Christopher McQuarrie and actor Tom Cruise have collaborated many times now. The Oscar-winning writer wrote Valkyrie and worked on the scripts for Edge of Tomorrow and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and in 2012, he directed Cruise in Jack Reacher. After McQuarrie launched a potential franchise with Reacher, he landed the opportunity in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation to take part in a series that keeps getting better.

After the jump, read our Christopher McQuarrie interview.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation marks Cruise and McQuarrie’s most successful collaboration to date. Director Brad Bird (Tomorrowland) set the bar high with Ghost Protocol — a bar all involved in Rogue Nation reached. The sequel, like the other Mission: Impossible films, features an authorial voice. McQuarrie crafts efficient structures, with a focus more on action and character than exposition, and his direction is clean and to the point, and those are some of the strengths that make Rogue Nation such a memorable crowd-pleaser.

The writer-director is returning for Mission: Impossible 6, which we talked a bit about below, but we mostly discussed some of Rogue Nation‘s standout sequences, actress Rebecca Ferguson, and lessons he’s learned from past films.

Here’s what Christopher McQuarrie had to say:

Last night I had a chance to listen to the audio commentary. One of the running themes throughout is Mr. Cruise saying this is a Mission: Impossible movie, that you have to raise the stakes.

[Laughs.] Yes. Absolutely. You’ve got to raise the bar.

You don’t always feel the need to go big, though, especially with the foot chase at the end.

Yes. In the end, that’s the most important thing, is just what feels right to the movie. We were never chasing after spectacle and we were never out to… you know, bigger does not necessarily mean better. We have spent a long time trying to come up with what was the big finish to this movie and it just never felt right. That sequence evolved out of a lot of debate about what felt naturally correct to the series.

Plus, if you tried to top the underwater sequence and the big chase scene, maybe audiences would have been exhausted by that point. 

Well, and where does that end? As the end of a movie, where does it end? What would happen after it all ended? It just feels like it would go on and on forever. And, frankly, it would feel like you are exhausted. That’s not to say that we’re setting out to replicate that. At least in the outset, I’m jettisoning the entire structure of Rogue Nation for where I’m starting on the next movie. But people ask me, they say, “Do you have any ideas for the next movie?” I say, “Yeah. I have ideas. But Mission has a mind of its own.” It goes where it wants to go.

One thing you mentioned often throughout the commentary is lessons you’ve learned from past films, especially with the car chase in Jack Reacher or the underwater sequence in Edge of Tomorrow. What did you learn from Rogue Nation?

I think the biggest thing that I learned is you don’t need as much as you think you do. The motorcycle sequence was originally so much bigger, and so much longer, and so much more involved. And there were so many action sequences in the movie. You can make a bigger movie with less. And I’m determined to do something leaner or less heavily reliant on plot, a little more stripped down.

How much longer did the motorcycle chase scene go? Do you recall any specific beats you cut?

Oh, god yeah. It was eight minutes long. Frankly, when you look at the chase sequence that is there and imagine if that sequence had gone for five more minutes how punishing it would have been. [Laughs.] It really would have worn out its welcome after a while. But again, we were sort of… It’s hard to gauge. It’s really hard to judge when you are doing it in the abstract, and even where you are pre-vizing it and you have some sense of what it is. It’s hard. It’s hard to tell what you have. We were just relieved when we were cutting the sequence together and saying, “My god. Just imagine if we had shot the entire sequence that we had originally had envisioned, how much material we would have had to cut out.”

The opera house sequence is around 20 minutes long. Some people had concerns about that scene, but it doesn’t feel that long. 

Like the bird sequence in Ghost Protocol, there’s so much going on. The terrain is constantly evolving. And with a motorcycle chase, it’s… And you look at the chase, by the way, it’s a car into a motorcycle. We were constantly trying to evolve the terrain itself. Once you feel that go on for even just a couple of minutes, it just starts to feel like, “OK. Where’s all this going?”

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