As a director, Brad Bird has a perfect record. His four films -- "The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" -- are all critically acclaimed box-office successes. He's considered one of the greatest animators alive and has two Academy Awards (for Best Animated Feature) to prove it.
It's no surprise that J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise approached him to consider the fourth "Mission: Impossible" installment as his live-action directorial debut. Bird was ready to transition to a film that didn't involve talking animals or years to complete, and against a canvas of international espionage he took his eye for dazzling visuals to the next level -- as when Cruise unforgettably climbs the tallest building in the world.
While promoting the DVD and Blu-ray release of "Ghost Protocol" at the International Spy Museum, Bird spoke to NextMovie about what a dream it was to work on a film whose star is equal parts cheerleader, producer and stuntman.
After working in animation so long, what led you to the "Mission: Impossible" franchise?
I'd known J.J. for a long time, and we'd been looking for opportunities to work together, but the timing never worked out. And I met Tom right after 'The Incredibles," and we had this long conversation about what we loved about movies. So they were both on my radar in terms of guys I'd love to work with, and here was a way to work with both of them in one fell swoop, so I jumped at it.
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How aware were you that this would be your live-action debut?
I was actually working on a live-action film at the time. It was this project called "1906," and I was having trouble getting the story to come together the way I wanted it to, and suddenly I looked up and a couple of years had gone by, and I was still struggling with story issues. And I realized I wanted to make a film, not prepare to make a film. I looked around and J.J. heard I was looking, and he and Tom approached me with this ... and how could I say no? They're two great guys.
This was such a great ensemble; what was your involvement in casting this installment?
Well, Tom was cast, obviously, and so was Simon Pegg. They knew they wanted [Pegg's character] Benji back. He made a really strong impression on everyone in a short amount of screen time in the last one, and J.J. and Tom wanted to bring him on with a big role this time. So those two parts were cast, but all the others I had a hand in picking. The great casting people had worked with J.J. on "Star Trek," so they knew how to help us cast the film.
It seems like all it would take for Josh Holloway to come in for a small role was for J.J. to say, "Hey, here's my friend, cast him."
No, not at all. We were just looking for someone who could make an impression, again, in a short amount of time, and Josh was up for it, so it worked out. We were really happy he could do it.
Were you concerned the screen would blow up with both Jeremy Renner and Tom on the set? They're pretty similar in terms of their screen presence.
It was funny, too, because Jeremy happened to be suddenly available for a short window of time right when we needed him, but we kind of thought he wouldn't be able to do it. Suddenly he was coming in to talk to J.J. about "Super 8," and J.J. thought he would be perfect for "Mission." So we had this very quick, "He's on the lot! He's here for another meeting, let's get him!" And we basically cornered him in a room and feverishly pitched the ideas to him. Literally he was signed the next day, like that. He happened to have a little window in his schedule, and it coincided with the movie perfectly.
It's a lot of testosterone with those two.
Oh, yeah. I got to see him standing next to Tom, and their energy is really similar. It's intense, but in this really awesome way.
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Let's talk about Paula Patton. One of the things that's cool about this franchise is that there's always a beautiful woman, but there's not necessarily any romance forced on the characters. Was there a conscious decision to pull back from any potential romantic plotlines?
It's not about romance, no. It was more that we were looking for someone who would support this idea of a team that was thrust together. That was one of the ideas that was most intriguing to me about this movie; that Ethan Hunt didn't pick this team, the team is thrust on him. Paula's part of that team was just as important as the two guys -- it was like spoke of a wheel. Having those three actors -- Simon, Jeremy and Paula -- with Tom gave the film an interesting dynamic that's unique to this movie.
Good luck with "1906." Do you think that will come together?
Thank you. I hope so, but it's still a challenge.
You could always work with Tom again.
I'd love to. He's the kind of actor, the kind of person, who inspires everyone around him to meet his level of commitment. He's at the point in his career where he could be relaxed and no one would fault him for it, but he's prepared, always ready to give 400 percent.