IN CONVERSATION WITH HAYLEY ATWELL - Numéro Netherlands (2024)

British-American actress HayleyAtwell will be seen starring as the female lead in the highly anticipated ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’, which will be releasing on 12th July. She will reprise her role for the eighth installment of the franchise as well, which is due for a 2024 release.

IN CONVERSATION WITH HAYLEY ATWELL - Numéro Netherlands (1)

Hayley, we’ll be seeing you as Grace, the newly introduced character in the seventh installment of ‘Mission: Impossible’, releasing today. What can you share with us about your character and her part in this upcoming film?

When I first met Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise for this role, they said to me, and they have also said in interviews afterwards, that they didn’t have a character written that they were looking for someone to come in and fit into. They like to find an actress they want to work with that follows the same work ethic, that likes to try lots of different things and then create the character together with them throughout the course of the filming of the movie. What was exciting to me about that was we sort of got to make it up as we went along and I got to try lots of different things. And I found that very freeing as an actor.

As I was going along, I still couldn’t quite define who she was. There were times when we’d filmed something and Chris was like “I love that you did that. Now that makes me realize that the character of Grace has to do this rather than that”. So that’s one of the reasons why I think she’s ended up becoming so enigmatic. We are left with this character, who is someone who is consistently inconsistent. We’re not sure where she comes from and that’s not because she’s secretive about it, it’s because she’s entered the world that she doesn’t understand. She starts off as sort of on her own and not knowing what she’s gotten herself in for. I think what came naturally to myself and Tom in terms of our chemistry was sort of cat and mouse siblings in a way, like exasperated by each other, but still needed to work together. And that also created moments of levity and humor. We really leaned into those moments of finding ways that she doesn’t intend to, but ends up kind of embarrassing him. And that seemed to be working really well and was really fun to do, and then fun to watch. I think the audience will really enjoy the dynamic of this.

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What can the viewers expect from this highly anticipated installment of the franchise?

Tom is someone who is always looking to push himself, push the franchise forward into its natural evolution, as well as making the audience feel satisfied with the familiarity of what ‘Mission: Impossible’ is and the characters they already feel an affinity to. So I think this film was so ambitious in the scale and scope. You know, Tom had always, since the age of five, wanted to jump off a cliff off a motorbike. He then created over many months of training and engineering and working with experts what has become, as far as I understand, the most dangerous stunt in movie history.

The ideas that Chris and Tom were having, was always pushing and reaching and trying to discover something new, something exciting, something that hadn’t been shown before within this franchise. And that’s why they’ve ended up having to do two parts, so the audiences will have that wonderful sense of satisfaction of seeing the characters that they already know and love and have an affection to, and then be introduced to this whole other world of new characters. The scale of the stunts and the action sequences elevated even more than what they’ve seen before from the previous film, which had already topped its previous film, which had already topped its previous. There is a runaway train in the sequence of this film and the ‘Mission: Impossible’ itself has become almost like a runaway train of how far can we push it in a way that really blows its audience’s minds and makes them want to sit forward in their seat and have this kind of ride. And yet also feel emotionally connected to the characters and feeling very much like this is also the theme of friendship and of team and of triumph over adversity and have very life-affirming messages. That’s I think what they set out to achieve and from what I have seen, they have certainly done that. It’s an extraordinary feat of ambition and joy and a real commitment to absolutely delivering and delighting the audiences.

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For this film, you had to film a lot of stunts. How did you prepare for it? How exciting was it filming them?

Part of the screen test that I did initially was with Wade Eastwood, who is our stunt coordinator, and he has the best stunt team in the world. He’s got people who are martial arts experts, who are incredible race car drivers and they do unarmed combat fight sequences with guns, with knives. Really multi-disciplined athletes. Part of the training in the screen test was to see how well I could learn fight choreography, but he was also looking at my natural physical style to how coordinated I was, what my fitness level was, was I able to add performance to a fight sequence, was I able to take quick direction and try different things.

I trained for five months before we started principal photography on the film. And the strength that I found and that Wade wanted me to pursue was drifting in a race car, so I was on a racetrack multiple times throughout the training, making sure that I knew how to control this car effectively. I then ended up drifting along the streets of Rome in very small cobbled streets with beautiful buildings, other cars there, people there, crew there, people watching, making sure that I was competent enough to do it safely, but then also make it look like it was dangerous. It was exciting to watch and I just loved that. I was also working with lots of props, doing slight of hand tricks and with knives, learning how to back flip off a bridge, learning how to fall backwards off a moving train and learning the very long sequence of this incredible runaway train. The body can do extraordinary things beyond what I ever thought was possible when you have the right team of people who are expertly training you in mobility, making sure the body is dynamic, that it’s safe and that also requires a lot of rest. That requires developing spacial awareness that requires discipline and focus to make sure that I was getting up to that athletic level where I could do this professionally. AndTom is such a health and safety guy. He would never ask anything of the actor that they didn’t feel that they were comfortable and capable of doing. And he’s with you the whole time, just making sure that everything is done properly. When it came to it, I felt like I had tremendous amount of support of people who were making me very aware of the stakes, of the dangers of the things to keep in mind and looking to see at what level of I could reach that, cause it’s not only just doing the stunts, but it’s doing it multiple times at multiple angles.

And also having the director come in and ask me to make my character feel more vulnerable with this stunt, make her less confident. I was trying to also imagine the psychology of the character rather than just being good at something and making her look cool. You want to see her gearing up to do it, her fear about doing it, her uncertainty, her doubt, her courage, her boldness that also makes it more dangerous. It became a very physical role in that sense and I loved it, I thrived in that cause I really paid attention to the teachers that I had and I really took on their feedback.

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‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ was filmed in Italy, UK, Norway and United Arab Emirates. What are some of your favorite memories from filming in all these different countries?

For me, it all comes down to the people. From Rome to Norway to Abu Dhabi, the local crews that were involved in the making of this film in those places. And also the people that we got a chance to meet outside of the film, just by being there. For me, it’s one of the great privileges of this job that I get to go to all these different places and meet new people. And my worldview starts to open up, my understanding of cultural differences, but also cultural similarities.

In turn, we are wanting to be maintaining absolute respect for the places that we were in. Norway was incredible because I did so much wild swimming. I had a driver who swims in Norway in the Fjords every single day and she says that in the winter she has to go through the ice so that she can get into the water. One day after work, we got into her car and she took me to this beautiful spot in Norway and I just followed how she did it effortlessly. And I felt so invigorated by it. Norway was incredible for being able to take in that incredible fresh air and wild swimming, which I really love doing.

Then again, Abu Dhabi, I’d never been somewhere like that before. We went to the new Louisville museum that’s there and we had the tour of it and we climbed onto the roof over the dome that overlooks the whole city. Just seeing the kind of the architectural achievement of that extraordinary space was breathtaking. In no other way would I’ve seen that had I not been part of this film, so I feel like it’s a very privileged position to be so well taken care of in the context of visiting places that I wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to go to otherwise. It boils down to the kindness of people, the welcoming nature that they showed us and also our desire to learn from them and work and collaborate with them. Rome was very much the same. We had an incredible local crew of Italians, who were so effusive and passionate about being there with us. You are collaborating with many different kinds of people from many different places, but you’re all coming together for a common goal and I find that really beautiful. It’s a great way to get to know people.

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Soon after shooting began, the shoot was halted due to the Pandemic. How hard was it dealing with filming being on halt and all the restrictions the Pandemic brough after it?

From a personal point of view, it’s a devastating thing to have happened and I found it personally just so painful to see these numbers rising every day and the fear that happened and the effects on people’s lives and families. The uncertainty of what this was, how long lockdown would be, how vaccines were being developed and when they could be rolled out, that aspect of it. From a professional point of view, I was being led very much by a man who adapts to an environment and tries to make the best of it. And he and Tom and the studio really didn’t want to stop everything because they knew that so many people’s livelihoods were dependent upon the making of this film, even in the pre-production side of things.

When we returned back to our houses, the production meetings just went online and my training even went online. I was still with my trainer and I’d still learn sequences and I would still practice them online as the world did. Although the actual filming had stopped, the momentum hadn’t and we kept the focus going. And from that, I took tremendous amount of inspiration and just made sure that I remained focused, knowing that we will film at some point and that there are huge amounts of people working tirelessly around the clock to make sure that when we are back on set, all these protocols are in place so that we’re doing it as safely as we possibly can, while we are not disrupting the locations that we’re in. By the time that we got filming, I think it was Norway and in September, there was such a sense of readiness.

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How exciting is it to be part of such an iconic franchise in Hollywood? And of course, getting to work with Tom Cruise, who is such an iconic actor?

I had many pinch me moments. I remember being in a car with him in Rome, we’d been working for months, I’d known him for over a year and yet I looked at him and went “I’m in a Tom Cruise film”. And he was like “I know. And I’m in a film with Hayley Atwell”. He was so sweet, he’s so generous. I’m very focused with my work ethic. I come in and I have moments of going “Oh, this is amazing”, but I know that I have work to do, so I have to be focused so that I do a good job. I’m wanting to create the best kind of role and film that I can.

Working with such a legendary actor, there’s no one like him and there won’t be again. He is one of the great movie stars of all time. And watching his commitment and his kindness, he’s extraordinarily polite and well mannered and professional. He’s engaged in every aspect of the filmmaking process. I always felt that the door was always open for me to discuss things with him. He really likes seeing people thrive and he really appreciates when he sees people commit to the process of working. And that only encourages me to try new things. When he sees me overcome something or try a stunt or deliver something new, he takes just as much excitement in that than he would if he himself is doing or achieving it. This showed me how important it is to cultivate a professional working environment, where people are working in very disciplined, focused way to create. And in an industry like this, there can be lots of distractions and lots of noise because it’s exciting. You have to think about all of those things, but then you also have to let them go so you can just do the simple thing that’s in front of you.

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Hayley, the fans best know you as Peggy Carter from the ‘Marvel’ films. You have starred in ‘Captain America’ and ‘Avengers’. How has this franchise and this role impacted and defined your career?

Whatever I did as Peggy Carter was what was required and asked of me at the time. I’m always applying the same principles as an actor, which is to commit to something and to create an emotional truth. When you’re younger and you don’t have as much opportunity to make choices, you’re feeling gratitude to get a job.

I would never have thought of doing anything that would last as long, which has naturally happened from Marvel. It’s a lovely thing to see that obviously. The role has touched a lot of people and they really liked her. It’s a lovely thing to think she’s had a positive impact on people and that her value system is something that has had a heartfelt contribution to the Marvel world, the superhero world of it. But I’m not attached to the response or the fame or the celebrity culture of it all. That’s not what has ever driven me. I’ve loved aspects of every role I’ve played, they are like my babies.

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What kind of roles and projects are you looking for, when being approached with scripts by directors?

The first thing is the chemistry of the filmmakers involved. If I have really good chemistry with a writer or a director, that goes a long way because you are working in an intense environment for a limited amount of time, for a common goal, and there are so many factors involved that are not within your control. So I think the first thing is that I feel that we can collaborate together in a way that feels like it is in alignment with either my values or my process. And equally, is there something that I could feel I could contribute to their process too.

Beyond that, there can be so many different reasons. There might be a thing of going “Oh my God, that means I get to have scenes with this actor and I love them”. Or “Oh my gosh, I love the language of this story as a whole, not just the character that I’m playing, but the whole world of it”. Watching an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ when it first came out, I was like “I have to be in that”. Reaching out to Charlie Brooker directly and then him writing the episode that I did, it had come from something that I’ve deeply connected to. And that is not a strategic game in terms of trying to get somewhere, it’s more of feeling this is something that I can commit to wholeheartedly and something that I can do that I haven’t done before that I could challenge myself with.

As I get older, I think I’m definitely more conscious of is this something I want to put out into the world and what is the message of the overall film. Particularly when you’re still up and coming or establishing yourself, there’s not so many choices. Sometimes I took jobs because I absolutely had to make a living. It didn’t tick all the boxes, but I’ve had a really good reason to do it. And there’s no shame for me in having chosen to do things because I needed to. There’s dignity in work for the sake of work. And then hopefully as you carry on, you can be a bit more discerning about the choices that you make. You can learn from mistakes, like that kind of story wasn’t quite an alignment with my values or I don’t really want to be associated with the kind of story that might feel like it punishes the audience in some way or becomes too bleak. That’s not the kind of film I love or want to watch. I want something that feels like I can emotionally connect to it on a very human level.

The other word for me that comes up time and time again is variety. I’ve done so many different types of things. I could have gone off and tried to do just big rom-coms if I felt like that’s where the excitement is, or just do franchises. But I have done such a variety of things because I’m interested in a variety of things and it keeps me curious and stimulated. I want to develop in my craft.

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Besides ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning’, what other projects we’ll be seeing you in soon?

I wish I could tell you that there are any, but I’ve been doing ‘Mission: Impossible’ now for four years and I’m halfway through the eight installment, which takes me to filming still next year. I have not been available, so there’s been no opportunity to pursue other projects. I’ve also been feeling very invisible in some ways because we are off making this extraordinary thing, which is years in the making and so the industry doesn’t see me cause I’m off filming. There’s so much I want to do.

At the moment, four years might seem like it is a very long period of time and when the film comes out, people understand why it takes so long. There’s no way I could have even imagined filming something else in the meantime.

interview by JANA LETONJA @janaletonja

talent HAYLEY ATWELL @wellhayley

photography JuanKR @juankr_

stylingCATERINAOSPINA @cateoniwiki

makeupVALERIAFERREIRA @valeriaferreiramakeup

hairHALLEYBRISKER @halleybrisker

styling assistantsMARTAJIMENO & MARGOT KOPPE @martajimeno.__ @margot_koppe

photographyassistantDANIELBAILEY

videographer DANIEL BAILEY @danieltsbailey

editor TIMI LETONJA @timiletonja

cover design ARTHUR ROELOFFZEN @arthurroeloffzen

IN CONVERSATION WITH HAYLEY ATWELL - Numéro Netherlands (2024)

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