Hurtigruten's MS Fridtjof Nansen saved the day for Tom Cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

The Norwegian liners that saved Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible

Author: Calum Brown

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Come July 14th, a brand new instalment of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series will hit cinemas. Here’s how two Norwegian cruise ships became the safe haven for cast and crew throughout an extraordinarily lengthy and turbulent COVID-sponsored production.

Whether Paramount executives realised or not, back in September 2020, their future hinged on two particular ships; the MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Vesterålen.

Production of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (the seventh instalment of the film series) had already been besieged by casting problems and logistical nightmares, before the blow of COVID restrictions strangled production efforts in February 2020.

The Tom Cruise-fronted moneymaker became one of Hollywood’s first productions to shut down, courtesy of curbs on travel amid concerns for safety, just as filming in Italy had started. You could literally hear the money burning.

A brief window of production took place in London during July, but not before an audio recording was leaked to the press of Cruise going full-on Tropic Thunder regarding the situation.

After the media strung Cruise’s rabid spiel for all it was worth, production had to move forward or face an uncertain financial and bureaucratic future.

Accommodation for the cast and crew, while filming took place in Norway, therefore remained crucial. And it had to be in-keeping with fresh COVID regulations.

That’s where MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Vesterålen entered the scene.

The production crew would have eaten in stylish surroundings such as these. Credit: Hurtigruten

'Floating village' accommodation for the production team

As new legal procedures, 10-day quarantine periods for foreigners, and public perception of large groups changed the face of travel, the Mission: Impossible production company (Truenorth) sought to charter two Hurtigruten cruise ships – the 530-passenger MS Fridtjof Nansen and 490-passenger MS Vesterålen.

The ships were reportedly chartered as ‘floating villages’ with the intention of shielding production staff from exposure to potential COVID-19 infection.

By insulating the cast and crew in a contained bubble, Truenorth could stringently quash the risk of spreading coronavirus while pushing forward with their exhaustive production schedule.

The team would eat, sleep, and work aboard the MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Vesterålen when filming restarted in Norway’s precipitous Møre og Romsdal district; a stunning coastal landscape of fjords, islands, waterfalls, glaciers, and ragged mountains.

A member of the Mission: Impossible crew told British newspapers:

“They are terrified of further delays. Tom is determined not to see any more hold-ups.”

Hurtigruten confirmed the rental of their ships to the Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang, and the Hollywood income couldn’t have been acquired during a more punishing time for the cruise industry.

Tom Cruise on set during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Credit: Shutterstock

COVID-19: The real villain

COVID-19 effectively halted all forms of cruise, leaving ships moored and largely abandoned.

Cruise companies were subsequently haemorrhaging cash, and it remained uncertain when order books would open again, or if a market for cruises would survive should COVID remain.

Certain vessels had yet to enjoy their maiden trip, of which MS Fridtjof Nansen remained a victim. The ship’s first cruise was scheduled for April 2020, but the pandemic ensured that all planned trips had to be unceremoniously cancelled.

Chartering two high-tech Hurtigruten liners was never going to come cheap and, as a credited producer, Tom Cruise footed almost £500,000 of the total cost.

Although there was an initial backlash over claims that Tom was "exempt from Norway’s quarantine rules", the public mood thawed upon learning that Norway’s Minister of Culture, Abid Raja, had instigated proceedings.

Raja insisted that the film star and his crew were allowed to work in the country without the need to quarantine at home beforehand.

It wasn’t quite the freedom pass that sceptics bemoaned, however. The cast and crew were rigorously monitored and required to pass two coronavirus tests within two days of entering Norwegian borders.

A series of strict daily checks were cemented firmly into the routine.

The Norwegian minister also offered assurance that nobody from the production team would have contact with anyone outside the film set.

Furthermore, this was not a case of Tom Cruise gaining preferential treatment. Politics were being exercised through a Government-backed scheme allowing film productions (that receive grants from the Norwegian Film Institute) to work on Norwegian soil without quarantine restrictions.

Hurtigruten remains the expert for ocean-going travel in Norway. Credit: Hurtigruten

A quick history of the ships involved

The Hurtigruten company placed a tentative order for two newbuilt Polar 6-class liners in April 2016, before the official arrangement was announced on June 30 of the same year. Delivery dates for the two sister vessels were set for July 2018, with the second ship arriving one year later.

However, the Kleven Verft shipyard ran into financial difficulties before Hurtigruten bought the yard outright, and the first ship - MS Roald Amundsen - wasn’t delivered until December 2018. Once fitting and testing had been carried out and MS Fridtjof Nansen joined her twin, the maiden voyages were announced – only for COVID to shut everything down.

By the time Tom Cruise and his team came knocking on Hurtigruten’s door, the freshly-christened MS Fridtjof Nansen (named after the celebrated Norwegian explorer) was ready for action. Having never yet housed an expedition, the ship was ideal for accommodating Hollywood’s cautious Mission: Impossible team.

The other ship chartered by Truenorth was reportedly the MS Vesterålen; a passenger vessel constructed in Harstad, Norway in 1983. Refitted in Germany during 1989, and again in 1995 to increase useable space and attract larger passenger capacity, MS Vesterålen had operated along the Norwegian coast since 2010.

There is speculation that MS Vesterålen may also feature in the motion picture.

Cast and crew lived aboard Hurtigruten's MS Fridtjof Nansen during Norwegian filming. Credit: Shutterstock

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One finally hits cinemas

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is now scheduled for release on July 14th, 2023, having previously been set for public consumption on November 19, 2021, before being moved to May 27, 2022 and again to September 30, 2022.

This film wasn’t the only big-budget blockbuster to feel the wrath of COVID-19, with Daniel Craig’s last 007 adventure (No Time To Die) and Marvel Studio’s Black Widow suffering the same scheduling difficulties – especially as second and third waves of COVID kept cinemas in limbo.

Yet Mission: Impossible is, arguably, the first long-awaited release that actually filmed during the height of the pandemic, and we’ve got the cruise industry to thank for keeping production on track. The Paramount bigwigs can breathe a sigh of relief.

You can read World of Cruising's original coverage through this September 2020 report.

About Calum Brown

Calum holds a deep interest in all things heritage and remains one of Britain’s most enthusiastic historians.

As a seasoned journalist, he has spent considerable time abroad and relishes all forms of transport. Shipping is in the blood, with a family connection to Stena Line embedded in his DNA. He also refuses to admit that 21st Century music exists.

Calum has developed a skill for bringing history alive, and always insists on making heritage accessible for everyone.