Christopher McQuarrie Shares Brilliant Insight On High Heels and Strong Women

By  · Published on August 7th, 2015

Paramount Pictures

Jurassic World took a critical beating this summer for its portrayal of Bryce Dallas Howard’s lead character – primarily over the fact that she never once took off her high heels during any of the “running from dinosaurs.” It’s just another in a long procession of examples of how big action tentpole movies deliver one dimensional, stereotype-driven female characters.

On the flip side of this coin, summer 2015 has given us two really great examples of how female characters can lead an action movie in a way that makes them feel fully realized and truly equal to their male counterparts. There’s the feminist masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road and now Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which features a performance from Rebecca Ferguson that not only holds her own, but in many ways outshines Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, who is the combination of one of the most iconic modern action characters and the world’s biggest movie star.

How did McQuarrie and co. create such an amazing female character to lead M:I5?

In a new interview the Uproxx’s Mike Ryan, McQuarrie explains how Ferguson’s Ilsa was designed to be Hunt’s equal from the very beginning, as was Emily Blunt’s Rita in Edge of Darkness:

“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.”

McQuarrie also explains his own reaction to the controversy around Jurassic World, a controversy made even louder by the fact that his movie did so much better with its female lead:

“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.”

The big difference seems to be that McQuarrie and his creative team, Cruise included, did think twice about it. And while the execution of a well rounded character to go alongside Cruise’s Hunt took some effort, it seems to be worth every ounce of energy. Mostly because the result is not just a financially successful film (M:I5 has already earned $140 million worldwide), but one that is also one of the best reviewed films of the year (currently 93% on Rotten Tomatoes).

If you have a few moments, you should head over and read the entire interview (which we’re told is only a snippet of a larger conversation). What’s most lovely about McQuarrie’s answers is that it’s nice to see a director who is so thoughtful. That’s not something you expect from every director making a $100 million dollar+ big budget action movie.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)