Director John Woo says Tom Cruise's life dangled by a thread
Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible 2

If heights give you the heebie-jeebies, you may want to keep your eyes wide shut during the opening scene of ”Mission: Impossible 2” (in theaters May 24). Tom Cruise scales a vertigo-inducing cliff with his bare hands, leaps over a deadly drop, then hangs from a rock ledge by his fingertips before pulling himself up to safety. If you can’t figure out how the producers found a stunt double who looks so much like the 37 year old star, that’s because they didn’t. ”It was all Tom up there,” says producer Paula Wagner. ”So of course, we had some really nail-biting moments.”

Cruise, who is also a producer on the film, insisted on performing the sequence wearing only a thin safety cable, and he vetoed a small-scale cliff that had been constructed by the set department. Even though Cruise had two rock climbing experts on the set to guide him, his decision didn’t sit well with director John Woo (”Face/Off”). ”I was really mad that he wanted to do it, but I tried to stop him and I couldn’t,” Woo says. ”I was so scared I was sweating. I couldn’t even watch the monitor when we shot it.”

Unfortunately for Woo, it took seven takes under the blazing Moab, Utah, sun to get the scene right. ”We had five cameras on the cliff, including a helicopter camera, a camera on a crane, and cameramen hanging from safety cables, but we had focus problems, so we had to do it again and again,” he says. ”But Tom would say, ‘I’m okay, John, don’t worry, I want to do it one more time.”’

Though Cruise’s decision to perform his own stunts, including dangling from a helicopter six stories above the ground, didn’t carry over to the rest of the crew (a lighting double refused to step in for one of Cruise’s costars during a helicopter stunt), everyone seems to agree that his derring-do made a difference in the finished product. ”The opening sequence just wouldn’t have been the same if he hadn’t done it himself,” says costar John Polson. ”No amount of special effects can make you feel like that, because you can tell that it’s really just him.”

Mission: Impossible 2
  • Movie
  • 125 minutes