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The Women of Mission: Impossible Talk Dead Reckoning Part One

10 min read
Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One

This interview was conducted in July 2023.

After a five-year hiatus, prolonged due to the pandemic, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and team are back for the seventh instalment Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. Shrouded in secrecy, the plot and character details are very much being kept under wraps with little being known about it beyond the crazy action sequences shown off in the trailer. From Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle off a cliff in Norway to drifting a bright yellow Fiat 500 around the streets of Rome whilst Cruise and franchise newcomer Hayley Atwell are handcuffed to each other, Dead Reckoning Part One has somehow managed to step up from the heights of Fallout to provide yet another impossible mission. This time, Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must track down a terrifying new weapon that threatens the whole world if it falls into the wrong hands.


Thankfully, Ethan’s not alone. Alongside him for the ride is the return of Simon Pegg’s Benji, Ving Rhames’ Luther, Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa, Vanessa Kirby’s mysterious White Widow and Henry Czerny’s former head of the IMF Eugene Kittridge who hasn’t been seen since the first Mission film. Joining the cast are Esai Morales as the film’s main villain, Cary Elwes, Mark Gatiss, Rob Delaney, Pom Klementieff and Hayley Atwell. The cast for the new film is certainly a force to be reckoned with.


Hayley Atwell’s character Grace is set to feature prominently alongside Cruise and is a character that Atwell described as “consistently inconsistent and unpredictable.” Christopher McQuarrie, director of Missions 5,6,7 and next year’s 8, has known for some time that he’s wanted to work with Atwell. After seeing her on stage in London 10 years ago he told her “That thing that you can do on stage, I want it. I don’t know where to put it, I don’t know what the character is yet, but I want to work with you.” But the process of writing Hayley Atwell into a Mission film hasn’t been that straightforward.


When it comes to writing a Mission film, the bare bones are there, and the key action sequences are confirmed but there isn’t a full script for the cast and crew to work with. McQuarrie allows the actors to shape their characters. “Apart from essential plot points of her, it was up for grabs really about things I could offer them, things I could suggest, and ideas I could throw out,” described Atwell. It was a liberating process for Atwell because of the safe space created by McQuarrie and Cruise. “There was no such thing as wrong, or bad, or judgement, or mistakes. There was just making choices and trying new things,” Atwell added. “What they’re doing is exceptional, and their ambition for the piece means they’re only ever going to use things that really elevate the story.”


Working without a script might be challenging for some actors, but it’s certainly not an impossible mission for those involved in the franchise. Getting to have that collaborative effort to create characters — particularly characters that are new to the franchise — is a really exciting opportunity for the cast. Hot off the heels of playing Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Pom Klementieff is already joining another franchise and Klementieff describes working on Mission as like a dance due to the way in which everyone on set, from the actors to the costume department, to hair and makeup, are all bringing ideas and working together to help shape the characters and to help shape the story of the film. Klementieff would come to set each day with no idea what they were shooting, and she’d ask McQuarrie “Who do I kill today?” and the two of them would work together to come up with how her character would go about achieving her mission and working with the props department to ensure that everything worked for the character and for the story.


It’s a testament to the creative minds of McQuarrie and Cruise and everyone involved to be able to create something so immense, without having it all entirely locked down in the first place. For Rebecca Ferguson, that’s what’s so exciting about the Mission Impossible franchise. “We just don’t work with scripts,” said Ferguson. Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have this incredible story in their head and things develop from that. Ferguson spoke of the differences between doing Mission Impossible and Dune as with the latter there’s a strict shooting schedule and mapping out the film, but the opposite is true for Mission and “It leaves you on your tippy toes ready to constantly jump”. For Mission, they’ll shoot multiple versions of things and see what works best. Ferguson admitted that even she doesn’t know what’s made the final cut of the film. “All that I’m prepared for is the action. I know my character. And the rest is revealed when I see the film.”


It’s essential that of the few things that are locked down, the action scenes are among them. Dead Reckoning Part One takes the action scenes to a completely new level. From scaling the tallest building in the world to hanging onto the side of a plane as it takes off, Tom Cruise has risked his life for the Mission Impossible franchise — multiple times. In Dead Reckoning Part One fans can expect to see Cruise and co-running and jumping around atop a runaway train in what promises to be one of the film’s best action set pieces. And there’s minimal CGI involved either as Cruise is insistent on doing all his stunts practically.


The stunts all being real is what makes the Mission Impossible franchise stand out from the crowd of action films. Hayley Atwell described it as “Unlike anything else that exists,” but adds that it’s part of the fun of doing a Mission film. “That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it. You don’t come into the Mission Impossible franchise with the possibility of building a very serious role next to Tom without wanting the opportunity and the challenge to physically do things that are truly extraordinary and exceptional.”


It’s not just Atwell who was drawn to the adrenaline and the thrills of the franchise with Pom Klementieff saying getting to work with Cruise and his stunt team was an incredible experience. “It opened up a new world of possibilities which changed me completely in an amazing way.” Having been a fan of the franchise since the beginning there was not a world where Klementieff would not accept this mission of being part of the franchise. “I have so many memories on this movie of things that were pinch-me moments. Sometimes I was just shooting and you kind of forget that you’re part of Mission Impossible, but sometimes I would just start singing doo doo, doo doo doo doo…” Klementieff told us that years ago when she was training and learning martial arts, she would schedule her fight training in her phone and call it “Mission Impossible” in her calendar because she was trying to manifest this role that has now come her way.


As for details on the new characters, Klementieff was able to share that her villain doesn’t speak much so she took inspiration from animals, in particular the shoebill stork. Klementieff would watch videos of the bird and channel that into her character. “I kept looking at videos of this bird and when it’s staring at you it’s just so f*cking scary…It’s like a dinosaur bird.” Getting to play a quiet character, particularly in an action movie where there’s often lots of exposition was a nice change of pace for Klementieff. She was able to focus on the strength and stillness that comes through the mystery of not talking. Klementieff teased that we can expect something a bit more mystical in Dead Reckoning Part One and something that hasn’t been seen before in a Mission Impossible film. “It’s such a rich movie and it’s so incredible…the characters are so fucking cool and the story is very special.”


As for Hayley Atwell, she loved Tom Cruise’s enthusiasm for film and the symbiotic relationship between him and Christopher McQuarrie. Getting to work closely with the two to mould and build her character as they went along meant that Grace couldn’t be boxed into one particular archetype. Atwell spent five months training for the role learning mixed martial arts, training with knives and guns, and learning how to drift in a race car, but one of the biggest challenges was preparing to run alongside Cruise and having to reach the bar of his iconic sprint where he runs with every cell in his body. “Pickpocketing and sleight of hand tricks seem to come quite naturally to me, as did drifting,” said Atwell, “because of all that training, by the time we got on set I was ready to inject physical and emotional behaviour into it and offer them a range of performances.”


The physical training all the cast underwent was a difficult experience but that’s not to say that the excitement of it all never got to them. Atwell spoke of one moment on set in Rome where all of a sudden, she turned to Cruise and said, “Oh my God, I’m in a Tom Cruise movie!” to which he responded, “No no no, I’m in a Hayley Atwell movie, you’re Hayley Atwell!” Atwell said, “It was so endearing of him and so generous of him.” Klementieff had a similar story of Cruise’s generosity as she had wanted to skydive with him but didn’t have her licence and so when the film wrapped, Cruise put her in touch with his trainer and taught her how to skydive. “I’m blown away by his generosity and how hardworking he is, and how inspiring he is,” remarked Klementieff.


Among all the excitement of the death-defying stunts performed by Cruise and co, everything in Mission Impossible is driven by character and the story. Even when things are subtle and not always immediately clear to the audience. After Fallout subtly dropped that Vanessa Kirby’s White Widow was the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave’s Max from the first film, Kirby has since been building on these family ties in her character. “I just went back and I watched [Vanessa Redgrave] a thousand times and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, this is one of the great theatre actresses of our time’ and she’s always been a huge hero of mine.” Kirby added “To play her daughter and to try and embody that within an action movie is awesome. I think there’s been a long lineage of really cool women in this series.” Vanessa Kirby was excited by the fact that Dead Reckoning allowed her to explore more, push more, ask more questions and try different things with the character. And whilst Kirby was keeping details on the White Widow’s progression in Dead Reckoning close to her chest, she did tell us that she’s grown up even more except now the pressures are getting to her, and more is on the line and there are way more challenges for the White Widow.


Rebecca Ferguson echoed this sentiment too adding that “people know what they’re going to see when they see a Mission Impossible film, but I think this is going to be ten times better than they think.” Ferguson added, “This is going to be darker and more gruesome and it’s going to engulf you more than you would ever have expected…there are bad-ass scenes, fantastic stuns and wonderful locations.” Making a Mission film is more than just a job for Ferguson who’s been a part of the franchise for almost ten years now.  With the immense training and travel required, making a Mission Impossible film is a journey, especially given the fact they were shooting the film during the pandemic and production had to be shut down across COVID lockdowns. “You don’t film Mission, you live Mission…it becomes your life,” said Ferguson. But as a result, Rebecca Ferguson and her character Ilsa Faust have blended together. “She became me, and I her. Somehow, we moulded into each other.” Because of the similarities between Ferguson and Ilsa Faust, she could make decisions about the character in a split second without having to analyse things or check with McQuarrie.


At the end of the day for director Christopher McQuarrie, for Tom Cruise, and for the entire cast, it’s the characters that matter the most and make Mission Impossible what it is. Whether new or old, it’s the characters that drive the Mission Impossible films. The whole franchise, but in particular Dead Reckoning Part One is full of great female characters too. Vanessa Kirby told us, “There’s a lot of great women in this…the women in this series are amazing.” The women in this film are all equals to Ethan Hunt and make this entry into the franchise stand out so much. “So much of the Mission franchise is about the team,” said Atwell. “It’s about Luther and it’s about Benji, and it’s about Ethan and what they have sacrificed to become part of the IMF.”


With Dead Reckoning being a two-parter there are rumours that this is the start of a big send-off for Hunt and his IMF team but nothing is set in stone. Ferguson was quick to say that she doesn’t believe the franchise will end until she hears Tom Cruise himself utter the words “I am done,” three words that she’s yet to hear from his mouth. “I think Tom is going to keep on going with anything until he can’t bloody walk.” Agreeing with Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby remarked that with Cruise anything is possible. “That’s why it’s called Mission Impossible because he always does it,” added Kirby stating that she’s not heard anything about Cruise being ready to deliver his final mission just yet.


Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is now available digitally.