Mission: Impossible: Getting the Band Back Together at 25,000 Feet

We discuss with Christopher McQuarrie and Wade Eastwood why they were "crazy" enough to sign up for another Mission: Impossible.

Christopher McQuarrie did not have gray hair until he met Tom Cruise. He doesn’t consider this a coincidence. In the last decade, the pair have collaborated on six movies (three with McQuarrie as director), and each time they’ve found a new reason to push their ambitions—as well as push new stunts that sometimes can include Cruise dangling from the side of a plane or, in the case of this month’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, jumping out of one at 25,000 feet. Over 100 times.

Noting that the strongest steel goes through the hottest fire, McQuarrie says, “Every movie is a crucible that reveals people’s creative priorities and, very often, their true nature. From the moment we met, Tom and I recognized someone with the same basic creative priorities. When you find people you’re that in sync with, you hold onto them and make another movie.”

Hence why McQuarrie is the first director to sign up for a second go in Cruise’s signature franchise, Mission: Impossible. Ever since John Woo stepped in for Brian De Palma on a radically reimagined M:I2, the series has been a Rorschach test, allowing each filmmaker to bring their own energy and vision to the franchise. Yet McQuarrie, fresh off the best-reviewed entry in the saga, 2015’s Rogue Nation, ended that unspoken rule by accepting a follow-up Mission.

“I doubt I’m the first director asked to come back,” McQuarrie demurs. “I’m certain I’m the first one crazy enough to say yes.” Be that as it may, the veteran filmmaker, whose writing credits include The Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow, doesn’t consider Fallout to be a direct sequel to the previous entry, even if it is the first M:I film to retain most of the same team and supporting cast.

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Rogue Nation was a very challenging movie to make,” the writer-director says. “When it worked, I had a strong urge to walk away from the table with my winnings… Tom urged me to come back, and I agreed with the understanding that I would not attempt to play on the success of Rogue Nation the way Rogue had played on Ghost Protocol.”

The result is a film which McQuarrie and his crew repeatedly emphasize is more humanistic and intimate, derived from the perspective of its characters. There are, of course, always a few rules that must be preserved: the mission dossier self-destructs; there is a mask, at some point; and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is no daredevil (the actor, in fact, needs to look more scared doing the stunts than he would be off-screen). But everything else is fair game. That includes deconstructing why Ethan Hunt is considered “a gambler.” McQuarrie suggests the films are really about everyone else speculating what makes him take risks, and Fallout is intended to answer that question by contextualizing his deepest regrets and fears—and by revisiting aspects of his character once thought buried.

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“Tom very much wanted to resolve the story of Julia, which people still ask him about,” McQuarrie says, referring to the return of Michelle Monaghan as Ethan’s ex-wife. “We thought that had been wrapped up nicely in Ghost Protocol, but apparently it wasn’t definitive enough.” Which also meant reintroducing her like a new character, and finally making Monaghan as integral to the on-screen crew as Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust and franchise stalwarts Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames. Still, the trick is keeping the family together while throwing them into harrowing, character-driven action—even when that action doesn’t draw solely from the script.

Indeed, Fallout is the first film in McQuarrie’s career where the demands of the locations and stunts dictated what the actual stunts would be. For the helmer, this is borne out of the realization that most of the time when scenes didn’t turn out the way he’d written them, it was because of a “shitty location.” The epiphany has in turn allowed his crew extraordinary freedom to fine-tune the picture’s aesthetic. Stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood, for one, felt liberated by how he could simply walk down the streets of Paris and let the cobblestones inform the type of car Ethan Hunt would drive while in pursuit. (It’s a classic BMW M5.)

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“It drove the color of the car, the green of the car against the gray cobblestone,” Eastwood marvels. “Everything came alive before we thought about where we are going to slide and crash.” Nonetheless, sliding and crashing is the name of the game.

Eastwood is also a longtime member of Cruise’s off-screen IMF team, even occasionally sharing adventurous weekends away from the set with the star.

“If we have a laugh, we don’t go away and sit on the beach,” Eastwood says with his own bemusement. “We race cars and bikes, we skydive, we fly choppers.” All of which eventually disseminates into the series, including Fallout’s action triumvirate electing to have Cruise HALO jump out of a military plane in the UAE. (There’s too much red tape in the UK.) It’s the first time an actor has done the high-altitude dive himself, and Cruise did it for more than 100 takes. After practice runs.

The old way of doing things is something all three men value, even if the tradeoff features downsides.

“Ninety percent of the shots you’ll see of Tom running in Fallout, he’s doing so on a broken [foot],” McQuarrie recalls. It was the result of one of the simpler stunts (by their standards), which had Cruise leaping between buildings. Eastwood notes Cruise rehearsed it fine, but with the camera rolling, and as Ethan Hunt, a focus on the character’s excitement led to Cruise overextending his foot. Afterward, he continued doing his own stunts, with five hours of physical therapy every day. Eastwood even supervised Cruise doing physio on a bike before each take, so that the blood in his foot would warm.

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“Every time [we] paused camera, he literally hobbled back to the number one position and would have physio. It was only pure adrenaline and the desire to finish the film that made him run in the shot.” That, plus a desire to give moviegoers a throwback to real action spectacle.

In this sense, it’s already mission accomplished.