As agent Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise has leaped from the world’s tallest building, jumped off Shanghai’s soaring skyscrapers, and scaled mountains bare-handed. But those stunts take a backseat to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s standout opener, in which Cruise, 53, dangles precariously from a mammoth four-engine turboprop plane that pushes triple-digit speeds during a steep vertical takeoff.
“We wanted to do something that didn’t replicate anything that’s already been done,” says director Christopher McQuarrie. What began in jest — “I sort of half-joked to Tom, ‘Well, what if that took off with you on the side?’ and without hesitation he said, ‘Yeah, I could do that’ ” — became a four-minute, 10-second sequence that takes the spy series to dizzying new heights. McQuarrie and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood explain how they pulled it off.
Cruise famously insists on performing his own stunts, and Rogue Nation was no different. “His stuntman has the least work of any stuntman in the world,” says stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood. “It’s a very unsatisfying job.” But plane-company execs initially weren’t convinced that Cruise could take on the high-flying sequence. “After a time, they understood what we were out to do, which wasn’t something reckless,” McQuarrie says. The Mission team had achieved the impossible — which was fortuitous given Cruise’s distaste for CGI. Says Eastwood, “If you want to get a swearword out of Tom, use the words green screen.”
To prevent particles from flying into his eyes, Cruise wore custom contact lenses, but they couldn’t guard against another airborne threat. “One of my biggest fears was a bird strike,” says McQuarrie. “They would have gone right through him like a bullet.” Cruise apparently wasn’t concerned, though. “He was laughing, smiling, and absolutely loving it, with no fear in his eyes,” recalls Eastwood, who monitored the action from a seat inside the jet. “He gave me a little fist bump [through the window]. He was so excited.”
The cast and crew stayed at a modest hotel located near an airstrip in northern England. “It was not a posh accommodation,” says Eastwood. The lack of amenities didn’t seem to affect Cruise, who trained in martial arts, boxing, gymnastics, and plyometrics for four hours daily during shooting. “He’s not a spring chicken anymore, but he jumps around like one,” Eastwood says.
Cruise — who wore an off-the-rack suit with a warm layer underneath to ward against autumnal chill — went method for Mission, asking to be strapped onto the Airbus A400M with a single harness. “He said he wanted to feel like he didn’t have any safety on him whatsoever, because he said it would come across in his performance,” says Eastwood. It made for a memorable day, especially for the plane’s retiring pilot. Says Eastwood, “He went out with his last flight being Tom Cruise hanging off the side of an Airbus.”