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.
When Tom Cruise isn’t wowing audiences with his next incredible practical stunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise, he’s keeping them invested in their seats by bouncing off the likes of Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg as fellow respective IMF agents Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One pushes this core team to their limits as they’re pitted against an evil A.I. that can be everywhere and nowhere all at once. Pegg’s Benji Dunn gets tested by this A.I., referred to as “The Entity,” early on as he’s forced to deactivate a potential nuclear bomb under immense pressure. It’s one of the many endlessly nerve-wracking scenes in this latest Mission: Impossible sequel via writer and director Christopher McQuarrie. And with Dead Reckoning Part Two already coming next year, there’s no telling how The Entity will continue to challenge, or even break, Ethan and his team.
The theatrical release of Dead Reckoning Part One was delayed multiple times by Paramount Pictures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no other way to enjoy this feat of action cinema other than on the biggest screen you could find. And with mighty fine box office returns, this ended up being the right decision. To celebrate the theatrical success of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, we sat down with actor Simon Pegg to discuss Benji’s pivotal role in the franchise and how this entry is vastly different from Dead Reckoning Part Two. Furthermore, the Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz star reveals his current plans to reunite with writer-director Edgar Wright, and how their next film is going to be vastly different from the beloved Cornetto trilogy. This interview was conducted before the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike.
Exclusive Interview with Simon Pegg for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
I can’t imagine how it must feel with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One finally releasing in theaters to major critical acclaim after shooting through the pandemic and all the numerous delays. How do you think the long wait has played into this success?
Simon Pegg: It’s an incredible feeling. I mean, we had our own “Mission: Impossible” going on whilst we were actually making Mission: Impossible. How the hell do you make a film during a pandemic? And, obviously, with Tom and McQ leading the charge, we knew that we stood a chance. But we never really knew for sure, you know? So to be here, now, with it finally finished and being able to give it to audiences… I’m elated beyond belief.
One of the elements that stood out to me this time around is how the dynamic between yourself, Tom Cruise, and Ving Rhames is as strong as ever. You three are bouncing off each other effortlessly, and even in extremely tense scenes like where Benji has to deactivate the potential nuclear bomb in the airport. How do you think you, as a trio, have managed to keep this core energy alive in the franchise after all these years?
Simon Pegg: We’ve been working together for 17 years, and it’s always a pleasure when we get to do scenes, the three of us together and with Rebecca [Ferguson] as well. We just have a rhythm and with McQ, who also knows the characters so well, he and Tom are always trying to set up and play the dynamic between the three of them so that you get a sense that they’re a team and that they like each other.
You know, I have my own personal takes on Benji’s relationship with Ethan and Benji’s relationship with Luther. It’s so fun to channel all of that when we’re all together. It’s really important. I mean, Tom is so keyed into character, and a lot is said about the stunts; obviously, that always becomes the focus. But the reason those stunts often work so well is because you care so much about who’s involved, and that comes from character-building and trying to make everybody very three-dimensional.
As the Mission: Impossible series continues, the stakes are raised higher and the stunts get bigger. Now, could we ever see Benji jumping out of a plane next to Ethan in the future? Is that something you would be up for, or do you prefer Tom taking all those practical stunts?
Simon Pegg: Well, I’m always happy to do anything that’s asked of me. One thing that Tom has taught me is that if you do your stunts, then you don’t ever have to hand over [the role] to a stunt professional who can’t play the character like you can. If a stunt performer never jumps in, then you are 100% always in character.
One thing that McQ is really good at, though, is not doing things for the sake of fan service. If Benji suddenly became like Ethan, it just wouldn’t ring true. Benji’s involvement in that kind of thing would have to be very accidental. It couldn’t be as proactive as Ethan because Benji is not Ethan. And one thing you don’t want to do with your characters is to have them all sort of start to bleed into each other. There’ll be no discernible difference between them. So, if Benji does find himself in that situation, he will react like Benji would rather than do it just like Ethan, which is to be so focused and so into the moment that he disregards his own safety.
So Dead Reckoning isn’t the only “part one” film event of this summer. It’s by total coincidence that it came soon after Across the Spider-Verse, but this Hollywood trend of two-parters has been growing for over the last decade. I have to ask you, did you ever doubt the idea of splitting this next Mission: Impossible sequel in half? Also, how do you think Dead Reckoning Part One stands on its own versus the upcoming Part Two?
Simon Pegg: What I know from talking to Tom and McQ, one of their biggest challenges with this film was to have it not feel like half a movie. I know that was Tom and McQ’s driving motivation for the whole thing, trying to create a film that closes and doesn’t leave the story unfinished. And I think what they’ve done really cleverly is create a film that is specifically about trying to get the key to the Sevastopol, and that story definitely closes. Like with any Mission: Impossible, there’s always room for some more adventure afterward. But, with this one, that room was more specifically delineated in terms of “Okay, there is still stuff to do.” That was their challenge, and I know it was a tough one at times.
One thing I felt was certain with some films that have “part two” or are a “part one,” I felt a little bit shortchanged. At the end, I feel like “Oh, so it hasn’t finished yet?” But I think what Tom and McQ achieved with [Dead Reckoning Part One] is an actual end. Also, they exhaust you so much that you couldn’t possibly want to watch another film right after. You’re too emotionally drained! So they really nailed it. Rather than this being a voguish thing to do for them, they just wanted to have the space to create the characters and give everybody an arc. You know, give everyone their moment and not have them feel truncated or cut short. And the only way to do that was to spread the story over two episodes.
Christopher McQuarrie previously mentioned that Edgar Wright gave him a note during the test screening process and post-production of the film. What was your point of view on that encounter?
Simon Pegg: No, it was funny because I’m not involved in post-production. I would rather wait and see the movie after it’s finished. But as a peer and friend to McQ, Edgar was invited to an early friends and family screening. I saw him on Halloween and he said, “Guess what I saw?” and I said, “I know what you saw!” He really liked it and that’s lovely and nice to hear because, obviously, he’s one of my best friends. I respect his opinion. But at the end of the screening when I saw it for the first time, I leaned over to McQ and said I loved how the entity had a sort of personality. I loved how you could hear it even breathing at the party when it reveals itself. You get a sense that it’s actually at the party. He goes, “Yeah, that was Edgar” (laughs).
It was funny that the thing that I really picked up on was the thing that my friend had a say in. It also speaks to McQ and his collaborative and incredibly generous creative nature. Not only is he happy to do that, but he also mentioned that in an interview and gave Edgar good credit for it. That just speaks to his confidence as well, because he’s such a master storyteller. He’s so good at what he does that he doesn’t feel in any way insecure about his abilities, you know?
Speaking of him, you’ve been teasing that a reunion with Edgar Wright is on the horizon. I was to close off by asking if you can clarify what this project could be for all the excited fans eagerly waiting for more? A new original idea, perhaps?
Simon Pegg: We’ve always done original ideas, even though we’ve kind of built them around existing genres or whatever. Edgar and I are always talking about what we’re going to do next. Neither of us can believe it’s been 10 years since The World’s End. But because our careers have obviously changed and we’re not just sitting around writing zombie films like we used to, the real problem now is about syncing our diaries up at a time when we can both sit down and write a film. And then obviously shoot it. I’ll say this, it’s not about if but when we will do something, which we will do because we’ve already started talking about it.
Edgar came over to my house last year and we started kicking ideas around. It’s not going to be another sort of Cornetto film in that those movies were specifically genre riffs, which addressed the idea of the collective versus the individual. There are certain kinds of thematic consistencies between those three movies which make them a trilogy – it’s not just the ice cream, it’s a series of connecting thematic details. With what do next, we want to be completely different from that. We don’t want to do a take on action movies or a take on sci-fi or a take on horror. We want to make a movie that is totally its own thing, existing outside of the Cornetto trilogy. My desire, really, is to do something super different.
At the risk of disappointing people, we get a lot of requests to “sequalize” all three of those movies. I feel like it’s a lazy impulse for people to embrace familiarity and just accept the same thing again. I’m very flattered by it, and it’s never anything but edifying to be to have people say, “Oh, we would love to see more.” I get that! But what we really need is new stuff. We need new ideas. We need to be challenged. You know, my favorite of the Cornetto trilogy is The World’s End because it’s the least audience friendly. It’s the darkest of the three. It’s the most challenging, and I love the idea of actually putting the audience in a position where they have to feel a little bit uncomfortable and not necessarily cozy into the familiar. So whatever we do next, it’ll be difficult that’s for sure.