CRUISE AND MCQUARRIE
One clings to planes for fun. One makes the other cling to planes for fun. We chat with the guys who put the MVP in, erm, Mission: Impossible.
Tom Cruise and Christopher Mcquarrie have made nine movies together. Mission: Impossible Fallout may just be their masterpiece. In an exclusive joint interview, they tell us how they did it, and why they’re not stopping there
that Tom Cruise and Christopher Mcquarrie can read each other’s minds, but it wouldn’t come as a great surprise. The duo have worked together so closely over the last decade, during which time Mcquarrie has graduated from one of the best writers around to one of the best directors, that over the course of our conversation with them they finish each other’s sentences. Just like an old married couple. In Hollywood terms, ten years is a lifetime, but their creative partnership isn’t slowing down any time soon. They’ve collaborated on nine films, including Edge Of Tomorrow and Jack Reacher, and are currently on Top Gun: Maverick, with Cruise top gunning again and Mcquarrie top penning.
But we’re here to talk about their crowning glory, the flat-out action masterpiece that is Mission: Impossible Fallout. The sixth Mission: Impossible movie saw Cruise break a franchise rule by bringing back a director for a second helping, but the gamble paid off handsomely, with stunts that, even
by Cruise’s standards, were impressive. Though he also came close to derailing everything when he broke his ankle during a stunt gone right in London last year. We talked about that, and more, in a frank and funny hour-long conversation that sheds light on why they might be the safest pair of hands in blockbusters right now. This will only take four or five hours.
Christopher Mcquarrie: That’s nothing for us, dude. That’s a walk in the park. Not even half a script session.
I’m going to start with a tough one. Fallout is the biggest Mission to date. Critics went nuts, it’s in our top ten of the year. You must be fairly happy with how it turned out.
Tom Cruise: You’re always happy and there’s relief and joy in seeing a response. I make movies for audiences, and to see how much they’re enjoying themselves, that’s really incredibly satisfying.
Mcquarrie: There’s also a mild layer of terror, knowing we have to outdo it.
Cruise: It’s always that way. We always start that way. You have that slight bit of
nausea as you’re going, “Okay, let’s go.” That’s the way we always feel beforehand, believe me. Did that feeling of mild terror drive Fallout?
Cruise: You always feel it. On every movie, I want it to fulfil its potential. There’s that wonderful feeling. It’s actually this pleasure/terror/pain/ excitement of creating something. It’s that adrenaline and focus that I think MCQ and I have together. We just keep having fun with the pressure, and creating it. We have a saying: “Pressure’s a privilege.” Like on Rogue [Nation],
I couldn’t figure out the third act.
It’s alright, pressure’s a privilege. Now we’ve got to figure this out.
Mcquarrie: We get to do this. We get to have this problem.
Cruise: If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t feel like this. Tom, this is your sixth Mission. Chris, it’s your third. Cruise: And our ninth film together. Top Gun’s our tenth. Does it get easier making one of these giant juggernauts?
Cruise: In some ways yes, and in some ways no. It gets clearer.
Mcquarrie: We now have the collective experience of three movies. You can now look at three Mission: Impossibles and go, here’s where we were in our own way. Here’s where we were making things harder than they needed to be, more
complicated than they needed to be, bigger than they needed to be. And you’re able to streamline it and you’re able to look at a handful of movies now and go, “Boy, we thought it needed to be big and spectacular and really what it needed was story and character and storytelling.” That’s king.
Cruise: Story is king. That’s something we always talk about. With each one, we have dreams of what we want it to be in the future. You look at what MCQ did at the end of the movie, and you see the scale of the film. But also the personal nature that we’re always reaching for with a Mission. Each one we try to remind ourselves what we’ve learned. That doesn’t mean we’re there. There’s times in the editing room where we’re like, “Fuck, we had this rule…” You know? “We agreed we wouldn’t do this!”
Mcquarrie: “We swore we would never do this!”
Cruise: Then we have to go back and pick it up!
Mcquarrie: “Why did you let me do that?”
Cruise: “I was there, why didn’t you remind me?” You know? [Laughs]
Jim Gianapoulos [Paramount chief ] is a good friend of mine. I’ve known him since I was a kid, basically. This was his first Mission. He was like, “Okay, where’s the script?” “We don’t have it. But we’ll get it. We have the locations.” We said, “Look, we’re not going to go over-budget — this is how you make a Mission.”
Mcquarrie: That was really the lesson we learned from Rogue. We were really struggling with the third act and what we ultimately realised was that every scene that was working in the movie was working because we knew the location before we really figured out the scene. We simply couldn’t find a location for the third act of the movie, and we had a concept for the third act that we were sticking to because we thought that was a rule. We thought that Ethan and the villain had to have a big climactic fight, and he had to kill the villain, like you do in every action movie. When we let that go, the whole movie came together. So we took that process and applied it to Fallout. We said, “Let’s know what all the locations are. Let’s not find ourselves in that trap again.” Then in the middle of the movie, we were really struggling because there was a scene we really liked and we were trying to get it in the movie. We turned to each other at some point and went, “Didn’t we learn this last time? Didn’t we say, ‘Never again’?” One of the things we say to each other all the time, shooting the helicopter sequence or the car chase or shooting something that’s never been done, is, “You know, we’ll know exactly how to shoot this on the last day.” We’ll know this shit inside and out.
Cruise: Invariably that’s where we are.
Mcquarrie: It feels like when we make our last Mission: Impossible, we’ll know…
Cruise: How to do it all.
Mcquarrie: Each one is getting us a little closer to the last one. Of course, I don’t know where that ends.
Mcquarrie: I’m terrified to think of what that actually means.
It ends 40 years from now, with us doing the same phone call, but in space.
Cruise: [Laughs] Exactly! Exactly! Mcquarrie: And, weirdly, Tom will have not aged. You’ll have to make out my words over the wheeze of my respirator, and Tom’s treadmill. Chris, you once told me that when you were prepping this movie, Tom pointed at something and said, “I want to fall off that.” I’m guessing that was Pulpit Rock in Norway [which doubles for a Kashmir cliff in the finale]. Mcquarrie: Yes.
So how does that factor into the development of the script? Cruise: It’s a dialogue that MCQ and I have. Even now as we’re working on Top Gun, we’ll just start talking about different character moments and story and cool locations or things we’d like to see. Things we’d like to do. Mcquarrie: Things we’ve seen in other movies where it’s a great idea, but they had to fake it. How would you do it for real? How could you take that idea to the next level? But also, always trying to figure out a way to imbue it with story. How do you take something spectacular
and not rely on spectacle? It’s amazing how quickly people numb to the unique and the novel. They see something and it’s really spectacular, but unless you invest them in it…
Cruise: It’s a very interesting thing. Harold Becker and Stanley Jaffe did a wonderful thing for me when I was doing a film at the beginning called Taps. I had one line and they upgraded me.
Mcquarrie: Funny, the same thing
happened on Fallout.
Cruise: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly! I had the one line!
Mcquarrie: One line! Then I thought, “Well, maybe Tom should say that...”
Cruise: So Harold took me into the rushes. At that time, that was a big thing, to watch the rushes. Beforehand, he said he knew I loved movies and wanted to know everything about it. He said, “These scenes I’m going to show you are going to be in the movie. I want you to try to watch it like you’re the audience.”
Mcquarrie: Great advice.
Cruise: It was great advice. I never forgot it for my entire career. To look at it and try to train myself as the audience.
Mcquarrie: You can’t take the audience for granted.
Cruise: Never. Never take them for granted. Mcquarrie: That, I think, is the core
of what works in Fallout and what works in Rogue. We are not trying to dazzle. We’re trying to move. That’s a substantial difference. Does that drive the idea that you’re doing your own stunts, Tom? That it matters to an audience that it’s you doing that stuff ?
Cruise: One of my first stunts was jumping off the roof of my house when I was about four years old, with new sheets and ropes tied around me. I jumped off the roof. Luckily it had rained that morning and I hit this mud puddle and as my head slammed between both my legs, I’ll literally never forget it. I knocked myself out and I thought, right before I went unconscious, “My mom’s gonna kill me.”
Mcquarrie: If the fall don’t kill you, your mother will!
Cruise: So even as a little kid I was very physical. I realised that you look at Harold Lloyd, you look at Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, that the physicality of performance and how to communicate ideas through motion is important. Look at Singin’ In The Rain. I think you can learn more about action and story watching that, because instantly through motion you can have boy meets girl…
Mcquarrie: Boy loves girl.
Cruise: Girl loves boy. And I think you see that in the action and how we developed it. It’s story. Why I started to produce Mission: Impossible is, even from the first one it allows us to put the camera in places that you wouldn’t normally put it. The CIA scene, you couldn’t have done that scene in Mission unless I was trained, and trained hard, and really developed that with De Palma, to be able to create that kind of sequence. How do I put the audience on the edge? How do I invest them in a story? How do I do it as an actor?
Mcquarrie: Most importantly, when an actor is really doing it, I can be on
that actor’s face and I can see them experiencing it. When an actor’s not doing it, I’m on that actor’s back and I’m seeing what they’re experiencing, but I’m not experiencing it. I’m not actually jumping out of a plane. The stuntman is. But when you’re looking at Tom and Tom’s jumping out of that plane, Tom’s reacting to something you’re not even seeing yet. You’re looking behind him and you’re seeing something he’s not seeing. You’re looking at the plane going away from him. You’re having your own individual experience, he’s having his, and it puts the two of you in it together. Cruise: I’ve been doing this, and training for it, my whole life, basically. I remember early on, when I was doing this, studios were like, “What are you doing? Why do you need so many months in preparation?” They didn’t understand. So I literally have educated the studios on how I do this, and what I do.
Tom, in this movie you did the HALO jump, you flew a helicopter for real, you jumped from rooftop to rooftop in London, you raced through Paris on a motorbike without a helmet. Are you single-handedly responsible for every grey hair on Chris Mcquarrie’s head? Mcquarrie: Yes! I will answer that. My wife will answer that.
Cruise: [Laughs] Yes! Yes! Did you see the opening of Rogue? When I’m in the box and it’s smoking? As my hand is going down, “Written and directed by Christopher Mcquarrie”? He’s doing it to me, too! One person said, “Chris Mcquarrie — Tom enabler!”
Mcquarrie: I may have the grey hair, but I don’t have the bruises.
Cruise: And the broken bones!
Mcquarrie: I think the worst physical injury I’ve had on a Mission: Impossible movie might be a paper cut. When I tried to play hard like Tom, we went racing go-karts. I had a terrible accident on the go-kart and really fucked myself up. I realised that other people should drive these. I should just look at the monitor and entrust the professionals to drive.
Cruise: I gave him a gift of the motorcycle from the Paris chase.
Mcquarrie: The most generous gift. An amazing gift. Now I have to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Or I have to buy the sort of home in which that’s appropriate.
Did you keep anything, Tom? Mcquarrie: We made him a mask of Wolf Blitzer, and presented it to him in a glass box.
Cruise: The Wolf Blitzer head! Mcquarrie: I’ve got the book with the tape recorder in it.
Cruise: You got the book?
Mcquarrie: I try to take one thing from every movie I make.
Cruise: You have to.
Mcquarrie: The only one I regret that I couldn’t get my hands on was the lighter from The Usual Suspects. Keyser Söze’s lighter.
Cruise: Oh my gosh.
Mcquarrie: It disappeared. I’ve always regretted that. I have Stauffenberg’s glass eye.
Cruise: Do you really?
Mcquarrie: Yeah. His glass eye. In the little case. I’ve got the pair of pliers and one of the fuses.
Cruise: That’s cool.
Mcquarrie: I have the bulletin board from The Usual Suspects.
Cruise: Do you really?
Mcquarrie: Yeah. With a lot of the stuff from the bulletin board on it.
Cruise: The lighter from Keyser Söze, that would have been…
Mcquarrie: I knew when I wrote it, I wanted it. I told the prop guy, “I gotta have this.” But it’s gone. The lighter is out there somewhere. I don’t know where it is. Tom, now would be the perfect time for you to say that you have it. Cruise: I wish I did. I was looking for the original watch I wore as Maverick in Top Gun. Jerry Bruckheimer had kept it. Mcquarrie: Really?
Cruise: So I’m able to wear that watch. Mcquarrie: How cool.
Cruise: The original watch from
33 years ago.
Mcquarrie: Oh, that’s cool.
Cruise: Jerry kept it. And I have the original jacket from Top Gun. Tom, you had an unexpected break during this movie. What was going through your mind at the time? Cruise: “Ouch.” Ouch. Ouch.
Mcquarrie: In big capital letters.
Cruise: I just remember, it was the only take where I got it right. Where I held the side of the wall. I was hitting it so hard on the two previous takes and I knew instantly the ankle was broken. I thought, “Well, I’d better get over here and run past the camera because we’re not going to be able to come back and get this.” And then we were back there, 11 weeks later. That was just the beginning of the sprinting. I worked seven days a week, ten, 12 hours a day to heal it. Training, healing.
Mcquarrie: I’ve never witnessed professional healing before.
Cruise: I really had to. Healing was my full-time job. Otherwise we’re not going to make the release date. I remember, running across the train station, that shot every time we watched it in the previews I was leaning across to Chris and going, “Ow ow ow ow ow ow.” The ankle was still broken. All the running, all the sprinting in the movie, my ankle is still broken.
Mcquarrie: Everything you’re watching is one set-up. We had four cameras. Every camera got just what it needed. How lucky that was. There was no way we could come back and get it.
Cruise: It also allowed us a lot of time in the editing room and we worked stuff out. I was like, “Kiss the ankle. Kiss the ankle.”
Mcquarrie: The ankle that saved Mission.
This partnership has been going on for a decade. How have you not killed each other?
Cruise: Didn’t you see the movie? He’s trying to kill me!
Mcquarrie: Why do you think Henry Cavill says, “Why won’t you just die?” I need a vacation!
Cruise: He doesn’t need a vacation. We were at the premiere in Paris. The credits were rolling, everyone’s applauding, and I looked at MCQ and said, “We can do better.”
Mcquarrie: I was like, “You son of a bitch.” It’s true, though. We can. CHRIS HEWITT
Mission: Impossible Fallout.Above: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) with CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill).
Left: Christopher Mcquarrie and Tom Cruise behind the scenes of
Top: Cruise and Mcquarrie on set preparing to shoot the helicopter action sequence. Above left:A leap of faith for Cruise and a broken ankle as a consequence.
Above: Cruise and Mcquarrie share a laugh. Left: Walker gets to do some high flying shooting.
right: Behind-the scenes shot of Mcquarrie and crew filming Cruise on a motorbike sans helmet. main: Cliffhanger: Cruise hangs high up off of Norway’s Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock).
Left: Former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has great gun control. Top right: Serious times for agents Dunn and Stickell.