INT: J.J. Abrams

I've said it before plenty of times to the point where my nose is now permanently stained brown and I'll say it again: JJ Abrams is a genius. If for no other reason than he's the mastermind behind "Lost" and "Alias" but now he's taken a franchise 10 years old and completely revitalized it. Even more so, he did what David Fincher, Frank Darabont and Joe Carnahan couldn't in getting MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III off the ground. He sat down recently for a phone conference with some online journalists and talked all things Tom, stunts, directing his first movie and how the "Lost" season finale is going to royally kick your ass. Nice.


Did any of the ideas for action sequences or stunts or anything come from what you wanted to do on 'Alias,' but couldn't do for any reason?

There were so many things that we wanted to do on 'Alias' that we could never in a million years afford and one of the things that we did in this movie was the Vatican break-in sequence. A sequence like that requires so many pieces and it's a very intricately, visually intricately told sequence and in television you never have the kind of time and the pieces that you need to really sort of tell it properly. Clearly sequences like the one on the bridge, the helicopter chase, the whole factory sequence, the Shanghai jump, the race · each one of them in a strange way was a trained version of the kind of thing that we might conceive of doing on 'Alias,' but never have the time or budget to properly execute.

Will there always be a role for Greg Grunberg?

Only as long as I'm directing. No, I'm kidding. Greg is my oldest friend since kindergarten and I love working with Greg.

Now that you've completed 'Mission' will you return to running 'Lost' or are there other movies?

I look forward to going back to 'Lost' although I hope to do both. It was an amazing experience doing this movie and if they'll have me back to direct another movie I would love to do one.

What's it like having all these questions about being a first time director floating around and did you ever doubt yourself in this process?

Well, I'm getting the same question too which is what was it like to be a first time feature director · the opportunity to do this movie was so remarkable. I can' think of anyone else who would let someone who'd never directed a feature before take the reigns of something that was this and on this margin and scale and was this expensive and yet Tom [Cruise] did. He believed in me and never wavered from that for the entire experience. I do think that there were moments where I was in shock that I was given this opportunity, but the truth is that I've wanted to do this all my life and the pressure and experience of doing television seemed to continually confirm that doing a movie was something that was certainly possible.

I didn't necessarily think that the first movie I would get a chance to direct would be something as large as this one, but the crew was so incredible. Tom and his producing partner Paula Wagner were so supportive from the beginning and I believe the whole crew always felt incredibly supported and safe which always allows for me creativity. So the whole experience was great and I honestly never doubted that I could do it. I actually felt incredibly comfortable doing it. It was a fun challenge.

Since Tom and his character being such a strong personality what we're you looking for with the other cast members?

I wanted to make sure was that we were casting actors and writing parts that were as strong as they could be because when you've got Tom Cruise he's got blinding star power. You can't put him on screen with someone that can't play at that level or they will get drowned out and the movie won't have a spark. So you bring in actors like Laurence Fishburne and Billy Crudup and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, certainly Phillip Seymour Hoffman and you find people like Michelle Monahan and Maggie Q and I got to bring Kerri Russell back who I had worked with on 'Felicity' and so it was incredibly important to me not just as a team, but for all the supporting actors to be, not just wonderful actors, but have a certain level of that charisma. It was also great to see Tom with all of these actors because I'm sure he could feel that same energy coming from them and I think that it only made him better and I think that it certainly makes the film better · populating it with people who are that compelling to watch.

With the MI team in particular, what were you looking for in regard to how they would compliment his activities?

Well, I wanted to make sure that very quickly everyone felt incredibly distinct. What I love about Jonathan Rhys Meyers is that he sort of felt to me in many ways the Irish version of where Tom was in the first 'Mission' movie which is a little bit more of a cocky guy who is at an age where he hasn't been doing this for very long. I wanted to have with Maggie Q, I really wanted to have an incredibly strong female powerful character and someone who was as lethal as she is brave as she is vulnerable.

Maggie brought all of that. She also looked incredibly good in that red dress that she wears in all places at the Vatican. I knew that we had Ving [Rhames] coming back who I had loved in so much of the work that he had done in other films, but I felt like he still hadn't been as kind of relatable as I wanted him to be in the first two films. I just think that he so brought an incredible personality to the role of Luther. So it was just important that Tom's character be surrounded by distinct and unique and compelling other characters.,

In this film you showed how the masks were made and how the wire worked for the signature drop. Was that a conscious decision to lift the curtain a little bit to show how the team does it? And why did you go for that?

Thank you for mentioning that little calibrating thing on the wire. That kind of stuff to me · it was so easy not to do that stuff. Part of the fun of 'Mission Impossible,' the series, for me was always not just the what and the why, but the how and I just loved watching this team using the kind of equipment and using it with such a precision that I wished I had that kind of equipment. I wish that I knew how the hell to do that stuff. It's easy to skip that stuff and go right to the end game and get to the point, but I feel like part of getting to know and love the team is seeing them do their job and appreciating why they have been chosen to be out in the field as they have.

Anyway, doing that stuff with the mask or doing the little moments with the calibration thing here or there or when Tom puts the cross on the wall and transmitting that or when we see Ving open up the drill case · all of these little details were to me the things that I felt when I watched the show respected the audience and their ability to track the sort of machinations of that kind of operation. I just feel like if you lost that stuff you're not sort of getting to really see details that matter. So it was really important to me to do that stuff.

I know you like throw people out of windows or off of buildings. Why are you so attracted to the jump or the falling sequences or repelling sequences?

Well, to me the fun of the movie is in same movie having the crazy, larger than life moments and also the incredibly relatable, intimate character moments. So part of that stuff, repelling down or falling down which was obviously a nod to the first films · that stuff to me was just showing the extreme measures that Ethan has to go to either pull off a certain mission or rescue the woman that he loves. It's classic, old school, physical thrills, but those don't really thrill us anymore unless we have characters that we can relate to. So the goal is to try and do both.

The first two films were such huge successes and so I'm wondering why you mess with the process and add romance and comedy? Also, I'm wondering if you think the film will be helped or hurt because of the publicity surrounding Tom's life?

Well, I'm sure that the way you approach something when you're working on something you have the way that you do it. I didn't think going into this that I wanted to copy the first movie or the second movie. What I thought was of my dream version of 'Mission Impossible' and that it still hadn't gotten made which was a version that allowed us to see these character as people and not just as spies. I loved exploring the idea of what it looked like when Ethan Hunt went home. Not just what his home looked like, but who is there, and if there is a woman in his life does she know what he does? My guess is no. If not, how does he live with himself betraying this woman the whole time and he must know that these two worlds are going to collide. It's going to happen.

So that became one of the themes for the movie and it wasn't a question of messing with success. I actually felt that the first two films would've been even better had they spent some time investing in the characters and the people. In a movie like 'Jaws' when Roy Scheider is sitting at a table and this kid is mimicking him and his wife is watching, you could have lost that scene in that movie, I suppose, and told the same story, but it wouldn't have allowed you to invest in the people as much as you do and that's my favorite thing that the great blockbuster type movies have done. Yes, they have the thrills and the action, but the critical thing is that they invest in character, and in terms of Tom's publicity I'm sure that you could find evidence that any publicity is good publicity and also find evidence equally valid that having him go on 'Oprah' is not a good thing for him.

You could probably evidence to support either point of view, but my feeling is that what I control, what I can do is try and make a movie that's entertaining and hopefully one where you leave a theater feeling better and more empowered than you did when you got there. I'm hoping and I believe that the audiences who will see this film are smart enough to differentiate the two, the actor and the character. I think that at the opening sequence of the movie is very purposefully shocking and terrifying. I wanted to see this character as vulnerable and as frightened as he's ever been.

It wasn't because of any publicity stuff. It was because just simply having Tom Cruise in a movie, he's such an icon that I wanted to have him from the very beginning of the movie not playing a cool guy, but rather having him play an absolutely vulnerable, relatable man who we relate to. I have to tell you that knowing Tom as well as I do I see everyday who this guy is as a real person. He's funny and self-deprecating and he's smart and he's easy going and he's kind, not just to me, but to everyone who worked on the crew. He is a good person. So I wanted to see a little bit less of an icon and a little bit more of us, the everyman in this character and I think that this audience will see that.

What was the most challenging aspect of making this film for you?

The most challenging thing was probably the logistics of filming in the United States, in Los Angeles and Virginia and shooting in Italy in two cities and in China in two cities, in Berlin and having all of the visual shocks. There are many, many visual FX shots in this movie and special FX and stunts. It was really just logistically preparing this and a lot of that credit goes to the producers of the movie who helped schedule and setup the production of the film, but we were incredibly responsible, I think, making this movie. We finished ahead of schedule and under budget and for me it was totally the result of having a crew that was just hard working and dedicated and great at what they do and my TV training has gotten me used to limited time and budget.

The hardest thing truly was just in every scene where people are talking making sure that you believed that those people hate each other or that those two guys are great friends or that the couple is in love. It was always the stuff that was the most relatable stuff, the most mundane that ultimately I think people just know rings true or not. So the stunt work was always a cool and exciting challenge, but the hardest stuff was always the most unexpected, kind of small character work.

And with all the spy films like 'Bourne' and 'Bond' and this · who would win in a fight?

Who would win? Well, I always think that what would probably happen is that they started to fight against each other the cool thing would be if suddenly they all realized that there was another enemy and they have to work together to take them down. That's the way that I like to think about it.

Will there ever be a 'Lost' movie?

I think that we make one every week. I honestly don't know what else we would do. There have been discussions of sort of all different types of things with 'Lost,' but it looks to me like the ambition at least in the production of that series is to try and make a little movie every week.

You've got a bunch of TV finales coming out. With 'alias' ending a little earlier than a lot of people hoped is it hard to tie all the threads you had going up?

Not really. I have to say that on 'Alias,' which is the only show that really needs to tie up everything this was something that we have been anticipating for a while. I think it's definitely the right time to end the series. It's obviously bittersweet for a lot of reason. It's a great cast and crew and we will miss them, but I hope to work with all of them soon. But in terms of the end of the year, the end of the series it's actually a really good finale. It's incredibly satisfying and it connects all these pieces that have been in the 'Alias' universe from the beginning and I'm really proud of the work that all the amazing writers have done on the show and not just this year, but building up to the finale which has been a really, really fun and exciting process.

With 'Lost' do you have to come up with a season cliffhanger that will top the hatch of the last season finale?

I can tell that they have done just that. The ending of this year, of 'Lost,' blows the ending of last season out of the water. It's an incredible finale.

Last year the hatch was sort of dominate and now there are so many things going. So what is the one thing that you can leave hanging?

You'll see what happens, but I can tell you that a lot of it has been there and building from the beginning of this season. It's not out of the blue, but what happens at the very end of this year, for me, it's the greatest show ever.

Do you have to pay Harold Perrineau for all of those episodes that he hasn't been appearing in?

We obviously have an agreement with Harold, but I'm not sure that I'm talking about his finances to anyone.

Thoughts on an 'Alias' movie?

I think that at the moment 'Alias' is sort of going to rest in just the right way. I think it's the right way for it to go out.

Source: JoBlo.com



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