[FILM: Interview] Ghost Protocol
Confession: the 15-minute preview of the new Mission Impossible that I saw at London IMAX had me literally on the edge of my seat, palms sweating. The scene involved Tom Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, scaling the outside of an epically tall glass building (filmed at the 829.84 metres high Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest structure), and no joke, when the camera panned from Cruise to the ground, I literally felt like I was falling. To my death.
Needless to say, I came away with the distinct impression that director Brad Bird, despite his background in animation (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), sure as hell knows how to make the most of the IMAX cameras used to shoot Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.
I’m sitting in a hotel room with the affable Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg, who rather famously once replied to a journalist’s question about his career ambitions with: “It’s not like I’m going to run off and do Mission: Impossible III”. He subsequently went off to do just that – and now his character, the technician Benji Dunn, has an even bigger part in the latest M:I blockbuster.
“I got an email from JJ (Abrams) one morning that said, ‘Hey, what if Benji was an agent?’ I was like ‘What, what, what!?’” Pegg recalls. “I was just overjoyed. I only did two days on the last movie, and to go from that to doing seven months on this one was great.”
Ghost Protocol is less Tom-Cruise-centric and more an ensemble piece about four agents – played by Pegg, Cruise, Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton – who are in the field, cut off from the rest of the I.M.F. espionage agency, and forced to work together as a “sort of dysfunctional family,” Pegg explains.
Mission: Impossible III came out in 2006, so it feels like a long time between drinks for the series. In the intervening years, Pegg has – among many other things – gone on to co-write and co-star in the 2007 British action comedy Hot Fuzz and the 2011 sci-fi comedy Paul (which he is particularly proud of: he’s sporting a tattoo of a spirit wolf from Santa Fe where Paul was shot, “to remind me of that time”). He’s also had a baby girl, and penned his pseudo-autobiography Nerd Do Well.
Pegg emphasises that this is a new chapter in the Mission: Impossible series rather than a sequel: “It’s very pointedly called Ghost Protocol and not M:I 4,” he says. “It is very much part of the series, with Tom going to a different director for each film, but with this one it’s sort of a new chapter in Ethan’s life. He’s older now, he’s not the young star of I.M.F. anymore, he’s a senior agent.”
On working with Cruise – one of the most talked about actors in Hollywood and not necessarily for the right reasons – Pegg says, “he is just utterly dedicated to his craft. As a producer he is aware of every department and as an actor he is totally committed to his role. As a person, he is really warm and funny and generous and utterly keen for everyone on the crew and cast to feel like they’re part of something special, which is really kind of awe-inspiring at times, because it’s like, ‘When do you rest? When do you switch off?’”
As is the norm these days in Hollywood, Pegg is signed on to do more M:I films should this one do well. “Hollywood is a strange place,” he admits. “It’s been slightly overrun by marketing people, and a lot of the time people just want to put on firework displays…However, it is possible to make smart blockbusters. Inception showed that you can, and I think that Mission Impossible has something of that.”
What: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
When: Opens December 15