If you are planning a swift getaway from the scene of your next major heist, Hayley Atwell could well be the woman for the job. The Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoningstar has revealed a remarkable hidden talent, confirming that she really was behind the wheel of the little yellow Fiat 500 that tore through the streets of Rome and down the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti steps.
In the film, Atwell plays Grace, a petty thief and pick-pocket who finds herself caught in the midst of an international arms race. With Tom Cruise‘s Ethan Hunt on hand to help steer her in the right direction, Grace quickly becomes wise to the situation, but not before landing herself in a precarious position. In one of the most incredible pieces of stuntwork ever recorded on camera, Atwell and Cruise perform a fully-fledged car chase scene handcuffed together in the tight-knit quarters of a Fiat 500.
Speaking ahead of the Australian premiere of the action blockbuster, Atwell revealed the entire stunt was completely “practical”, with real cars, authentic traffic, and no CGI.
“I trained for five months in England to make sure that I was a competent drifter and that I could control various cars,” Atwell told us. “By the time I got out to Rome, the real challenge and obstacles of driving around an old city like that on cobble streets, with people watching, lots of equipment, lots of crew around, paparazzi around, people looking out their windows, wanting to come and see Tom – all of these added elements meant that there had to be no doubt in my mind that I was capable and competent of the actual task of drifting.”
“When we got to the performance element of it, there was a freedom because I knew I could do it.”
“Tom had entrusted me with that by allowing me to drive him while he sat in the passenger seat handcuffed to me, a place metaphorically and literally wouldn’t be his place of choice. What I am so proud of is that scene is entirely a two-shot between us. It’s not that they had to cut in because one take was better for me or one take was better for him, we’re entirely connected for the whole car chase sequence.”
The scene plays a pivotal role in the new Mission: Impossible film, helping to outline the uniquely strained relationship between Grace and Ethan. The two characters are defiantly independent, but their circumstances have thrust them together, both literally and figuratively. As Atwell explains, she and director Christopher McQuarrie wanted the connection between Grace and Ethan to be reminiscent of the old heist movies of yesteryear.
“We watched a lot of ‘70s heist movies, so we watched What’s Up Doc?, Papermoon, The Sting,” she said. “We watched Thomas Crowne Affair, To Catch a Thief, Train, Shane; lots of movies that had a certain cat-and-mouse feel to them and a kind of wholesome, endearing, exasperated relationship between the protagonists. From out of that, the Fiat 500 kind of came in as a third character in their, sort of momentarily romantic comedy that happens in the middle of this car chase.”
Remarkably, however, one of Atwell’s favourite elements of the scene never actually made it to air. Despite finishing with an incredible piece of cinema, and destroying around 5,000 scooters in the process, the actors reveal there was a lot more carnage that was left on the cutting room floor.
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“At one point, I think it was cut out of the film because we got so much that you could have made three more movies with all the footage we filmed, but there was one moment where they wanted Ethan to not know what street Grace had gone down but he just has to listen to all the car alarms that she had set off. I sort of love this idea that she was reckless but sort of angry at the way that other people had parked their cars, rather than her being the problem. I thought that was kind of a funny character note.”
The car chase scene is just one of many death-defying acts performed in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which hits cinemas on July 8. To check out more from the cast of the new action blockbuster, read our interview with co-stars Simon Pegg and Pom Klementieff.