The Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol press conference was always going to be anything but boring.
Launching the fourth instalment in the MI franchise, the star and producer Tom Cruise made his first appearance in Dubai since filming here last year, joined by British funny man Simon Pegg, American beauty Paula Patton, India's Anil Kapoor, director Brad Bird and producer Bryan Burk on the 124th floor of Dubai's Burj Khalifa. Only this time on the inside.
With talk of life-long friendships and magnificent locations, topped off by much laughter courtesy of Pegg, the feeling was more of a chat between friends than an official event. Love for Bird came gushing from all on the panel.
For example: "We were working six-day weeks," said Burk. "What, you got a day off?" Cruise shot across, to great applause. "How did you manage that?"
Shooting a look back at the star, Burk continued: "After a lot of training, it dawned on me I could potentially be the producer responsible for killing Tom Cruise. In order to shoot we had to break a lot of windows. We told them we were going to remove the windows and they were like, ‘What, you're going to remove windows?' and we were like, ‘Yip, you put 'em in so we can take 'em out.' Everyone was really supportive. It all went so well. That's one of my best Dubai moments."
"I remember the first night we got here," interjected Cruise as Patton and Pegg nodded in agreement. "Because we went snowboarding, to a water park, and then snowboarding again. All in one day," he added.
"I remember because I realised I may have to call Paramount and say, the good news is he survived the building; the bad news is he broke his leg snowboarding," quipped Burk.
Cruise is in the UAE, along with his co-stars, director, producers and writers, for the world premiere of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, which enjoyed its first screening to the world last night as the opening night gala of the eighth Dubai International Film Festival. The team then move on to Moscow, where the film screens tonight.
"Being out here in the desert, I landed and I knew we wouldn't have much time, so we made the most of it. His Highness [Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] threw us an amazing party. All of us together we had so much fun shooting this movie, being out at these magnificent locations. There's a great joy in making these incredible movies. My last night I went out to the desert and spent the evening riding camels as the sun was setting — so magical."
According to Bird, Cruise worked tirelessly for the entire shoot, meaning he did not sleep for anything up to 48 hours at a time.
Life for Simon Pegg was slightly different as he dryly explained. "Well, I was here for about four weeks and I did two days' shooting, so I had a great time," he said to an eruption of laughter from the room, including the panel. "I went indoor sky diving, go karting, waterpark, shopping... A lot of shopping. One of my most memorable moments was one day while [Cruise] was filming, seeing all these people working tirelessly to keep him alive — and seeing him just gleefully running from side to side of the building. I think it was one of the only times in my adult life when I thought, ‘Thank God I'm not Tom Cruise.'"
Cruise shocked the world for six weeks last autumn during filming as he performed stunt after crazy stunt on some of Dubai's most famous landmarks, including the outside of the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa.
Incredible stunt sequences feature throughout the movie, including the now iconic scene of Cruise running around the upper levels of the world's tallest tower.
"The first time I did it, I actually got to do it with pads and a helmet. I trained for months and then came the moment of running along the building. When I saw the first designs from Brad I knew it would be amazing. I thought it would be very challenging for an audience as well as me. That's why I wanted to do it. There was a moment when I slammed into the building. I didn't quite make it around because I had to figure out actually how to fly. The shot he wanted was so elegant it took a while to figure out how not to come head first into the building," said Cruise.
Director Bird interrupted: "Tom was messing around with stuntmen and I was having another conversation with someone else. The sun was going down and I kind of forgot he was out there," said Bird as Cruise looked on laughing. "Suddenly we saw this body and heard this "woooooooooo" as Tom flew past the window. We saw this body arching around and then he went out of view and we just heard ‘bump, bump'. We were like, ‘Oh my God.' Then we heard laughter, this small ‘he he he' from down below. That was the first time I realised it was going to be a really long shoot," said Bird.
Bird managed a few minutes of talk time along with Tom's co-stars Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and Anil Kapoor, but it was a humble Cruise the press wanted answers from.
"It's beautiful," said Cruise when asked his view on Dubai. "I was looking at the city as it was being built. I was looking at photographs as it was going up. I was on a layover once — refuelling here — and every time I've been I've wanted to film here. It's a very cinematic city. The way it's set up, it's incredibly modern, an extraordinary accomplishment."
Other key scenes were filmed at the Dubai International Financial Centre, in Satwa and at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel on the Palm, which stood in for a palatial Mumbai mansion, while a four-storey mock-up of the Burj Khalifa was also used for filming in the International Media Production Zone.
"When you're making a film, you really need the help of the community in order to accomplish what you're trying to accomplish. That also allows you to celebrate the location."
So is there anything Cruise isn't scared of?
"I am not afraid of heights — I'm afraid of falling," he quipped. "There was just one thing that I had in my mind, I hope I don't fall."
Not surprisingly, while Cruise may be able to handle his terrifying, death-defying stunts — many of which he performs himself in full — his actress wife Katie Holmes, and daughter Suri don't fare quite as well. Is his penchant for stunts an issue at home?
"You'll have to ask my wife," replied Cruise before Bird spilled the beans.
"Katie and Suri came in when we were filming Tom falling from the building. They were there for two takes and then Katie was like, ‘OK, we're done — we're going shopping now. See you back at the hotel later, dear.'
"And I don't blame her one bit," he continued. "It is too upsetting. It really is nerve-wracking to watch."
Respectful of his family's privacy, Cruise is renowned for remaining tight-lipped when it comes to his personal life but couldn't help but interject: "Kate knows I hike and I climb. I ride motorcycles and fly planes. She's just like, ‘Go do your work,' and she's so supportive and helpful. For me, I couldn't do what I do without her."
While the final results are worth it, according to Cruise, getting an insurance policy isn't always as easy.
"One of the stuntmen had a five-hour meeting with them [the insurance company] and they wanted us to wear parachutes. So we hired another [company]," he laughed. "We tell them, ‘This is what we're going to do.' And then we delay sending the footage to the film company for as long as possible so nobody is alarmed too early. By then we're like, ‘Well, we had to do it, to finish the movie.'
"But it's actually harder to get insurance to climb and fly planes than it was to jump from this building."