Why Tom Cruise and 'Mission Impossible' look set to return to Abu Dhabi

Clues suggest the blockbuster action franchise is set to return to the UAE for a second shoot in the capital this month

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell film 'Mission Impossible 7' in Rome last November. Paramount Pictures
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Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible franchise is no stranger to the UAE. We've so far hosted Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg and some spectacular stunts for both the fourth and sixth films in the action series.

Despite Covid-19 delays, the franchise is currently shooting episodes seven and eight back-to-back, with confirmed locations including Norway, London, Rome and Venice.

Last week, an on-set source told The Sun that the shoot was about to restart, and added an intriguing addendum for UAE residents: "Shooting will resume in the UK later this week before it goes off to Dubai," the source revealed.

While neither the Abu Dhabi Film & TV Commission, Film & TV Commission or twofour54 would confirm or deny speculation to The National, clues point towards the source being correct.

However, we think they may have got their emirates mixed up, and that Abu Dhabi will be the actual shooting location.

Here's what we know about the shoot so far:

The US Marines

Back in December, the US Marine Corps posted, then swiftly deleted citing an “administrative error,” a callout on its official website for volunteers to assist with “supporting the filming of a major motion picture event from Paramount Pictures,” in the UK and the UAE.

The archived post is still searchable, and reveals that more than a dozen marines are required to appear as extras, alongside two MV-22 military aircraft and their crews. The Abu Dhabi locations mentioned in the post were Abu Dhabi International Airport and Qasr Al Sarab, while the shooting dates were Friday and Saturday, February 5 to 6, with site surveys taking place from mid-January.

Tom Cruise on the 'Mission Impossible 7' set. Paramount Pictures
Tom Cruise on the 'Mission Impossible 7' set. Paramount Pictures

Paramount and Project Libra

Paramount currently has seven films shooting globally. Of these, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and The Tiger's Apprentice are animated, so location-free. Damien Chazelle's Babylon is set in 1920s Hollywood, so unlikely to stray far from home. The Chris Pine-starring Dungeons and Dragons is currently shooting in Belfast, while Jackass 4 is a hidden-camera comedy which would surely fall foul of local laws on filming without permission.

That leaves just two films from Paramount's slate that could be coming to Abu Dhabi, and they're both Mission: Impossible. For added certainty, the Marines callout identifies the film as Project Libra. Industry journal Production Weekly revealed last February that MI7's working title was Libra.

Local cast and crew

Earlier this month, a casting call for extras was posted on the website of Miranda Davidson Studios, which previously handled local casting for Furious 7 and Star Trek Beyond. The call requires extras for work in Abu Dhabi from February 5 to 11, coinciding with the Marines schedule.

While the call could be for a different film, strict, global, on-set Covid-19 restrictions mean that the use of limited extras is currently a luxury only available to the biggest productions.

They don't come much bigger than MI7, and the chances of two blockbusters descending on Abu Dhabi in a repeat of 2014's Star Wars and Furious 7 double-header seem slim in the current climate.

Local crew have confirmed to The National that a major shoot is taking place in Abu Dhabi in the coming weeks, but declined to comment further citing non-disclosure agreements. A search on IMDb reveals no UAE crew alongside the hundreds of entries for the Italian, Norwegian and UK shoots, meanwhile.

Unless, that is, you scroll to the very final "additional cast and crew" section, where a lone crew member has slipped through the net of secrecy – Kay Di Rezze is listed as "1st Assistant Accountant: Abu Dhabi". The globe-trotting Di Rezze has worked in similar roles in the UAE on Star Wars and 6 Underground.

The hotel clincher

Cruise's dedication to operating in a Covid-19-safe manner is already well-known. Prior to his well-publicised December on-set rant, the star had set up a "Covid-19-free village" at an abandoned UK air force base to isolate cast and crew and continue shooting.

Abu Dhabi already has its own Covid-19-free village in the shape of UFC Fight Island, created as a virus-safe bubble to allow UFC events to continue. The National understands that guests staying at Fight Island's hotels following last weekend's event have been advised they will need to check out by Wednesday as the site is fully booked for the Mission Impossible shoot – fairly conclusive, in case it wasn't already.

Scroll through the gallery below to see more images of Tom Cruise shooting 'Mission Impossible' in Italy last year: