How Hayley Atwell Developed Her ‘Mission: Impossible’ Character As They Went

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is finally here and the stars are travelling the world to celebrate the film’s release. On Monday, July 3, Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Hayley Atwell and Pom Klementieff walked the red carpet at the Sydney premiere of the film.

The film follows Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and the IMF team, who must track down a terrifying new weapon that will threaten all of humanity if it falls into the wrong hands. With control of the future and the fate of the world at stake, a deadly race around the globe begins. Ethan is confronted by a mysterious, all-powerful enemy, which forces him to consider that nothing can matter more than the mission — not even the lives of those he cares about most.

One of the film’s new characters is the ever-mysterious Grace, played by Hayley Atwell. We sat down with Atwell to discuss the evolution of her character, what she learned from working with Tom Cruise, and what it was like filming that train scene.

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One Trailer

Related: ‘Mission: Impossible’: Simon Pegg and Pom Klementieff on What Sets ‘Dead Reckoning’ Apart

Hayley Atwell Developed Grace’s Character As They Filmed

The first thing Atwell reveals is that her character “wasn’t written” when she was originally approached for the film.

“When I came into the screen test, they said they were looking for someone they wanna work with, who liked the idea of working in a way where you’re sort of making it up as you go along,” Atwell recalls.

Although there were “certain plot points” to be fulfilled along the way, Atwell had “a lot of creative control” in the development of Grace.

The final result, Atwell says, is “sort of an edited version of Grace, where she’s sort of consistently inconsistent” and “sort of hypervigilant”.

“We would try takes where she was more knowing, she was more calculating, then one where she was like an ingénue, or a rabbit in headlights, sort of making it up as she went along,” Atwell explains.

Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.
Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One. Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Version of Grace We Didn’t Get to See

With so much freedom to develop her character, there are plenty of different iterations of Grace that ended up on the cutting room floor.

“You create all of this as you go along, but it’s not really until the edit where the sequence is put together that you’re getting a sense of the impact that certain choices have on the trajectory of her, and how the audience see her,” Atwell explains.

“There’s versions of Grace where she betrays the team one too many times,” Atwell recalls. “I think in early screenings it felt that it was just too hard for the audience to come back to Grace.”

She adds: “And it sort of suggested by then that the team should have predicted that she was going to do that, so it looked bad that they didn’t preempt it.”

Some of the other things that didn’t make the cut?

“I did the splits at one point in the kitchen carriage, and I backflipped on a bridge in Venice,” Atwell says. “That’s all gone, and what seems to be more interesting is that it’s an origin story for her. She’s a reckless driver, she’s a scrappy fighter, rather than someone who is slick or polished. That seems to be something that they really liked in her, that she’s a bit of an agent of chaos and a mess at the beginning.”

What Hayley Atwell Learned From Working With Tom Cruise

While this is Atwell’s first Mission: Impossible film, it’s certainly not Tom Cruise’s. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is the seventh instalment in the blockbuster action franchise, which began in 1996.

Atwell says that Cruise prioritised collaboration and creative control over the course of filming.

“He would just create an environment where I felt free to try different things,” she says. “Nothing was wrong, they were just choices, and coming up with ideas and seeing what landed.”

Atwell continues: “What he’s really good at, I think, is he’s developed this extraordinary objective eye, where he can confront his work, and see whether it’s landed with the audience.

“It’s entirely based on ‘does this work for the movie?’ rather than ‘do I like it, as a person?’” she explains. “It’s not about what he thinks about it or what he feels about it. He’s going, ‘what does the audience think about this, and where is the audience placed in this moment?’

“I felt that was really useful, because it takes you out of your analytical mind, and gets you just being more present,” she says.

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.
Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Filming That Train Sequence

One of the most nail-biting sequences in the film is, of course, the action-packed train sequence. Thrilling and relentless, the action keeps you on the edge of your seat for far longer than you’d anticipate.

The filming of the sequence had several obstacles for the cast and crew to overcome along the way.

Atwell recalls being able to “see the tops of trees below”, and production having to halt filming at one point.

“It had to be brought down because we could see lightning in the distance,” she says. “You don’t want a whole crew and cast of people in a metal container up there!”

The sheer “size and scale” of the sequence also led to several rounds of re-shoots.

“I remember looking at the call sheet a year later and it would be like, pickups from the train carriage sequence,” she recalls.

With faux dismay, she exclaims, “I was like, ‘Oh no! We’ve gotta do it again! It’s never gonna end!’”

Having re-shot the scene “so many times”, Atwell’s reaction to Ethan in the final film is genuine.

“There’s a moment where Ethan says to Grace in the train ‘Do you trust me?’” Atwell says.

“I just went,” —  Atwell shakes her head — “because it’s… ‘in this moment? I don’t! Because you’re gonna bring me back and make me do it all over again and it’s terrifying!’”

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is in HOYTS cinemas from July 8. Book tickets here.

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