The actor, who appears in the latest “Mission: Impossible,” picked up a deep interest in Napoleon’s life from Stanley Kubrick.
By Chris Kornelis
When Cary Elwes got a call about appearing in “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One,” he said yes to the movie before he knew much about the part. He came to learn that his role was that of Denlinger, the director of national intelligence. But the character’s biography and place in the “Mission” universe was long a mystery, even to the man who played him.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” Elwes said in a video interview from his home in Los Angeles. “It was so secretive that we were really getting as much as we needed to know when we needed to know it.”
But he knew exactly what he was getting into with Tom Cruise, having worked with the franchise’s star more than 30 years earlier in the 1990s racecar drama “Days of Thunder.”
“He was the same guy then as he is today,” Elwes said, adding: “He sort of inspires everyone around him to give it 110 percent.”
Elwes, 60, talked about the music, cities, pets and pastimes that similarly inspire him. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
My music’s very important to me. It helps me define my day in terms of soothing me. My interests range from classical to jazz, blues, the Beatles, Zeppelin and grunge. Let’s face it: Nirvana and Pearl Jam changed music. They invented a whole new genre. Because of that, there’s always going to be a place for them.
London has changed so much in the 30 years since I lived there that when I go back now I’m finding new places that I really get fond of. One of them is Marylebone, a great strolling street area, which has a lot of little restaurants, shops, boutiques and pubs. It’s very charming and there’s very little traffic, so it’s perfect for a sunny day.
I regularly make trips abroad to shooting locations. I made an agreement with my wife and daughter that we should never be apart more than two weeks, and if we are, then I should figure out a way to come home or bring them out to where I am. As they grow older, your kids, they start testing their wings to leave the nest. So, when I’m not there, I still try to catch as much time as I can with my daughter, either through FaceTime or Zoom.
Our Maltese Poodle
When I was a kid, I had a cat, but I didn’t understand how to treat it well and to get the cat to hang out with me. I never wanted a dog, but then my daughter sent me a picture of a Maltese poodle and I just about melted. This is the first time I’ve had a pet as an adult and there’s a love there that I didn’t understand until I had one for myself and he became part of the family.
I’m an amateur historian, so I love reading about people’s stories and history, especially historical biographies. Right now, I’m reading a biography called “Hannibal,” by Patrick N. Hunt. I’m also reading a memoir by Carolyn Pfeiffer, an old friend of the family, who has written a book about her life in the entertainment industry called “Chasing the Panther: Adventures and Misadventures of a Cinematic Life.”
… Especially Napoleon’s
I was fortunate enough to be over at Stanley Kubrick’s house when he was studying Napoleon to make a movie right after “2001.” I witnessed some of his research, and that set me on a lifelong path of studying Napoleon. The only person who’s been written more about than Napoleon is Jesus, but the best biography is Felix Markham’s “Napoleon.”
The Language of Film
When I was studying film at Sarah Lawrence College, I had a wonderful professor who showed us mostly European movies and really opened my eyes to the beauty and the language of François Truffaut, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and all kinds of fabulous European directors I’d never seen before. It changed my whole appreciation of film.
Much of the coastline of Spain is either sand or rock. The rocky areas are usually cliffs that have been carved out by erosion from wave action over the centuries. What they’ve done in many areas is carved out these little tide pools, which I first discovered when I was a kid. When you’re 5, 6 years old, coming across a miniature, natural swimming pool with crabs and little fish in it is about as exciting as it gets. Anything that excites you as a child, you will always be linked to in life.
You can’t put a price on being in a darkened room with strangers, watching a movie and all of you experiencing the same emotions together.
I like to write when I have some downtime, just keep my brain alert. I’ve published a memoir, “As You Wish” (with Joe Layden). But I can’t tell you about the things I’m working on now. They’re top secret.
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