While of enormous benefit in terms of employment and experience, films like Mission
Impossible 2 which are shot in Australia (often at the Fox Studio in Sydney) should not be
mistaken for Australian production, says John Polson, who plays the happy go lucky chopper
pilot Billy Baird.
"I am an optimist"
"I am an optimist and I think it's entirely possible to have these two very
different film industries co-exist within Australia. I also think there's a bit of a
feeling in Australia that we haven't had any huge hits for a little while and maybe that's
because of Fox Studios…but I don't think that's fair. We made as many films last year
as we did before, and the truth is that - for whatever reason - we haven't had a breakout
success. That happens; it's naïve to think we'll make a Strictly Ballroom every
But there are dangers, Polson says, such as Australian crews getting used to the big
money of Hollywood studio pictures. "So when a guy like me comes along and wants to
make a humble little Australian film, there is a danger that I can't afford my own people
any more and maybe I have to go down to the next level of quality . . ." It has
already happpened when he was directing Siam Sunset and a couple of his preferred crew
weren't available because they were working on a big budget film at Fox.
"Like Tom (Cruise) Woo's an amazing guy"
"But I don't think we need to be melodramatic about it," he warns. "What
does makes me nervous, though, is when politicians look at the overall production figures
and start to include MI:2 and The Matrix in the budgets, thinking, wow, we had $200
million worth of production here last year…why are we giving the FFC $50 million.
That's a danger."
Of course, the upside of working on a major production is an extraordinary rush of
experience, even for someone who had a modest support role. "I spent pretty much
eight months with John Woo - and it'd be quicker to go through the things I didn't
learn. Like Tom (Cruise) Woo's an amazing guy. Extraordinarily humble, which I find
endearing, and he's very shy. He doesn't say a lot, which can be disconcerting at
first…but you soon realise that the guy's made something like 25 films - and he
doesn't have to say much. He spends a lot of time casting - carefully. Once he's cast the
film, he doesn't speak just for the sake of letting you know he's the director."
When other actors, frustrated by the constant waiting around would go to their trailers
and listen to music or read, Polson would pull up a chair and sit on the set, watching
Woo's every camera move. "Mind you, in between, it was like watching paint dry
sometimes," he admits.
"He's a very generous guy, very loyal" on
As with Woo, Polson was impressed with Tom Cruise. "He's a bit of a gem, really. I
always say up front that I feel a bit boring talking about Tom, only because people are
hoping for some secret tantrum throwing story or whatever. I had an absolute ball with
him. He's a very generous guy, very loyal - and probably even more impressive than that is
his dedication to his work. Seriously, Andrew, I've never seen anyone work harder in my
life. He's a very good actor and an amazing producer, as demonstrated by this film. He
cares for the film and is prepared to do anything he can to allow the director to realise
the film. And John Woo is ultimately happy with this film, which of course is a tribute to
him, but also to Tom and Paula (Wagner, producer with Cruise).
As for the relationship between Cruise and Woo, Polson says it was no different to any
other film, except the producer was also the star, "so he's there every day and when
they call Action! he's the guy you're talking to in the scene." Polson's heard the
rumours about a clash of wills between the two, but he never saw that. "I've got a
modest role, but in a big film like that you're around a lot - and I didn't see any of
that. What I saw was John Woo calling the shots, and Tom was looking to him, like every 20
seconds, to make sure he had what he wanted." (Woo is quoted in Newsweek saying,
"Tom gave me a lot of respect. We worked together as friends.")
"I've never heard such bullshit"
Polson dismisses another rumour, about instructions that no-one was to make eye contact
with Tom Cruise on set. "I've never heard such bullshit in all my life! The guy spent
half an hour, it felt like, every morning, going around shaking hands with 30 or 40 crew
and seeing what they did on the weekend . . . it could not be further from the
But with a mix of Australian and American crew, the production started off "with a
pretty serious case of culture shock," Polson recalls. "Whether it's in the
rules of the union, or the different terminology . . . lots of things were very different.
But some things were the same and we tried hard to make it all work."
Polson was disappointed about Ving Rhames' remarks, quoted in the press, reflecting on
the professionalism of Australian crews. "I didn't think that was necessary. We don't
yet have the volume of experience at this scale of production as the American crews do. So
you can't expect us to completely understand the workings of a production of that size.
But no-one could argue that Australians contributed greatly to the film."
The biggest fallout of that culture clash was probably the early departure of
Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. Polson, who was away at the 1999 Cannes Film
Festival at the time, never found out what happened. "And I didn't ask… I don't
know what happened, but I think people have a right to decide who they work with."
"all working smoothly together"
But by the end of the film, Polson says, "we were all working smoothly