Dead Reckoning Cast on Why Making it Up as They Go Works for Mission: Impossible

Eric Goldman

It’s fairly common to learn that a major would-be blockbuster film has begun filming without a completed script, which is often called out as a problem with the studio system and its “hit our release date at all costs” approach – and why many big films ultimately fall flat in their execution. Yet for the Mission: Impossible series, this method has become a very accepted and even embraced part of the process to a far greater extent than pretty much any other series of this scale.

Indeed, Christopher McQuarrie – who did uncredited rewrites on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol before going on to write (or co-write) and direct every film in the series since Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – has spoken at length in interviews about how Mission movies are extensively shaped and reshaped as they’re being made, often with only the bare minimum idea of who a character is or where their story is going as production begins, with the specifics figured out as they go.

So what’s it like for the cast of these films to experience this process firsthand and why does it work so well here when it comes to the final product? Fandom spoke to Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One cast members about the unusual yet highly successful and beloved route these films take to make it to the big screen and what it’s like working at the high level of commitment that Tom Cruise sets for the production.


Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One

Dead Reckoning Part One is Simon Pegg’s fifth Mission: Impossible film as Benji Dunn. A writer himself on films like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Star Trek: Beyond, Pegg described the Mission approach as “Exhilarating. You know, when you’re in it, and it’s moving, it’s like I always say jokingly to McQ, that for him making a Mission: Impossible is like Gromit the dog laying the track in front of the train in The Wrong Trousers. That’s how he makes the film and once you board that train, there’s no getting off, you know? But it’s great. It’s a very sort of productive… it’s an act of faith in many ways.”

The proof is in the pudding, and the Mission: Impossible series has delivered one incredibly well received and popular installment after the other. At this point, Pegg said, “I have complete faith in McQ’s storytelling abilities and Tom’s commitment to the film. You’re in good hands so you know that takes the edge off the fear.”

As for several newcomers to the Mission cast, they found themselves impressed by how it all came together, with Greg Tarzan Davis (“Degas”) remarking, “You have this director/writer who’s willing to allow you to kind of change things as you go along, because he’s inspired by the intentions you bring to your character, which is very, very cool. I think it’s a collaborative effort in that right.”

Greg Tarzan Davis and Shea Whigham in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

Said Shea Whigham, who plays Degas’ partner, Jasper Briggs, of McQuarrie and Cruie’s approach, “It takes a lot of trust, you know what I mean? It takes a lot of trust on those two guys and it starts at the top with those two, because you are really following story. And that’s what  separates these films above other big action films, is you care about character, and you’re finding it along the way…”

As an example, Whigham said going into production on Dead Reckoning Part One, with Briggs and Degas, “We didn’t know our relationship. You could write it down on the paper – two guys who just chase Ethan Hunt – but then you fill in those holes with how he and I start to work off of each other and you want to be generous in partnership and then all of the sudden things start to happen. So that’s a tribute to McQ and Cruise.”


Tom Cruise and Vanessa Kirby in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One

This is Vanessa Kirby’s second Mission movie, having joined the franchise with 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and noted, “When I first came into it, I couldn’t believe that there was so much possibility to explore and you could do 40 takes of completely different things if you wanted to, and Chris would have something in his mind, and he’d find something and then he’d ask you to do something else and then you just get to play a lot. And as soon as you understand that, that that’s the process, it’s such a thrill. Because you go, ‘Oh my God, I can try loads of stuff!’ And half of it could be terrible. And it doesn’t matter. Because as long as we can play, then that’s what is asked of you. And that’s a very rare thing.”

The Mission movies in general but Dead Reckoning Part One in particular have been very long productions ans while some of that was due to Covid delays in this case, there’s also the innate way the Mission process allows to spend a lot of time on sequences. Said Kirby, “It’s rare to have time. And it’s rare to have a process where it’s supported,” adding he loved the “flexibility to change and come back to things if they don’t work in the end or something doesn’t feel right anymore, or something you said perhaps doesn’t translate later on, and then you can change the line because you can juggle it around. And it’s just an amazingly malleable process. I think that’s why the work is so good. Because it’s ultimate freedom for kind of following what the story wants to be rather than clamping it down at something you think that it should.”

Pom Klementieff in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One

Pom Klementieff, who plays the fierce villain Paris in Dead Reckoning Part One, said that while she loved getting to give so many different options, “We have to talk also about the editor of the movie, Eddie Hamilton, who’s incredible,” noting he’s now worked with Cruise and McQuarrie many times. “

Said Klementieff, “They work as a team to edit, re-edit, re-edit, and you can shape a movie in such different ways. And we give the options as actors, and then you can do anything with the editing. So it’s the beauty of it. They’re so incredible at their craft, and so going so into detail that it’s just like every second, every angle, every shot that we got, they just mix it the perfect way. And it’s what you see in the end, you know, but watching the movie, I was so blown away how everything was edited in a way that all the characters were important and all of them were shining at specific moments.”


Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

It’s common knowledge that Tom Cruise gives his all to a movie he’s making, going beyond the mind blowing stunts he does himself, to his notable involvement in all aspects of production (he’s produced all of the Mission films) and marketing. So does working on a Mission movie make the rest of the cast feel extra motivated to rise to the level Cruise projects?

Said Davis, “When you have a leader in Tom Cruise who brings his A game every every step of the way, he sets the bar, and you do want to match that. And I think we do a great job, each of us, each of my classmates, we do a great job at reaching for the bar.”

Whigham then brought up some of he and Davis’ scenes in the film, adding, “You would do anything for Tom. You stand on top of a moving train! It’s 70 miles, you don’t even think twice about it.” Whigham also mentioned a huge car chase sequence in Rome, during which Briggs drives a car with Degas riding shotgun, saying they were quick to say yes “If he asks you to drive in Rome and ask [Davis] to be my passenger. It was all practical. We weren’t on a on a car that was pulling us. It’s intense stuff. So yeah, you do have to match him, but you gladly do it.”

(L-R) Hayley Atwell, Pom Klementieff, Vanessa Kirby and Christopher McQuarrie on the set of Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

Hayley Atwell, whose character Grace, plays an integral role in the film, said she thinks Cruise and McQuarrie look for like-minded people from the get go, remarking, “I think I’ve already always had a lot of self-motivation and a strong work ethic and I think that’s probably the thing that they saw on my screen test and then saw throughout the five month training I did before the principal photography. Tom is so inspiring, and his level of commitment and his discipline to make sure that these movies continuously push themselves, and that he pushes himself on his own comfort zone. And so the environment that’s created is a very focused one, where you feel held and supported by experts in their field of stunt training, mixed martial arts, race car drivers, that your work, you’re walking into a very well oiled machine.”

Atwell added, “Because it’s such a successful franchise, it doesn’t feel like a weight of responsibility on my shoulders, it feels like I’m entering something that really understands what it is, and that there is huge confidence and ambition, that they’re just going to keep going and pushing their own their own abilities to deliver something to the audience that they haven’t seen before. So for me, with my background in theater, and having been in the industry for 17 years, it’s just that I felt really confident that I was working with my kind of tribe. I work very intensely, and I am really passionate about what I do and I’m always wanting to push myself. So to be around people who are showing me how to set that bar high for myself, and to be pushing me alongside that, I was capable of achieving so much more than if I’d just been trying to do it by myself.


Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One

Said Pegg, of Cruise, “He’s someone that always gives everything 100% all the time. That’s how he applies himself. And I think if you were to come to set with anything less, you’d feel like you weren’t pulling your weight. And so it’s very inspiring to be around him because he inspires that sense of commitment from you. Benji is a particular character who has a particular set of skills, and I love what I have to do. It’s really, really good fun. I’m the one in the car giving him directions when he’s jumping off the cliff on the motorbike. I’m happy that that’s the way it is. But like I say, you cannot approach the film set with anything less than full on commitment to what we’re going to do. And I think that’s what drives the whole operation.”

Asked if she felt any pressure joining Mission: Impossible Klementieff replied, “Yes, but it’s a good pressure. It’s a pressure to just push yourself, challenge yourself, take risks. And for me, I know there’s always Tom supporting me and just cheering me on. And he inspires me every day. I already loved the training and learning new skills and all these things but getting to work with him just pushed me to do even more.”

Klementieff revealed, “When I wrapped the movie, as a wrap gift, he gifted me the teaching of learning how to skydive. So I went to a drop zone to learn how to skydive, he found a teacher, and then I got my A license and we did jumps together. And then I just want to keep learning things. He inspires me and I try to do more of that. So yeah, I love that.”

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.