Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. That is clear in the film’s credits, but when it comes to story, it is credited to both McQuarrie and Drew Pearce. Pearce was at the Rogue Nation screening at the Imax headquarters in Playa Vista, and we connected following the screening for an interview.
Pearce explained his work on the film, which finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) going after The Syndicae, with the help of a British agent (Rebecca Ferguson) who’s either undercover or has turned. Neither Ethan nor the audience are ever quite sure. Misison: Impossible: – Rogue Nation is in theaters Friday, July 31.
Franchise Fred: I know the Writers Guild has a specific way of handling credits. Can you clarify for our readers your work with Chris McQuarrie?
Drew Pearce: Sure. It’s a very interesting process on a movie this big. Every single one of them is entirely different. So when I did Iron Man 3 with Shane Black, I was first in the door and last out the door. We were on it together for two and a half years, and no one else touched a keyboard. This is a very different version of that for me in that I came on to years ago and worked with Chris and Tom all summer, and then went away and wrote the first draft, knowing very much that I was working with McQ who is an Oscar Award winning writer. [I was] very much there as the starter wife basically, to get the ball rolling and set the groundwork for what is always, in the history of Mission: Impossible, a constantly morphing storytelling process. So I feel a bit like a goal hanger now because I kind of waved goodbye to everyone a year and a half ago and I’ll see them next week at the premiere and go, “Wow, you guys have been busy.” Because there are a lot of construction pieces from the work that I did and the draft in the movie, that’s how, for example, the WGA decided that I get shared credit on story with Chris. It’s something I know that I was very sure that I wanted to make sure that McQ was comfortable with that as well. Chris was like, “You absolutely should.”
Franchise Fred: Was “the living manifestation of destiny” a McQ line or a Drew Pearce line?
Drew Pearce: Truth be told, there’s barely any of my dialogue left in the movie. I think that’s what’s really interesting about the movie. When I came on board, if you look at the franchise in general for Mission: Impossible, the only way it exists is by a different directorial filmmaker each time stamping their signature through and through like a stick of seaside rock through the movie. This one’s exactly the same so when I came on board, the thing I said to McQ was, “I’m only going to be around for six months so let’s work out the movie that you want to make.” I think the interesting thing is if you watch that film, it absolutely feels like a Chris McQuarrie movie.
Franchise Fred: That’s why the franchise is so great.
Drew Pearce: It’s brilliant and it’s something that’s actively encouraged clearly by Tom as the producer of the franchise. But also, I think it’s part of the process. Because they are these freewheeling movies, both in production and narratively, I think because choices are getting made second to second, often on the fly, that literally can only come down to the director in these Mission movies, exactly what the tone will be. But it’s also very gratifying to watch in that respect because you go, “I feel like Chris has made a very Chris movie.”
Franchise Fred: At your stage, were you told Ving Rhames was available so you could write a part for Luther?
Drew Pearce: Oh, there were tons of components parts. Luther was in mine. Brandt was in mine. A version of Rebecca’s character was in the original draft. I’m really proud of how she turned out because she’s one of the unmistakeable things from my draft that stayed in from here, but I didn’t cast her. Chris found her and I’d kind of like to see her spinoff movie after this. I thought she was absolutely brilliant in it.
Franchise Fred: But Ving is a busy actor with his own schedule. He was in very little of the fourth film, so you have to know if he’s available before you write for him.
Drew Pearce: Oh, totally but then also there’s a certain sense of, again, the free wheeling about these things. There’s a kind of Field of Dreams aspect of if you build it, they will come. You can make assumptions and they can change as they go. Look, that movie has changed so much as it’s evolved, but Luther was actually in from the beginning.
Franchise Fred: Did you begin with the idea that in 2015, you can’t really have an IMF operating without oversight?
Drew Pearce: That was definitely a big part of the discussions at the beginning. The other crucial part of any discussion is that, to a degree, in 2015, if you describe an organization like the IMF, a black ops organization run with funding from possibly the American government, possibly worldwide that are entirely unaccountable, in another film they could be the bad guys. That was definitely something that fed into all of the thinking early on.
Franchise Fred: When you’re thinking of set pieces, do you have to think of one that involves a descent into a secure vault?
Drew Pearce: It’s not as much the descent, but there are a couple of places you start. Encouraged by Tom, you start with a place of what is the most terrible thing that a human being could actually have to go through, and can Tom actually do it? Even if it’s pushing him to the limits of humanity. That’s one of the ways you approach it. The other way you approach it is what is the most stressful experience that you can put the audience through? Being underwater, more than the descent into the vault, it’s more about the tension of being underwater. The interesting thing about heist movies and heists in general is they’re not really about the whiz and the bang. They’re about the quiet and they’re about the extended moment of tension. Underwater is good for that as well.
Franchise Fred: I understand little of your dialogue remains, but I can imagine McQ being into this too, that so much of what’s exchanged is said with looks and words. Did that exist in your draft?
Drew Pearce: Yeah, you write that a lot but I direct as well as write. The interesting relationship that you have with the two sides of yourself is often you know you’re writing something in a script and it may be an absolutely killer line. But you’ll get to an edit and then you’ll realize that that can all be said in the one second look that was in the single before the line was spoken or afterwards. McQ obviously, he’s a classicist as well, so he knows that part of your job in the edit is to cut away until you’re at the bare bones of what the moments are.
Franchise Fred: Is another part of the job that now that there’s been four Mission: Impossible movies, there’s a lot they’ve already done. You can maybe do some things a little differently, like they had motorcycles in Mission: Impossible II but this is a very different use of motorcycles.
Drew Pearce: Absolutely. There is an infinite number of variations of action sequence of course, and they’re kind of about what personality you bring to them. But often you are dealing with the component parts of your skill set. Tom Cruise is an unbelievably good motorcyclist. So I think he felt like there was a chance to really do a bike chase properly. That was one of the things that was hard baked into my draft at the beginning, as was the waterfall actually. Those were two of the big starting points in fact.
Franchise Fred: Did your version include the idea of having fewer gadgets?
Drew Pearce: Actually, my version took a slightly different approach to the gadgets but definitely the whole thing was that in a world where militarized gadgetry is becoming far more the norm extrapolated out to drone warfare and observation and all of those aspects. The one thing that makes the IMF different from the rest of the world today is that sure, they have gadgets but really it’s the human beings, their abilities and their risks that differentiate them from any other operations now. I feel like the real counter-intelligence service has the stuff that we were putting in movies 10, five years ago, maybe stuff that we would be putting in movies in 10 years time, but they don’t have an Ethan. Or maybe they do.
Franchise Fred: And that’s another thing I love. Ghost Protocol had a lot of gadgets, and Rogue Nation can be one that has very few.
Drew Pearce: Yeah, and I think that again comes from the filmmaker. I think that’s McQuarrie. One of the things we talked about in the beginning was mixing the pop of Ghost Protocol with the spy craft of the De Palma first movie.
Franchise Fred: Were there any other past characters you might have wanted to include but they became unavailable?
Drew Pearce: Again, my draft was a different shape but actually no. I think this is the same lineup that I had. The Mission franchise has a habit of killing all your favorite characters during each film. Kristin Scott Thomas would be wonderful to still have access to. She’s probably one of my favorite Mission: Impossible characters throughout the five movies, but spoiler alert for 20 years ago: she died.
Franchise Fred: Was there an opera scene in your draft?
Drew Pearce: No, there wasn’t. That’s very McQuarrie. That’s all from McQ and you can kind of tell because it’s a filmmaker’s sequence as well. Again, I think Rebecca’s brilliant in that.
Franchise Fred: Were you playing with the toll these missions take on Ethan?
Drew Pearce: That was my big theme actually, was an almost Ferris Bueller-esque moment which is absolutely still in the movie now. You know that Bueller thing of “Stop and look around” because it might be gone. It was basically the spycraft version of that. We give up so much for these people and what is it for? They don’t appreciate us, and we never get a chance to enjoy the freedoms that we grant the world. With the Mission movies, that stuff always has to be under the surface rather than the drive. There is a simplicity of narrative drive that Tom likes as a producer for the movies.
Franchise Fred: And the physical toll it takes on him, was that in your version?
Drew Pearce: Look, one of of the first principals of action movie making is the more pain you put your lead through, the more bloodied, bruised and humanly hurt they can be, you have to be careful not to cross a line into mid-‘80s robo human like old school Stallone movie making.
Franchise Fred: Stallone got very beat up. Arnold was more indestructible.
Drew Pearce: And that’s the thing. It was the same when I was working with Downey both on Iron Man and some of the other stuff I’ve done with him. These guys know, quite rightly, the way you tell the story of a movie in the most simple way is by looking at that leading man’s face. The more beat to sh*t he gets as the movie goes on, the more there is a simple tell that is, “Oh yeah, this is getting worse and worse.”
Franchise Fred: Are you directing a feature?
Drew Pearce: Yes, I’ve got a few things. It’s the reason I had to move off of this after six months. I’m directing an original crime movie for Fox which we’re just casting at the moment. That’s called The Long Run and we’re just looking for the right leading man at the moment. That’s a hard R prison break movie that I wrote as an original. Then I also came up with an original Lego idea, a completely standalone Lego movie, kind of out of nowhere. Then spoke to Phil and Chris and they’re exec’ing it. I’m directing that and Jason Segal and I are writing it.
Franchise Fred: So that’ll be animated?
Drew Pearce: Yeah, and it won’t come out until so many years in the future that I might even be dead. It’s like 2019 that it’s coming out, and that will run along in the background of what I do which is hopefully write and shoot an original script.
Franchise Fred: Will that be Lego Movie 3?
Drew Pearce: It’ll be four, or in fact a reboot. No, it’ll be five actually. That’s why it’s this thing in the future that we kind of work on in the background, because it’s this huge totally different standalone story. It’s called The Billion Brick Race. Modestly, hopefully it will be the biggest race movie of all time. Imagine doing a race movie but having the ability to do it with Lego. So part Cannonball Run, part Wacky Races but with a real working class Rocky style blue collar vibe to it as well.
Franchise Fred: Would it be as deconstructionist as The Lego Movie was?
Drew Pearce: In a weird way, the act of it being Lego is fundamentally, quite literally built into them being bricks. Chris and Phil just have this style that is constantly meta yet also deeply emotional and I think that’s brilliant. I think this will be a cross of my voice, which is more harder and narrative and action based, with Segal’s voice which is the beautiful warmth of the first Muppet movie, filtered through Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord]’s amazing world of Lego they’ve created.
Franchise Fred: Are you writing a Ghostbusters movie as a screenwriter?
Drew Pearce: Yes, I’ve been working on that. Again, it’s a bit like this one in that I kind of come in at the top as a starter wife. In the case of Ghostbusters it’s with a big high concept idea that I can’t talk about.
Franchise Fred: Right, but when early press called it the male version of Ghostbusters, was that premature?
Drew Pearce: Yes, and gross. The idea, and that’s what’s kind of vaguely appalling, is the idea of going, “Have to have a male one.” It wasn’t like that at all. It was much more organic just from conversation between me and the Russo brothers who are producing it and Channing and his people originally. My work on Ghostbusters is done. I’ve handed over a story bible.
Franchise Fred: And the Feig movie isn’t even out yet!
Drew Pearce: I know. It’s still shooting. It’s only five weeks into production.
Franchise Fred: Are those in a shared universe though?
Drew Pearce: That’s definitely what they want to get to, but again, I’m further away. It wasn’t like when I do my Marvel stuff where I’m right there at the nexus with Kevin and the gang. The Ghostbusters one is bigger and there’s a lot more elements in play. Every movie’s different. It’s one where I came in, went “Here is my idea. Here is how I would extrapolate it. You guys go crazy and see where you go with it” which was a bit like this.
Franchise Fred: But was there one limit, that when Paul decided his would be a reboot, that you couldn’t act as if the Venkman/Stantz/Spengler/Zeddmore Ghostbusters existed in your world?
Drew Pearce: It’s interesting. My idea may allow them the ability to connect everything. It’s kind of a choice above my pay grade but on a level of imagination and creativity, I would love to see a world where all of the things were a shared universe. It’s just more attractive for a massive fan of Ghostbusters like me.
Franchise Fred: Do you have any more Marvel gigs?
Drew Pearce: No. I talk to them the whole time about stuff. For good or for bad, I’m really trying over the course of the next year to concentrate on trying to put original stuff into the world as well as other franchise stuff. We kind of owe it to, it sounds very grandiose, but we kind of do owe it to making movies to try to make new ones as well as revisiting old franchises.
Franchise Fred: I absolutely agree. We still need originals to make new franchises.
Drew Pearce: That’s it. Hey, if you like sequels, the trouble is you still need originals to make sequels. So that’s something myself and a bunch of people of my generation, the Edgar Wrights and Drew Goddards, it’s what we talk about a lot all the time. We have to be trying to push the boat forward and doing original stuff. It’s tough to get it through. That’s why you have to balance your smorgasbord of commitments, but it’s definitely something I’m dedicated to. And I’m sure I will fail.
Franchise Fred: Well, original still has to be good. That’s the thing.
Drew Pearce: Yeah, and in the modern age, original is tricky for studios in particular because there’s no reassurance. The preexisting brand of a movie is part of what gets a movie made because it takes away an aspect of internal fear inside a company. It’s like any business, right? So anything that’s entirely knew, is based on absolutely no precedent that anyone can present to anyone else to go, “It might be okay if we take this risk and you won’t fire me.” That’s what you’re dealing with.
Franchise Fred: I understand that but I also think, don’t they want to have the next Avatar?
Drew Pearce: Oh, of course. My whole thing is we’re obsessed with universe creation at the moment, or at least studios are very obsessed, post Marvel, with creating a whole playpark of world of course because it makes total sense to them. In the case of some storytelling, for example Star Wars, it makes total sense because you can tell different shaped stories in the same universe. What I’m interested in with original ideas is that sense that The Terminator originally gave. What I love about that film is that the whole movie suggests this gigantic universe of stories and alternate futures and everything else, but it’s all told from the perspective of a very small personal story. It’s essentially about three people in downtown L.A. I think that’s at the moment where my thinking is at, trying to find those kind of stories, movies that don’t have to be $200 million straight out of the traps.
Franchise Fred: Is The Long Run contemporary?
Drew Pearce: Long Run is totally contemporary. It’s a contemporary movie but it’s a way of doing, I’m desperate for the kind of gritty entertainment of the late ‘60s. Most obviously The Dirty Dozen but also if you watch Point Blank or something like that now. They’re really hard but they’re also funny. They’re engaging and entertaining and dynamic but they’re about something. They’re about real character and real theme so that is what I’m trying to do with The Long Run.