Home » Shea Whigham on the Extreme Stunts of ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ – Exclusive Interview

Shea Whigham on the Extreme Stunts of ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ – Exclusive Interview

by Andrew J. Salazar
Shea Whigham stars as agent Jasper Briggs in the middle of a shoot out in Venice in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Shea Whigham brings a unique tenacity to the screen. Even if you don’t immediately recognize his name, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen this well-known character actor’s work multiple times this year. The actor is perhaps best known for his turnout as Eli in the Emmy-winning HBO drama series Boardwalk Empire. Wigham has gone on to work and build relationships with many of today’s finest filmmakers, from Martin Scorcese to Damien Chazelle. Furthermore, in this year alone so far, Wigham has starred in HBO’s Perry Mason and The Righteous Gemstones, Showtime’s Waco: The Aftermath, and the animated box office hit Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. His standout role as US Intelligence agent Jasper Briggs in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is merely the latest in his impressive resume.

The latest adventure in the Mission: Impossible franchise is undeniably the action blockbuster event of the summer. Tom Cruise and supporting cast members Hayley Atwell, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Rebecca Ferguson are all pushed to their limits in the fight against an evil all-powerful A.I. known as “The Entity.” Shea Wigham’s agent Briggs fits into the mix as one of the two opposing forces who constantly chase Ethan Hunt down in this globe-trotting mission. When Ethan doesn’t have to worry about dodging Briggs and U.S. forces, he’s met with the sick and twisted Gabriel, played by Esai Morales, who works for The Entity. To celebrate the box office of Dead Reckoning Part One, we sat down with Shea Wigham to discuss how filming under writer-director Christopher McQuarrie pushed him to his own personal limits. This interview was conducted before the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike.

Exclusive Interview with Shea Whigham for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

So when preparing for this interview I came across a tweet that said it’s the “summer of Shea Whigham” since you’re in the new season of The Righteous Gemstones, Across the Spider-Verse, and Mission: Impossible. That must feel good, right?

Shea Whigham: Yeah, I’m not going to lie, man, that is so kind. I didn’t know [about that tweet]. Thank you.

So from going to television to voice acting in animation to starring in a giant action blockbuster, how do you go about stretching your different acting muscles in each project?

Shea Whigham: You hit the nail on the head. I constantly want to do things that I’m curious about. I mean, that’s the whole key is to stay curious and to keep myself always interested. So with Gemstones, it was the chance to go back in with a very dear friend, Danny McBride, and try to play a 70-year-old man very loosely (laughs). And then with Lord and Miller on Spidey, it’s the same thing. I hadn’t done [voice acting like that] before, and it was a chance for me to check that out. I had also been such a huge fan of Chris McQ and Tom, so to do Mission: Impossible is really like checking it off of my list. It’s a dream come true, man.

You are quite literally chasing Tom Cruise around the world in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, and the way Tom sprints on screen is somewhat iconic now. You said in another interview that you actually pulled a muscle while filming a scene chasing him, could you explain how that happened?

Shea Whigham: That’s true. That’s not Hollywood. We were in Venice, we had been chasing him all night. It was probably the fifth day in a row of chasing him and doing all-nighters. I didn’t know I was going to be in the Venice portion, to be honest with you. So I wasn’t training other than lifting a glass of red every night – vino, great Italian vino. Though they jumped in and said, based on what you’ve been doing, we’re going to have you chase Tom all over Venice!

So I started doing that without really working out and I pulled [a muscle in my leg] during the last shot. It was morning, so it was almost blue hour. And then we didn’t get the shot, there was something wrong with it. McQ asked if I had another one in me, but I knew I had pulled it. McQ said, “Can you give me one more?” I knew I was hurt but I did it anyway. And, I mean, we got it. But I was limping hard and I was out for a couple of weeks after that. That’s true.

So some of your most well-known roles, from Boardwalk Empire to now Mission: Impossible, have this thread in common in that they’re characters who are self-righteous in their pursuit of something that they believe is for the greater good, and sometimes they get lost in their own righteousness. Do you see this pattern as well?

Shea Whigham: You know, I don’t judge. You don’t sit in judgment of anything that you do. You’re always just looking to make your characters real. I mean, think of John Cazale and Fredo in The Godfather. He feels like he should be involved, right? He feels like he’s just as good as Mike and just as good as Sonny. Now, take Eli [from Boardwalk Empire], he thinks he’s just as good as Nucky, but he’s not really there. It’s the same thing, you know what I mean?

Briggs can’t quite catch Tom, but on any of the continents that I tracked his ass down on, I have to feel that as an actor. I kept telling McQ, “I have to feel that I’m actually going to get him.” Otherwise, it doesn’t work. I’m always looking for that visceral quality. It’s of truth, and what’s the truth? If the truth is simply just chasing and trying to get him around an Abu Dhabi airport, then I’m going to fully dive into that mentality above all else.

To say the least, you have some of the funniest moments from this new Mission: Impossible. The “mind-reading, shapeshifting agent of chaos” line has already become famous online. There’s also a lot of great physical comedy between you and Tom, so I’m curious how you two came to form that dynamic in the middle of an epic blockbuster?

Shea Whigham: Look, if you play something truthfully, out of that comes levity. You can’t go in trying to be funny. If I think that first gentleman wearing the mask is Ethan in the airport and they told me he’s Ethan, then that’s how I play it. And how I played it wasn’t in the script, when I rip his face off and fish hooked his mouth with my thumb. But we had to make that real. I had to really believe in it, and out of that comes the comedy. Or at the end of the airport set piece and they got me running out of breath, I’m thinking that he’s got to be here somewhere, and then McQ’s genius idea to have him running right behind me in the back à la Midnight Run with Charles Groden, Robert De Niro, and Yaphet Kotto.

So, look, Tom and McQ are cinephiles. I’m a cinephile. We love cinema, and we pay homage wherever we can. Hopefully, it’s funny and people dig it, you know? I didn’t want to play Briggs straight up. I truly didn’t want to define him in a simple way. More like, what would it be like to chase someone that you’re never going to catch?

Can we talk about working with an action director as proficient as Christopher McQuarrie while they had you actually standing on top of a train cart for that final set piece in the third act? How real was that for you?

Shea Whigham: Pardon the cliche, but they aren’t making films like this anymore. Like, on the first day, you just jump right in. You don’t rehearse fighting on a train and, in my case, arresting Ethan on top of a speeding train. So, you just jump right up there! And I’m screaming, we’re going 60 miles an hour in that picture through a Norwegian valley. We’re up there and I don’t know Tom that well, so I’m really going for it. It was bitter cold, and It was, you know, terrifying in a sense.

But that’s what plays! When you see me up there, stumbling back and forth, with a little bit of fear – that’s what you want to see. That’s what makes a human. I think that’s why people respond so strongly to Tom in these movies – because he’s not afraid to be human. He’s not afraid to be weak. He’s not afraid to find humor and be vulnerable. That’s why people respond to this franchise, I believe.

Finally, since you’ve been in two movies this summer that are part ones, Across the Spider-Verse and Dead Reckoning, I have to ask if there’s anything you can tease audiences on what to expect from the second parts that are currently slated to release next year?

Shea Whigham: That’s above my paygrade man. That’s on the queue for Lord and Miller, or Tom and McQ. I’ll tell you this though. I think what we have going on in the next Mission: Impossible is even better than what’s out. I mean, constantly in both the Spidey and Mission: Impossible franchises, they will stop at nothing to make them better. And that’s what I love because they care as much as I do when I put together a character. That’s all you can ask for and that’s what gives us a shot at greatness or to have the most eyeballs on something. So both of them are going to be amazing, part two of Spidey and Mission: Impossible.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is currently playing only in theaters!

Follow Managing Editor Andrew J. Salazar on Twitter: @AndrewJ626

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