Impossible’; She Shouts Out Support For Actors Strike

EXCLUSIVE: Hayley Atwell predicted that she’d be on strike now.

Late Wednesday night, we chatted about her captivating performance opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, and of the globe-trotting promotional tour to tubthump the movie — is there a soul on this planet that isn’t aware of this film?! — that kicked off on the Spanish Steps in Rome four weeks ago, followed by a Cook’s tour of London, Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Sydney and New York.

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Tokyo had been scheduled as the final stop, but the mission to Japan was junked once the actors strike was ratified Thursday.

“I’m in full support of it,’ Atwell declared of the SAG-AFTRA dispute.

”Making sure that people are properly compensated for their time and their talent and their skill; that’s really important.”

One major concern of the striking thespians is the emergence of AI, and to what extent the studios plan to use it at the expense of walking-talking human actors with real blood in their veins.

Atwell noted that Mission: Impossible director and writer Christopher McQuarrie decided four years ago that the film’s villain would be AI.

“I feel like McQ’s always on the button when it comes to things that are just about to get into the zeitgeist,” she said. “And so it makes for the perfect kind of high-stakes situation because, of course, AI, like any sort of mode of power, it’s about what you do with it.”

The thing in and of itself, she said, “begins as a neutral thing.”

“And then it’s up to human beings how they wield it,” she remarked.

The use of AI in a movie or television storyline can make for “such a thrilling obstacle and drama,” but actors have every “right” to strike over their concern that AI could be used to replace them.

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Atwell’s now back in London with family, friends, plus Wolfie and Iris, her rescue French bulldogs.

AI can never replace the skill, dedication and empathy a human actor can bring to a role.

What Atwell does in Dead Reckoning, playing Grace, a pickpocket more artful than the Artful Dodger, can’t be replicated by some damn machine or computer program.

Her deft performance is the result of 17 years of blood, sweat and tears on stage, on TV and on the cinema screen.

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’

To bring off a particularly magnificent moment that she shares with Cruise can only work if you’ve honed your craft and paid attention to the minutiae of acting, the detail.

She nods in agreement. “All that 17 years in the industry, really re-offending on stage — I’m green and making mistakes and learning as I go along — kind of cultivated in me a work ethic, which meant that by the time I came to do this size of movie, I was distracted by the goal of it or the size of it or the machine at play.”

When it came to performing “the moment” that I keep alluding to — it’s a scene on a runaway train where Cruise’s Ethan Hunt asks if she’s OK. “I, in that moment, sort of improvised that I wasn’t OK. And I was quite emotional and not rehearsed beforehand,” Atwell admitted.

McQuarrie loved it and told her, ”Oh, I want that in there.”

It works because it’s a real believable moment in an action franchise movie.

There’s depth to it.

Atwell knew that the “moment” “would, potentially, be used to change the trajectory” of a character who is hyper-vigilant, hyper-independent, an opportunist, a lone wolf, an orphan. “We understand that she’s just in survival mode, trying to work things out as she goes along rather than calculating or trying to purposely pull the rug from Ethan’s feet.”

Her sublime achievement in M:I-7 was a decade in the making.

McQuarrie saw her, as did I, in a revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Olivier-winning play The Pride that was directed by Jamie Lloyd at the Trafalgar theater in Whitehall.

They went out to dinner and McQuarrie said, ”That thing that you do on that stage, I want to bottle it and put it into a character. I just don’t know what the character is or what the story would be.”

He had her audition for Jack Reacher with Cruise. “Then six years after he initially reached out to me, he called me up and chatted to me about Mission. And here we are.”

Hayley Atwell at the New York premiere of ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ held at Rose Theater, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall on Monday

Hayley Atwell at the New York premiere of ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ held at Rose Theater, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall on Monday

Both McQuarrie and Cruise explained to me during their Rome gig that they find actors they want to work with, then they create and collaborate on that character with the actor.

Five months before principal photography began on Dead Reckoning, Cruise and McQuarrie showed Atwell lots of heist and caper movies such as What’s Up Doc?, Paper Moon, The Sting, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Italian Job. They had her work with stunt coordinator Wade Westwood and fitness instructor Sam Eastwood.

Westwood and Eastwood watched her closely, deciding that her Grace is scrappy in her fighting, not slick. They also noted, Atwell explained, that ”she’s also feminine and, as the character name suggests, graceful, particularly in her physical behavior with Ethan.”

The character’s physicality was the first thing I noticed about Grace when I saw the film in Rome. At times she moves like a dancer, and that was deliberate, Atwell said. “When you have that elegant physical behavior, it adds notes about who the character is.”

Indeed, there are graceful echoes of Faye Dunaway in Thomas Crown Affair and Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief in Grace. “She could be feminine and still strong,” Atwell found.

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Making the movie has, I sense, liberated her.

“I felt watching it, I wasn’t thinking about me. I was lost in the story. And that’s because I’m not self-conscious on screen in this movie because I felt very comfortable with what we were doing and who I was with. And I think that really is what ends up coming across,” she told me.

“When Tom says, his character says, ‘Your life will matter more than my own,’ what I find working with Tom and McQ is that they actively look after me. They actively turn up for me. And so it’s just a matter of me stepping forward. And the more forward steps I take, the more I know I can do and therefore continue to give me to do,” she said.

“It feels like all of the experiences I’ve had have now brought me to this moment .So I’ve learned from everything that I’ve done, even if things didn’t feel like they landed in a final edit of something that I had hoped, or I had not been able to fully realize what I was doing or achieving.

“There’s still, like Shakespeare says, ‘the attempt is all.’ And I’ve certainly been attempting for 17 years,” she said, laughing.

It’s clear that McQuarrie and Cruise unlocked something in her, for which she’s unfailingly grateful.

She was also struck by how kind they were, especially Cruise.

His kindness, she shared, doesn’t get talked about a lot. “There’s something wholesome about Tom,” she said. “There’s not a jealous bone in his body. I think he’s only ever really competing with himself.”

It’s very telling, she added, “when your dogs or children react to someone, it can be very telling about that person’s character. And Tom has met my godchildren, and I see him with other kids, and I see him with animals.”

Atwell’s two dogs often visited set, and others brought their mutts along as well. “It was like doggy daycare at one point … and [Cruise] gets down on their level and he’s very gentle. And it’s beautiful to see. You see someone who’s incredibly alpha and dominant and controlled and hardworking and strong. And yet he always has time for a heartfelt conversation, I’ve found.”

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Once the SAG strike is settled, whenever that might be, production will resume on Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two.

McQuarrie indicated to me that Atwell’s part is much bigger in M:I- 8.

Atwell’s well aware of the opportunity and “this shift, I think, in how the industry is seeing how visible I am.”

She wants to take some time to be “mindful about opportunities” that “I hope can generate from this, and to continue to work with exceptional filmmakers, and bring as much to the table and to a character arc as I can.”

While acknowledging that recognition from friends and peers “means the world to me,” it does not drive her. ”It’s beautiful and lovely,” though, she confessed.

The ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ cast on the Spanish Steps in Rome for the world premiere

The ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ cast on the Spanish Steps in Rome for the world premiere

At this stage of her life, she said, “I know who I am and I compartmentalize my working life and my private life.”

She declared that “my private life is a very happy one, a very stable and secure one, now more than ever before. So that also gives me a foundation and also a consistency where I’m not going to suddenly change because of this [M:I-7].

Atwell’s engaged “to an incredible human being“ by the name of Ned Wolfgang Kelly, a composer who’s “very supportive of who I am as a person, and sees who I am and what I bring to work everyday, rather than just the results of it.

“It’s a beautiful thing to have someone to call home, that anchors me wherever I am or whatever I’m doing.”

Being in love is wonderful, I nod.

“Exactly,” she cried.

“It’s what makes my world go around anyway.”

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