what we're doing, and having a crisis of faith and wondering if it's all worth it. The Syndicate is basically people who have decided that it isn't worth it, and they don't want to support an organization that doesn't really care about them, and they've created this organisation that is anti-everything.

How long is the shoot on a film of this size?

A: Well I mean it's always going six or seven months, for a film of this size, and my role in the films has grown and grown. With this one, I was on it more than I was on Ghost Protocol, but then sometimes you have a week off. I went on holiday in the middle of the shoot and then came back again. Tom is on it pretty much every single day, because he's a producer as well. However tired you are, you can never really say it in front of him, because you ain't as tired as he is. Not that he shows it. It's a good chunk of time. It's half a year, at least.

What physical preparation was required for this film?

A: We had a really tight training schedule in this one. Myself and Tom and Rebecca [Ferguson] trained. We tried to train together whenever we could. We had a fantastic team on set, and we would train after shooting or before shooting, and definitely on days off. With my own trainer as well - I have a trainer named Nick who I work with at home - we just blitzed it. We ate very well, and we had these 'cooler bags', they were called. You'd pick them up in the morning and they had your breakfast, lunch and dinner in them, beautifully prepared, really nutritionally exact meals, so that we could be in tip-top shape. I was supposed to be a secret agent, so we were in great shape. Tom is on it - he will not break - but Rebecca and I would be like, 'Did you eat your chocolate on the pillow at the hotel last night?' 'Yeah, me too.' But the best sessions we had were when we were working out together, where the three of us would be doing a challenge where we'd have to finish a certain number of exercises in a certain amount of time. We'd have a room set up in the hotel where the equipment would be, or there would be the gym trailer on set, which most big films will have now, because obviously it's quite demanding on the actors physically. So we'd work out in 'the pain cave', as we called it, or if we were away on location there'd be a room designated and they'd fill it with equipment. We'd go for runs, and we'd motivate each other. Sometimes at the end of work, one of us would feel a bit like, 'I don't want to work out,' and the other two would be like, 'No, come on let's do it.'

Isn't there the temptation to want to call room service and watch a film after a hard day's work on set?

A: Yes and no. We stayed in a beautiful hotel in Marrakesh called The Selman, but I used to call it 'The Smellman' because it had this amazing aroma there - I don't know what they pumped through the air conditioners but it was this beautiful smell. It was their own fragrance basically, and the whole hotel smelled like that. Anyway, if I was just going to be in my room on my own, I'd be like, 'Come on, let's get the guys together and work out.' Plus our team made it fun.

Do you enjoy the training and the demands it requires of you?

A: I do, because it becomes more of an overall commitment; you sort of live it a little bit. Particularly when you're away from home. I mean, we shot the vast majority of it in Leavesden [near London] at Warner Brothers, which was great, but when you're away from home, there's not that much else to do. I mean, the way our days are structured, it's not like we can go to the movies after work. Sometimes it's just a great way to relax, just to go and do chin-ups for an hour.

What was it like working with Christopher McQuarrie?

A: I love Chris. I think he's great. We had such a fun time. He's a real film fan and so am I, so we would always just be yakking about movies, and having little private jokes about various film references like a couple of nerds. I just liked his approach. His references are all on point, and he's got a great knowledge of cinema. Brad Bird is a tough act to follow, and Ghost Protocol is a very particular type of movie; it's a Brad Bird movie. Rather than trying to do Ghost Protocol again, Chris came in there and went, 'I'm going to make a Chris McQuarrie movie' He drew on all the previous instalments to get this kind of unified feel about the movie, about what's gone before and what could come after. It was really nice watching him do it, because he was great at the grand stuff, the big set pieces, but he was great at the smaller character pieces, which became really important while we were making the movie.

The bar is continually raised in this genre of film - Bourne, Bond, Mission - you all seem to be spurring each other on. Do you keep track of what the others are doing and does that inspire you?

A: Absolutely, and I'm very excited for Bond, and as always, it's a big part of our culture here in the UK. I think all of those films have upped the game a little bit, and there's nothing better than that, because otherwise they stagnate. Because there's a healthy competition out there for viewership of these movies, everyone is just trying to up their game a little bit and make sure they can stand out, and I think this film has definitely done that. We've got big shoes to fill, because Ghost Protocol was huge, a great movie, and the most successful Mission: Impossible to date. It was all about just trying to push things further, and also to develop it and evolve it - not just make it bigger, because that would be a bit too simplistic. It's about building on the character relationships that we had in the last one between Benji and Ethan and Brandt and Luther, and bringing in this fabulous new character in the shape of Rebecca, who is just great. I feel like Ilsa could come back, absolutely, and I hope she does, because she's such an interesting character. It is an interesting time for this kind of movie, as long as they keep evolving.

What was it like working with Rebecca Ferguson?

A: Well, she has such charisma and charm, Rebecca, and the minute I met her, she was so confident. She doesn't really let anything throw her. She has that great Scandinavian pragmatism. She's Swedish and she has that approach to life that's just very real, and it's a great kind of energy to have on a set. It's easy to disappear into the stars on these kinds of movies because you're constantly being carried around and shepherded around, so it's great to have someone who is so grounded. Me, her and Tom just had a great dynamic.