To celebrate the release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, in cinemas now, Paramount Pictures has provided us with an exclusive interview with Alec Balwin as he goes head-to-head with Angela Bassett’s rival intelligence chief, we look forward to a showdown two decades in the making…
Astonishingly, given both the length of their careers and their industry standing as a pair of bona fide acting titans, the last time Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett worked together was as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, in an acclaimed stage production in 1998. And now, 20 years down the line, they are about to make sparks of an altogether different variety fly, as rival intelligence chiefs.
In Baldwin’s first appearance in the Mission: Impossible universe (2015’s Rogue Nation), his Alan Hunley was chief of the CIA. Now, in Fallout, that title goes to Bassett’s Erica Sloane, a character she says is “always a step ahead, always at the finish line waiting for him.”
Sloane has also got, in Henry Cavill’s August Walker, an agent who will do literally anything to get the job done, and she’s got an excuse to use him, when Cruise’s Ethan Hunt chooses his friends over his mission and puts the whole world in peril.
For Baldwin’s Hunley, now head of the IMF (the Impossible Missions Force), that means him having to make sure Hunt and his team keep out of trouble – “Never an easy thing,” notes Baldwin dryly – and engage in a battle of minds that will test even his excellence in espionage.
You’ve worked with incredible writer-directors before, everyone from David Mamet to Wes Anderson. What is it about working with multi-hyphenates that appeals to you, and how does Chris McQuarrie compare?
McQuarrie is perfect for films like the M:I franchise because he understands that while you need plot, action and hardware to make a big action thriller, you also need some peek into the s oul of the lead character. And Chris, along with Tom, always succeeds at getting the audience to see into Ethan. You know, these guys have a thing. Cruise has been doing this since 1996. These movies are very expensive, and for them to work, these guys have got to give them everything they have. McQuarrie and Cruise just never stop working, rewriting and reworking. [On set] McQuarrie would have dinner with me, as a courtesy, until 10 o’clock at night and then go home and keep working till two o’clock in the morning, and then he would be back on the set at six o’clock in the morning, on four hours’ sleep. These guys work hard. And no-one works harder than Cruise.
This is now (in)famously The Movie That Tom Cruise Got Injured On. What’s the worst injury – either physical or psychological – that you’ve ever sustained on a movie set?
I was duelling someone with a period sword. The retractable blade rode on a spring mechanism. The rod broke through the hilt and went into my hand at the base of the thumb and thro ugh my hand. My hand swelled up like a baseball glove. [But that was on a different movie.] You can never complain how sore you are or how tired you are when you work with Tom, because he’s such a machine. He broke his ankle and should have been off for mo nths, but six weeks later, he’s back on the set!
What was it like going mano a mano with Angela Bassett, as rival intelligence bigwigs? Last time you acted together was as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, on stage in ’98. How was working with her again, 20 years down the line?
Angela is one of the most intense actresses of her generation. One minute she’s crisp, imperious and intimidating. Yet in other films, like Malcolm X, she is tender and nurturing. Her range is limitless.
Mission: Impossible is a series of movies that has always presented global peril on a fantastical scale. But your intelligence chief is more hands -on than most, isn’t he?
The M:I series features global security issues at the centre of the movies’ stories, but the series works because of the script, direction and the now-legendary career of Tom Cruise as its star. No one in the movies today could elevate these films to their current level of success but Cruise. It is unusual that someone who is the head [of an intelligence agency] is that active. But it’s a movie. Usually the head stays in Washington and doesn’t get his hands dirty. Ours is very different. [Specifically, as Baldwin told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show] I had to do an abbreviated fight scene with Henry Cavill. I don’t want to give away too much but Henry Cavill, who as everybody knows plays Superman… He really is Superman. The guy’s body is made of marble. And when you do these fight scenes, you throw these fake theatrical punches, and you tussle with the guy and you move him around. And he’s pretty hard to move around, you know what I mean? And his shoulders are so big that when they did my close -up over his shoulder, I would literally look at him and say, ‘Could you bend down a little bit, please? Your shoulder is in the w ay of my shot here…’
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is now playing in Australian cinemas!