'Mission: Impossible 2' Co-Writer Reveals How 'Star Trek' Helped Save the Sequel
Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible 2wouldn’t exist without getting a little help from Captain Picard and the Borg.
Twenty years ago on May 24, 2000, director John Woo’s M:I-2 motorcycle-jousted into theaters as the first sequel in producer-star Cruise’s venerable big-screen franchise based on the classic TV show. Helping bring this extreme guilty pleasure to life, which centers on IMF Agent Ethan Hunt racing against time to stop a deadly virus (in between slow-mo gun fights and flying doves), was another movie based on a TV show: 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact. The second film to feature the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a huge hit for Paramount Pictures, which put the film’s writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga on the radar of Cruise and his then-producing partner, Paula Wagner. The writers’ mission: Reshape and refine the sequel’s story after development with then-director Oliver Stone and writers David Marconi and Michael Tolkin had stalled out.
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To celebrate the hit sequel’s 20th anniversary, The Hollywood Reporter recently spoke with Moore about his experience going from the bridge of the Enterprise to breaking story at Tom Cruise’s house.
"Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…"
“[First Contact] came out November 1996, and a Paramount exec that worked on First Contact approached us shortly after the premiere, in December,” Moore recalls. At the time, First Contact reportedly had the best test screening scores in the studio’s history — better than their Oscar-winning hit, Forrest Gump, so bringing the film’s writers on-board was a no brainer for the studio. “We had been approached by Don Granger [who was the feature exec on Star Trek at the time]. He called us and said ‘Hey, we’re having trouble getting M:I-2 off the ground. I think you and Brannon might be good candidates to help.” (While Moore and Braga would receive story credit on the final film, sole screenplay credit went to Chinatown’s Robert Towne, Cruise’s then-script doctor of choice.)
Moore and his former writing partner were excited at the opportunity to take this next step into their feature film career, after previous success with First Contact and its predecessor, 1994’s Star Trek: Generations. “It was obviously a big opportunity for us, and a very fun one, to go from having this great, formative experience starting our careers working on Star Trek for the last few years to, now, having a chance to work on a Tom Cruise movie.”
But the studio didn’t hire the writers right away. “‘We have a script and it doesn’t work, and the director’s had a falling out,’” Moore remembers Granger telling them, with the latter going on to a long producing career with the Mission franchise and other Tom Cruise films like Jack Reacher. From there, Moore and Braga agreed to read the script Stone and his collaborators were working on to see how they could help before meeting with Cruise and producer Paula Wagner.
“We first met with Tom and Paula Wagner, sort of a general meeting to get a feel for us, and that went well,” Moore said. Soon after, the writers scripted their first draft and would continue to meet with the actor at his home.
“We would meet with Tom every day, for like a month,” Moore recalls, “just hanging out with him and working on story. It was wild. Looking back on that now, it was really cool what we did. We really liked him, he was a great guy. Very smart, he was funny… he had a deep knowledge of film and cinema.” It was through those chats about classic films that the two writers and their boss landed on Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) serving as the basic framework for what the final film would be. Like that film, Ethan Hunt would find himself in a similar plot that forces him into a relationship with crafty thief and love interest Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton). (Moore and Braga never did a pass on the Marconi and Tolkin draft Stone was developing, but he recalls making handwritten notes on the margins of that script — both of which are available to the public in Moore’s archives at the USC Library.)
"It’s Not Mission: Difficult, It’s Mission: Impossible…"
Moore and Braga were also responsible for fine-tuning the mid-air hijack of a passenger plane that starts the film, putting that in place of what Stone and his team scripted: A “mouse trap”-like sequence involving a Brazilian drug lord being tricked to board a plane that turns out to be a high-tech simulation. The former writing duo was also responsible for “Chimera,” the deadly, genetically-modified virus that would serve as the film’s MacGuffin, along with its cure, “Bellerophon.” They also executed one of the film’s signature (and often parodied) scenes: The opening rock climbing sequence. Here, Ethan, on vacation, free climbs and leaps precariously from one cliff face to the other in Cruise’s signature in-camera, death-defying style. (This sequence arguably started the franchise’s “top that!” approach to finding increasingly-tense and harrowing stunts and set pieces for Cruise to execute for real.)
“That sequence was all Tom,” Moore remembers. “Tom was deep into rock climbing at that point. He was like ‘I want to be rock climbing at the beginning’ and we said ‘okay.’” Moore also believes they scripted the beat where Cruise receives his new mission briefing via high-tech sunglasses encased in a rocket-like tube that’s launched at Hunt at the end of his harrowing climb.
As exciting as it is to pitch and write action scenes for a summer blockbuster, Moore’s fondest memories of working on the movie come from those behind-the-scenes moments that never made it to the screen. One of which Moore believes he’s never told anyone before.
“[Tom] would just tell us these amazing stories. Like, Time magazine had just recently gathered all of the people that had been on its covers for some anniversary. And Tom goes [to the event] and he’s there, sitting at the table with Henry Kissinger and all these other memorable people from history. And Tom tells us that Jack Kevorkian was there.”
Moore recalled Cruise saying that Kevorkian approached the actor. “Tom goes: Kevorkian shakes my hand and says ‘So, how you feeling?’ And Tom laughs and says ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ And Kevorkian snaps his fingers and goes: ‘Ah, too bad.’”
There’s also “one very sweet” moment of his time with Cruise, an insight into the notoriously-private star’s home life, that stands out.
“I got there a little early to Tom’s house, before Brannon did, for the meeting,” Moore recalls. “We always met in this big room, which felt like a living room, but it was actually his screening room. And I’m in there, and I’m just waiting, and I’m looking out the windows into the backyard. And out there was Tom with his kids, and he had them in these pedal cars that were custom made to look like airplanes. Like a P-51 fighter. And his little kids were pedaling around in these little airplane toy cars, and Tom was like hunched down and he was so into [playing with] his kids. He was like ‘Okay, you are Whiskey-Tango-Five, and you’re on the runway. And you got to call into the tower before she takes off’ and the kids were like into it and it was just so endearing. Such a lovely moment.”
The highlight of the whole experience for Moore was arguably meeting the film’s director, John Woo, and talking to the iconic action filmmaker about the making of one of his most memorable masterpieces.
“We got to meet with him a couple of times, he was great,” Moore says. “I was in awe of him, because [TNG writer and Deep Space Nine showrunner] Ira [Steven-Behr] had gotten me into Hard Boiled and The Killer at the time and I was so into those films. And there was a moment when Woo and I were alone, and I just had to ask him about the making of the tea house [shootout] scene that opens Hard Boiled. And he kind of lit up and said ‘Oh, that was a whole thing,’ you know? He goes: ‘We spent days plotting it out, working with the cinematographer, and he got so animated talking about it and how challenging that scene was to pull off.”
While M:I-2 is considered the weakest (and, arguably, most dated) entry in the franchise, Moore’s memories of and experiences helping create the first Mission: Impossible sequel still hold up more than two decades later.
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