The joy of the Mission: Impossible franchise is the larger-than-life action sequences – and the even more impressive locations they take place in.
One of the most recent arrives in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. The Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport – seen in public for the first time during the latest instalment – takes centre stage. With its colossal lantern-like chandeliers, curving ceiling beams, blooming pillars and latticed walls that bring to mind traditional mashrabiyas, the terminal certainly serves as a photogenic backdrop.
However, director Christopher McQuarrie says the team had the unique difficulty of making the terminal – which was still in construction when the cast and crew arrived in 2021 – look like a fully functioning airport.
“It was extremely challenging,” McQuarrie says. “We were shooting in an airport that had to look like a very busy airport. That involved lots of supporting actors, I think it was about 150 in total, not to mention all the crew.”
To make matters more taxing, filming was taking place at the height of the pandemic when social distancing measures and safety protocols were in place. Abu Dhabi was not initially pegged as a location for the new Mission: Impossible, but as Covid restrictions began to grip the world, the crew found the emirate to be somewhere they could continue filming while abiding by safety measures.
“We had to cut at one point because I walked into a shot still wearing my mask,” Simon Pegg, who plays field agent Benji Dunn in the blockbuster franchise, says. “I was so used to wearing my mask that the scene started and Benji walked in [with his mask on].”
A key scene filmed in the terminal involves Pegg's character scuffling to find a bomb hidden in a case that is making its rounds within the labyrinthine baggage distribution network.
“I was completely flabbergasted by it,” Pegg says. “It’s just this incredible network of conveyor belts and ladders. When we got back to London, we had to recreate a little corner of it to shoot the scenes that are slightly more close up. But what a fun thing, to have an entire airport to ourselves. It was great.”
“Unprecedented,” McQuarrie adds.
It is the third time the film franchise has been filmed in the UAE. The first was for Ghost Protocol. Released in 2011, the box office hit features what is arguably Cruise's most famous stunt, where he scales Dubai's Burj Khalifa.
Cruise later visited Abu Dhabi to film a scene where he performed a Halo (high altitude low opening) jump over the dunes for 2018's Fallout.
Filming for Dead Reckoning took place in the UAE capital over 15 days in 2021, with locations in the Liwa desert and Midfield Terminal.
The terminal is where one of franchise’s new main characters is introduced. Hayley Atwell plays the mysterious Grace, a light-fingered accomplice who becomes embroiled in Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) mission to save the world from a sentient and nefarious artificial intelligence system.
Grace, Atwell says, was still undefined when she was cast and the American-British actress was pivotal in building her character.
“The character didn’t exist at first,” Atwell says. “Tom [Cruise] and McQuarrie look for actors they want to work with and then the character is a collaborative effort that comes out of the work. You’re also finding it in the moment as well as in preparation for it.”
Coming from a background in theatre, Atwell says she has become accustomed to experimenting in a rehearsal space with the identity and body language of a character before “landing on the one thing that you feel is the most useful for the play".
“When I came into the screen test, it wasn’t entirely clear who she would be," she says. "They were seeing what was landing on film and what qualities seemed to be the most interesting and alive that could fit into this world.
"We had five months of training to find out her physical fighting style, but also developing the skill of drifting in a race car so that by the time I came on set, I was safe enough to make sure that I could do it well with Tom and with enough freedom that we could improvise and create little moments of character.”
Another character making her debut in the franchise is Pom Klementieff’s Paris. The Guardians of the Galaxy star takes on the role of a ruthless assassin, who, as the film progresses, displays a more affable side to her.
Like Atwell, Klementieff worked to build Paris’s persona almost from the ground up, having regular conversations with Cruise and McQuarrie about how to embody the character.
Giving a snippet of what conversations were like, Klementieff says: “I was trying to find the fight style of the character. Sometimes it would be things like: ‘Oh, I would love to kick. I love kicking,’ so we have to have an entire outfit that allows you to do that. Or: ‘Oh, what about a kilt? Yeah, a kilt is cool.’ We improvised a lot.
"Working on this specific character, it’s more about behaviour and movement than actual words. But then there are words in the end, so when the character speaks, you actually really listen. You see a side of the character that is completely different than what you’ve seen before.”
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is out in UAE cinemas on July 9, three days before its US and global rollout on July 12.