Christopher McQuarrie on the future of 'Mission: Impossible': ‘I don’t want to be the person who kills Tom Cruise’ (exclusive)

Sam Ashurst
Contributor
Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout writer/director Christopher McQuarrie achieved the improbable with the sixth instalment in the franchise – not only did he top every stunt that has come before, he managed to top every previous movie, too.

To do that, he put Cruise into more life-endangering situations than ever, and, as a director who cares about his cast, that must have been intense.

“Oh yeah, it’s terrifying,” McQuarrie tells Yahoo Movies UK.

“On the one hand, he’s having a great time. The big difference between Tom [Cruise] and Ethan is that Ethan doesn’t want to do any of the things he’s doing, Tom can’t wait to do them. So, on the one hand, I know he’s having a good time. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the person who kills Tom Cruise. It’s extremely nerve-wracking. But we have a very good crew, and they’re incredibly professional, we know what we’re doing.

“The important thing to remember is that Tom isn’t a daredevil. He’s not reckless in his approach. It’s when Tom is not the only variable is when I’m most nervous. When Tom’s riding a motorcycle, I’m not worried about Tom wiping out on the bike, I’m worried about all the other cars on the road.”

Mission Impossible: Fallout

Of course, McQuarrie has another issue to worry about for the next film, he’s potentially given the franchise a shorter shelf life; how many more times can they top these kinds of awe-inspiring stunts? “I would have thought that, I thought that going into Rogue Nation, that it was going to be really hard to top the Burj Khalifa [from Ghost Protocol],” McQuarrie says.

“I realised early on that it really isn’t about trying to top it. It’s about focusing on working on a movie that’s worthy of the name, and of the franchise, of being in the canon with those other films.”

“We took that further with Fallout, in that instead of trying to top any one stunt, we were just focused all the time on making each one of them stand-out.”

Read more: Could Mission: Impossible-style masks really work?

“The helicopter was being called a stunt very early on, but I said ‘No, that’s not a stunt, that’s a sequence.’ It wasn’t until later on that the payload gag came in, where he’s falling down the line and we thought that would be the stunt.”

“Then suddenly he’s hanging off a mountain, he’s jumping out of a window. We’ve moved the franchise beyond the capital ‘S’ stunt.”

But what does it mean for the future of the franchise? Could we see a Mission Impossible movie without stunts? “I think it’s such an essential element, it’s what the franchise has become, it’s what the expectations are. But I think now we’re free of having to go up with a signature stunt.

“We always go back to the same thing, we always go back to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and so, for me now, it’s about sequences. That’s really what happened with Fallout. If I… Whoever takes on the next one, my thing would be to say ‘Focus on sequences, don’t worry about stunts, stunts will come as a result of those sequences.’”

Yahoo Movies UK chatted with McQuarrie about a whole host of film-related stuff – and you can read our uncut discussion below, covering everything from The Way Of The Gun to The Dark Knight and beyond…

Yahoo Movies UK: You became the first director to come back for a Mission: Impossible sequel, will you come back for a third instalment and make the first proper trilogy?

Christopher McQuarrie: Uhhhh… That remains to be seen. I’m still recovering from the last one.

I’ve followed your career, I was a big fan of The Way Of The Gun, when it was first out here…

Thank you.

I know it received a lot of bad criticism…

Oh yeah.

… And this one has received such overwhelming good criticism, and I think both can be a bit disconcerting in a way. Is there a sense that you don’t want to do a third one in case you mess up what an amazing achievement Fallout was?

You can’t really think about it, you just have to keep making movies, whether it’s another Mission Impossible or something completely different.

I’m completely aware of the fact that a movie that’s this well reviewed creates an expectation that can’t possibly be met, so, you know, I know whatever’s coming next I’m going to get kicked in the teeth for it, so I just have to make the best movie I can and move on.

I’ve been at it long enough to know that it’s all hills and valleys, you can’t have ups like this without some downs.

And to paraphrase one of my favourite westerns, Day Of Anger, if you don’t accept a challenge, you’ve already failed in the worst possible way.

That’s right.

So I feel like you’ll be back.

(laughs)

Some critics compared Fallout to The Dark Knight, was that an influence at all?

Not really. I had a good laugh that there were a couple of shots in the movie that people said were like The Dark Knight, I said ‘Jeez, I should have watched it more!’ (laughs).

I think I saw it one time, and I didn’t really remember those moments, but they must have had some subconscious influence, and I probably should have watched it again to make sure I wasn’t doing it. I will absolutely be careful to study that film the next time I do a movie to make sure I’m not doing something similar again.

You’ve worked on so many Tom Cruise movies, does Tom have a ‘Christopher McQuarrie clause’ in his contract?

(laughs) He did say after this one ‘I don’t leave home without him.’ The thing is, when you find somebody with whom you have that kind of shorthand, and you’re speaking the same language, that’s very, very rare and it ruins you for anyone else. It removes one aspect of struggle from what is, inherently, a very difficult process.

I was such a fan of the first Jack Reacher film, it’s so good. What did you think of Jack Reacher 2?

I was involved in it as a producer on the periphery, I was involved very early on, I read the script early on, then came in later during post production. I think it’s a shame they’re not doing another one. I don’t know when that would possibly be. But I think what they did with Mission: Impossible, with new directors coming in and giving their spin to it could have been really cool. I would have liked to have seen that.

You’re working on the Top Gun 2 script. What should fans expect from that?

I can’t say anything about it, but I’m very excited for fans to see it.

You strike me as a director who has a lot of empathy, who’s able to read actors, work out how they’re feeling and respond to that, how does it feel for a person with empathy to watch Tom Cruise do those crazy stunts? As someone who’s putting him in those situations, do you get a knot in your stomach?

Oh yeah, it’s terrifying. On the one hand, he’s having a great time. The big difference between Tom and Ethan is that Ethan doesn’t want to do any of the things he’s doing, Tom can’t wait to do them. So, on the one hand, I know he’s having a good time. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the person who kills Tom Cruise. It’s extremely nerve-wracking.

But we have a very good crew, and they’re incredibly professional, we know what we’re doing.

The important thing to remember is that Tom isn’t a daredevil. He’s not reckless in his approach. It’s when Tom is not the only variable is when I’m most nervous. When Tom’s riding a motorcycle, I’m not worried about Tom wiping out on the bike, I’m worried about all the other cars on the road.

With each film, the stunts get more… They’re all practical, they’re all dangerous, how many more of these films does this franchise have in it with Tom in the lead? There’s only so many times you can top yourself with this kind of thing.

I would have thought that, I thought that going into Rogue Nation, that it was going to be really hard to top the Burj Khalifa [from Ghost Protocol], and I realised early on that it really isn’t about trying to top it. It’s about focusing on working on a movie that’s worthy of the name, and of the franchise, of being in the canon with those other films.

We took that further with Fallout, in that instead of trying to top any one stunt, we were just focused all the time on making each one of them stand-out. The helicopter was being called a stunt very early on, but I said ‘No, that’s not a stunt, that’s a sequence.’

It wasn’t until later on that the payload gag came in, where he’s falling down the line and we thought that would be the stunt. Then suddenly he’s hanging off a mountain, he’s jumping out of a window. We’ve moved the franchise beyond the capital ‘S’ stunt.

It’s made it harder in a way though, because instead of ‘the stunt’ you’ve got five stunts – could we see a Mission: Impossible film without stunts, or do you think it’s such an essential element of the franchise?

I think it’s such an essential element, it’s what the franchise has become, it’s what the expectations are. But I think now we’re free of having to go up with a signature stunt.

We always go back to the same thing, we always go back to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and so, for me now, it’s about sequences. That’s really what happened with Fallout. If I… Whoever takes on the next one, my thing would be to say ‘Focus on sequences, don’t worry about stunts, stunts will come as a result of those sequences.’

It was such a long gap between The Way Of The Gun and Jack Reacher, how much do you feel like you owe Tom Cruise for resurrecting your directing career? And how did you stay focused during the wilderness years?

During the wilderness years, there was no choice but to stay focused. I just love telling stories, I love making movies, whether or not someone was letting me make them, that’s all I was thinking about. I’m enormously grateful to Tom for seeing the potential and giving me an opportunity when no-one else would. And, you’d be surprised, there are very few who still would.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is available on Digital from 19th November and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD from 3rd December.

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