Tom Cruise demands each Mission: Impossible director add personality
Where better to relaunch a brash action franchise such as Mission: Impossible than a glitzy, self-admiring city such as Dubai? The desert metropolis played host to a chunk of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s filming last year. And the iconic symbol of the city’s lofty ambitions – the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper at 2,723ft (829m) – found itself cast as Tom Cruise’s plaything for a few days, during which he ran, climbed, dangled and shimmied along its shiny glass exterior, before launching himself into the air for Ghost Protocol’s most death-defying stunt.
It certainly puts scaling that Utah cliff face on Mission: Impossible II into the shade.
‘When we found out we could actually pull it off, that’s when it became insane,’ says Brad Bird, director of Cruise’s fourth jaunt as IMF super-agent Ethan Hunt. ‘It was like: “We’re really gonna do this? On the actual building?” Tom couldn’t wait.’
So much so, that when M:I4’s original health and safety officer forbade Cruise from doing it, the actor had him replaced with one who would give him the right answer. His biggest fear, says Cruise, was: ‘Falling. I’m not afraid of heights, I am afraid of falling.’
The day of M:I4’s international premiere, Cruise scales his way back up the Burj Khalifa, albeit this time in the super-fast, super-smooth elevators, arriving at the 124th floor with Bird and co-stars Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Anil Kapoor.
Cruise’s return to the scene of his high-rise feat is in honour of Ghost Protocol opening the eighth Dubai Film Festival. In a few hours, he will pull red-carpet duty at the city’s lavish Madinat Jumeirah complex, alongside a flock of Emirati glitterati.
As for Bird, the febrile mind behind three of the best animation features of the past 12 years (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille), he has been plotting his move to live-action for as long as he’s been directing.
Which, considering he made his first animated short at the age of 11, is a very long time.
Despite coming into an established franchise, Bird was tasked with bringing some fresh twists to the spy party. He was especially drawn to the script’s dysfunctional family dynamics, in which Hunt and three other agents (Pegg, Patton and Jeremy Renner) have to prove their innocence after they’re accused of blowing up the Kremlin and cut loose by the US government.
‘Tom wants each film to have the personality of its director,’ says Bird. ‘Brian De Palma’s first film feels different to John Woo’s, which feels different to JJ Abrams’s.’
Bird cites Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Die Hard and the early Bond films as his inspirations for Ghost Protocol. He likes action films where heroes appear genuinely frightened by their ludicrous predicaments.
‘They’re not just laughing in the face of death, they’re scared crapless and that’s why we connect with them,’ says Bird. ‘Where a lot of people make mistakes in action movies is that they think it’s about the size of the explosions. But you can’t care about a fireball if you don’t care about the person running from the fireball. These movies exist on tension, too, and there is a funny side to tension.’
Bringing the funny is Pegg, returning as techno nerd Benji – but now wielding a gun. ‘I used to say to JJ [Abrams]: “If you do a fourth Mission: Impossible, you should make Benji a field agent, that’d be so cool,”’ says the British star. ‘In Mission: Impossible 3, I look like a potato but I trained really hard for this one. I lost 22lb.’
With its physics-defying set pieces and bickering family dynamics, Ghost Protocol does come off as a live-action Incredibles. ‘I always joked to Brad: “You finally got to make The Incredibles 2: Tom is Mr Incredible, Paula is Mrs Incredible, I’m Dash and Jeremy’s the little girl,”’ laughs Pegg.
Bird came away very impressed by Cruise’s work ethic, noting he was coughing up sand for days after filming a sandstorm chase and stayed up 48 hours straight to complete an action sequence.
So does he fancy having a crack at Mission: Impossible 5? ‘No, they need to get a fresh horse,’ Bird chuckles. ‘At this point, I’ve been ridden. There are so many ways to screw up movies like this, that when it works out, you’re not popping champagne – you’re just relieved.’