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"Mission: Impossible" co-star talks watching Tom Cruise's stunt

For actor Simon Pegg, the first day on the set of "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" involved watching a friend and co-star attempting one of the biggest stunts in movie history.
The co-star was of course Tom Cruise, whose stuntwork in movies like "Top Gun: Maverick" and the "Mission: Impossible" series has audiences clamoring to see what he's capable of. In the newest "Mission: Impossible" movie, Cruise's character Ethan Hunt rides a motorcycle off a cliff, then jumps off the bike and performs a terrifying BASE jump to land safely. 
Despite the high-stakes stunt, Pegg said the day was "the opposite of chaos." 
"Tom is very, very diligent when it comes to preparing for these things. He's not crazy. Everyone says, oh, he must be crazy. He does, you know, but he trains hard. Everything is in place. It's a well-oiled machine," Pegg explained. "
Despite knowing the actor was prepared, Pegg said it was "scary" to see the stunt happen. He even filmed the moment on his phone.
"We were up there just to see it. ... We were all a bit hysterical because, I mean, we trust him and we trust the system. We trust everything involved," Pegg explained. "But still, it's nerve wracking, and he would disappear, and then we'd wait and there'd be a big sort of pause. And then you'd hear good canopy, which meant his chute had opened at least. But he still had to get down to the boom. So it was exhilarating, to say the least." 
While that stunt may have made "Mission: Impossible" history, Pegg has been in the franchise since its third chapter as Benji Dunn. His character started as a lab technician, but grew to become a field agent and a close friend of Cruise's character. In all, Pegg has spent about 15 years in the role. 
"It's a real treat as an actor to be able to evolve a character like that and play him over a series of different films and build on whatever's gone before. An an actor, that's a privilege to be able to do that," Pegg said.
While the character has only become more familiar to Pegg, filming the newest "Mission: Impossible" chapter meant working in a totally new environment: The cast started working on the movie during the coronavirus pandemic, and had to navigate quarantines and on-set protocols to make the film. 
"Tom just was determined that it wasn't going to beat him. I think he saw COVID and the pandemic as a sort of existential threat to movies, to the theatrical experience. It was stopping us all from being together, watching films, and for Tom, that's so important, you know? That's his life. And I think he was like 'This isn't going to beat us. We're going to figure it out,'" Pegg said. "And that's what we did. He kind of wrote the rules on how to make a film in that situation as we went along and yes, it took longer. It took a little longer than usual, but we got through it. And I think that is reflected in the movie itself. We were on our own little mission impossible whilst we were making 'Mission: Impossible.'" 
Now, another existential threat is facing the movie industry: On Thursday, SAG-AFTRA, the acting labor union, called a strike, meaning most actors cannot work on films and grinding Hollywood to a halt. This compounds a strike by Hollywood writers. As part of the strike, actors can no longer promote their work, but his interview was filmed before the actors' strike began. 
"Things need to be fair," Pegg said. "The infrastructure needs to be adapted to accommodate the new, the new ways we watch film and TV streaming, and the tech companies need to understand that for things to continue, everyone needs to be treated fairly. ... We need to just talk sensibly and get it all sorted out." 
Pegg, who is also a screenwriter, said that the strike is necessary, especially as movie studios push to use artificial intelligence in the filmmaking process. 
"The only thing A.I. can do is create mediocrity, because all it can do is aggregate what's out there," Pegg said. "So, yes, it can write a script, but it'll be rubbish. Do you know what I mean? A.I. has had no childhood trauma. A.I.'s never had a boyfriend or girlfriend, never had its heart broken, it's never been through anything that would give it the impetus to create art. ... To rely on it would be to just make everything mediocre, and we have to fight mediocrity in order to create great art." 
"Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One" hit U.S. theaters on Wednesday, July 12. Deadline calls it "Hollywood action filmmaking at its peak" and The Hollywood Reporter praises director Christopher McQuarrie's ability to keep "his audience glued to every moment." Re-watch all the movies in the famous franchise starring Tom Cruise now on Paramount+ ahead of the new stunt-filled installment.
Kerry Breen is a news editor and reporter for CBS News. Her reporting focuses on current events, breaking news and substance use.