Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible

Simon Pegg Understands the Joy of Growing a Character

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One has hit theaters and with it comes the most emotional entry into the franchise yet. All because of how Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) interacts with his friends, including Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg). Luckily, I got to speak with Pegg for the film’s release!

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Benji as a character appeared in Mission: Impossible III and instantly became a fan favorite in how he talked to Ethan and the relationship he made with the team that Ethan was building, especially in his back and forth with Luther. Rhames’ Luther and Pegg’s Benji were the tag team that the franchise frankly needed. Because prior to M:I III, the movies were lacking the heart that they both had together.

That heart has fueled the franchise ever since and that includes Dead Reckoning Part One. Speaking to Pegg though, he made it clear that it was built into the franchise from those in charge.

It is in the writing

My favorite character is Benji Dunn. From the minute he appeared in the franchise as a whole, I knew that he was who I wanted to see more of. Maybe it is because I am a fan of Simon Pegg but it is also rooted in the fact that Benji is just easily one of the best “guy in the chair” characters there are out there. Getting to talk to Pegg, he attributes the love that I have (and many fans have) for Benji to the writing of Christopher McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen (who co-wrote Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One).

“Well I think that speaks to Tom and McQ’s (McQuarrie) kind of insistence on putting character first and foremost,” he said. “You can have any action sequence as spectacular as whatever, but if you don’t care about the people that it’s happening to, then those action sequences will ring a little hollow. You need to be invested in the people that are in danger. And I think also investing those moments with humanity helps to kind of make them more relatable, make the stakes higher. And for Benji, he loves Ethan and he and Luther and it’s really fun to be able to play that side of him. He’s the only character in the whole franchise that can yell at Ethan. And Ethan actually listens, you know? Whenever Benji yells, Ethan kind of goes all quiet and it makes me laugh so much.”

Part of why I love the Mission: Impossible franchise isn’t because of the stunts that Cruise do, it is because of his relationship to his team and, according to Pegg, that was the goal. “Quietly stealthily, that’s what Tom and McQ care about the most,” he said. “I mean, it’s what we all care about the most. They know the value of spectacle and of creating those amazing set pieces, but they also know that those set pieces just won’t feel, they won’t land as heavily or make you bite your nails more if you don’t really really care about those people. And the reason we split the story into two parts was because we wanted every character to have a proper arc and not feel shortchanged. That’s the secret ingredient of these films. It’s not the action at all. It’s the people involved in it.”

The growth of character

Simon Pegg is no stranger to coming back to characters or the same people to work with. What the joy about Benji though is that he gets to see him growth with a series of other characters to learn about. Especially with Dead Reckoning Part One that introduced us to Hayley Atwell’s Grace and how she fits with the team we’ve come to love. So I asked Pegg about what excites him about getting to explore a character over the course of multiple movies.

“I think it’s the opportunity to grow a character over time and be able to build on what’s gone before,” he said. “So whatever he’s been through in Ghost Protocol and Fallout, even in the third one when he’s just basically kind of Ethan’s nascent GPS, he still does that, but he does that out on the road with him now. Every time I get a new film it’s like, okay, so what’s Benji just been through? And for this one he’d just been hung and almost died and had to save the world. So taking all of that kind of focus from that film into this one and having him understand just how important his friends are to him, when you’re in the IMF you’re kind of in a sort of priesthood in a way. And your family are the people you work with. That’s no more keenly felt than for Benji, who we struggled with, you know, no spoilers, but we struggled with the loss of a certain character because of how hard that was all gonna hit us. We had to without slowing the story down, without having to kind of like grind to a halt. And that was a really, really tough thing to do because we had to move forward, but we also had to respect the fact that we were bereaved. You know? But that’s a really clever sort of balance that McQ can strike.”

Mission: Impossible and Star Trek

Pegg joined Mission: Impossible back in 2006. He wasn’t yet the franchise man we’ve come to love as the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy was only Shaun of the Dead at the time and his run as Scotty in Star Trek hadn’t yet begun. Bringing up franchises is a bit different. When I asked Pegg about his work on franchises as a whole, he broke down each of the characters he got to come back to.

“It’s interesting and I always hesitate with the word franchise just because it always sounds slightly corporate. And I feel with those films there’s a lot of love involved. You know, I mean for Edgar (Wright) and I with the Cornetto movies, they were kind of three separate movies and doing that was really fun,” he said. “Creating like a thematic trilogy where we were playing with the same sort of ideas in terms of the individual versus the collective and various kind of feelings that we had about genre. But then with with stories like Star Trek and Mission you are getting to kind of return to the same character and work on, like I said before, what they’ve been through. And also it’s the joy of working with people again.”

He went on to talk about working with the same actors again and again. “You know, sometimes you do a movie and you make the best friends of the world and you never see those people again in your life,” he said. “With this it’s so fun to return and not just get to hang out with Rebecca (Ferguson) and Ving and Tom, but also everyone else coming in, and we were all bubbled together at the beginning of this shoot, myself and Pom (Klementieff) and Hayley and Esai (Morales) and Tarzan (Greg Tarzan Davis) and Shea Whigham and we all kind of bonded so quickly because we were like in the trenches of the pandemic. The idea of finishing the movie and not seeing them again would be really sad for me. Fortunately, we’re going straight back to making Part Two as soon as we finish this press tour so I don’t have to deal with the abandonment just yet.”

The future of Benji

As Pegg said, they are getting ready to work on Part Two. Some has been filmed already but he did talk about how the film leaves fans ready to dive back into the next part of the story with Ethan, Benji, Luther, and the team. He also doesn’t want people to be short-changed either. “Hopefully with this one, one thing that McQ and Tom really kind of worked on was making sure the audience didn’t feel shortchanged by the end of it,” he said. “I mean physically you probably couldn’t sit through another movie after that anyway. But also, you know, this chapter is about finding the key and that story closes what the story of Part Two will be something different. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk that because you don’t want the audience to walk out feeling like, ‘oh we only got half a film.’ I don’t think you feel that with this one.”

But what does this mean for Benji in Part Two? Whatever it is, it has Pegg excited. “I’m excited because I know already we’ve shot stuff that kind of makes things that happen in Part One seem fairly tame, he said. “McQ and Tom are always keen to push things as far as they can and they never just rest on their laurels and just think, ‘okay, that worked we’ll do that again.’ They always want to make things bigger and more exciting. And it’s already more spectacular than Part One. So I just can’t wait for people to see it.”

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is in theaters now! You too can see my favorite boy Benji shine, all thanks to Simon Pegg.

(featured image: Paramount Pictures)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.