Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a fantastic film, boasting some of the best action the franchise has ever seen. More importantly than that though, it boasts probably the best female character the franchise has ever seen in Rebecca Ferguson’s complex secret agent Ilsa Faust.
This being 2015 though, we really should not have to make that distinction as good female character should be a given in any movie, but in reality they seem to be such a rarity in Hollywood, that when they crop up it’s to great fanfare. Earlier in the year it was Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road and her scene-stealing badassery that got all the praise and now it’s the turn of Ferguson, whose Faust is not only the action-(wo)man equal of Tom Cruise’s franchise lead Ethan Hunt in every way, but is often the central narrative agency that drives the whole movie along.
And the man who created that character, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, is just glad that people are recognizing his young starlet in Ferguson, as he explained to Uproxx.
“She’s extraordinary. A lot of time what happens is you make a movie and there’s something you see in the movie that’s really special. And sometimes it’s colored by the fact that you saw all the work that went into it. So you see something special and you want other people to see that, and they don’t pick up on it. And this is one of those instances where we knew we had something really special with her and I was terrified. I was terrified that Rebecca would be overlooked.”
One aspect about Ferguson’s character that has certainly not been overlooked was the fact that during some seriously hectic action scenes, a point is made of showing her taking off her unwieldy high heel shoes first. Now as you may recall, there was a big hullabaloo recently about current 2015 box office king Jurassic World and how Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) insists on wearing high heels, even when being chased by a giant freaking T-Rex. What director Colin Treverrow had probably hoped was this badass moment of “Look at how she can even beat dinos in heels!” has turned into one of the most criticized and parodied movie moments of the year.
And for several people who recently watched the latest Mission: Impossible, it looked as if McQuarrie and co were now also poking fun at it by showing how well they handled a similar situation. But the writer/director needs to clarify that it was nothing of the sort as his script was written and shot way before Jurassic World ever came out. This was just pure happenstance.
“We were sort of stunned by [people’s linking of the two scenes]. At one point, a suggestion had been made to sort of capitalize on that – to make a spot that kind of made it about that. Tom and I both said, “Absolutely not.” This is not about twisting the knife or taking shots… It’s bitter. It would seem bitter.”
“And it would look like… nobody in the audience is going to sit down and do the math as to when we made the movie versus when the movie came out. It’s just going to look like we shot scenes and took cheap shots at the most successful movie on the planet. I was reading those articles about the shoe thing and I’ve got to tell you, I felt terrible for them. I felt terrible because it’s the sort of thing when you’re making a movie you don’t think twice about it. Making movies is really hard and making a movie that big is even harder. And, all of a sudden, you become the punching bag. And all of the money in the world doesn’t make that feel any better. If anything, it takes the pleasure out of what should have been an enormous success for those guys – is to have somebody taking shots and them when they made a crowd-pleasing movie. And that’s all they were thinking about doing.”
Now having a female character take off her high heels is not a new thing for this franchise. In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Paula Patton’s kick-ass agent is also seen taking off her shoes before getting into a serious tussle. There was no ulterior motive behind it, it was just the practicality of the scene. And according to McQuarrie, that’s exactly what happened here with Rebecca Ferguson. Well, that and Tom Cruise’s ideas about dating.
“It happened because of two things. In the first scene when she appears on screen, we knew she was going to have this fight and her shoes were going to get in the way. And I had written this line, “Nice shoes” – it was this line where Tom was charming the one person while antagonizing the other. And as a result, you had, “Nice shoes.” Then the shoes were a problem, because Rebecca had to fight in them, so we had to work out a way to get her out of her shoes. So, we came up with this idea with the blocking that you see in the scene. All of that was just a practical order of getting her shoes out of the way so she could fight in the upcoming scene.
The next time – and Tom and I literally and utterly forgot about that – so we were now off shooting the opera sequence. And Tom and I always said the first scene where they met is “boy meets girl,” the opera is “first date,” and the motorcycle chase is “the breakup.” And Tom had this real fixation with her taking off his shoes. Because he was like, “At the end of a night, when a guy and a girl have been out on a date and the girl kind of relaxes and has had a great time, she takes off her shoes.” It was always this idea that she was going to walk her back to her hotel with her holding her shoes. And that’s where the shoe thing came from – we were in the midst of this action scene, we were injecting this little feeling of a first date. And we never related it to true events – and it was only after, when the whole Jurassic World thing came out, we thought, “Oh, holy sh*t, we were thinking about the rooftop.””
Of course, just being practical about her footwear isn’t the only thing that makes Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa such a great character, as there are several more elements to her. Elements that McQuarrie learnt about when developing Emily Blunt’s equally great Rita in fellow Tom Cruise hit Edge of Tomorrow, which McQuarrie penned.
“Here’s what I’ll tell you is interesting. Tom and I took all of the lessons we learned from Edge of Tomorrow and having walked away with such a great experience with Emily Blunt and the character of Rita. And that was something Tom and I really hammered on when I came in and started working on the Edge of Tomorrow script – was about keeping Rita from ever becoming the one of two things she could have easily become. One was the damsel in distress. And the other was that she could have become the “Full Metal Bitch,” that she’s referred to. And there was an encouragement from certain circles – not myself, [director] Doug Liman, Tom or Emily, but from other circles – that that’s what they really expected the character to be — they really wanted the “Full Metal Bitch” and they wanted that moniker to be earned. And we thought, “No, she’s a human being who is viewed from the outside as this other thing. She’s been made into an icon that she fully resents.”
So, going into Rogue Nation, we felt safer. We felt like we could take it even further and audiences were really embracing a female character who shared the screen. And we did not allow ourselves, as we had done on Edge of Tomorrow, we did not allow ourselves certain avenues when writing the script. The number of times I could have so easily ended the movie with Ilsa being in jeopardy and Ethan having to go save her, just the sheer man hours that would have been saved, and we simply said, “No.” It’s not an option, and it never will be. It’s time for these movies to welcome women into the film.”
“[They are equals in this movie]. That was by design from the very beginning. Ethan had met his match, but you have to be very careful there because the temptation there is to make a female Ethan Hunt. And when you do that, when you make a character who is the female mirror of your lead, it becomes parody. A woman ceases to be a woman. She’s just a female version of a man, and we didn’t want that. Emily Blunt is a big part of why Rita is Rita. Rebecca Ferguson is a big part of why Ilsa is Ilsa.”
Check out the rest of the interview here, including why McQuarrie agrees on fans’ pick of Emily Blunt to play Captain Marvel onscreen. And then go check out Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation straight after that because it is awesome.
Last Updated: August 12, 2015