Tom Cruise took our breath away scaling the exterior of the tallest building in the world in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. And then, there he was, hanging on to the side of a plane as it took off in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Admittedly impressive, but none of that compares to what he goes through in the newest installment, Mission Impossible: Fallout where he…you know, breaks his ankle.
C’mon, don’t play dumb. You’ve seen the raw footage on every news and entertainment show: Cruise as Ethan Hunt, shooting a sequence from the film, leaps from one building to another, but misses the mark, smashing into the side of said building to break said ankle in the process. Ouch. There’s something visceral about watching that raw footage, but somehow even more so when viewing the trailer for the film and seeing that the stunt was included.
“You felt the impact, because it’s real,” comments writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, who returns from Rogue Nation. “Tom broke his ankle in that shot and insisted we include it in the trailer.”
Simon Pegg, back as agent Benji Dunn, for one is pleased that the sequence was left in. “I thought it was really smart, actually,” he says, “because it’s one of the most expensive shots in the movie — it ended up shutting the movie down for three months. But also, we’re owning it. People always say, ‘Oh, he’s a bit of a superhero.’ He’s not. He’s a human being. Everything is very rigorously checked safety-wise, and in that instance, he was very human, very fallible, and he broke his foot. And the fact is, three months later he limped into shot as if he just slightly hurt himself in the jump, which will be the cut. So it will go from him smashing his foot to him limping a bit and then running off.”
“The funny thing is,” McQuarrie adds, “we never thought of it as ‘the’ stunt. It was incidental to us; a way to get from point A to point B. It was relatively simple compared to almost every other stunt Tom performs in the film. I went to work that day worried that it would seem tame in comparison.” He smiles. “Just goes to show you….”
When speaking to the actor for Rogue Nation and that moment of his hanging on to the side of an ascending aircraft, he commented with a laugh, “As always, I will do everything I can to entertain an audience and put as many people into theatres as possible. I’m an aerobatic pilot and I’ve done a lot of different things, but I’ve always wanted to do that. And I want to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.”
The film’s stunt coordinator, Wade Eastwood, has fielded the question several times of whether or not there was a moment when he said to Cruise, “Dude, this is my job. Get down!”
“There’s a part of me that feels that way,” he offers with a smile, “and a part of me that’s glad it’s him and not me. Seriously, though, it goes back to the idea that the more stuff we can do with any actor on camera and without the aid of visual effects, it’s better for an audience that has become so much wiser to movie making. Tom knows that, so he wants to do as much real in-camera action as he possibly can. The shot with the plane, that’s from the ground to actual take off and you can see it for yourself. There’s no cheating, there’s no cutting. There’s no Tom against green screen.”
Pegg muses, “What Tom is kind of demonstrating there is a very canny awareness of what cinema is these days and what it’s become in terms of what we as viewers consume. We see so much CG. It’s an amazing tool and I’m not decrying it, but it doesn’t give us an answer in terms of the question, ‘How did they do that?’ CG is easy to comprehend as a cinematic device, and we know how they did that. There’s a guy and there’s a computer and that kind of is what’s in our head in terms of the answer to that question.
“Whereas for Tom,” he adds, “it’s, like, ‘How do I create an extra level of entertainment for an audience who’s sitting there thinking, “Oh my God, Tom Cruise is hanging off the side of a plane!”?’ It’s a level of interaction with film that we’ve kind of lost a little bit. These days we can see Superman flying around and kicking the crap out of people, but back when you watched Christopher Reeve doing it, there was no CG. You did think, ‘How did they do that?’ Tom is kind of obsessed with giving the audience the most possible in terms of their experience in watching the movie.”
McQuarrie points out that the most dangerous part of each stunt Cruise does is not necessarily the part that the audience would perceive as the most dangerous. In that plane sequence, for instance, the illusion of it was not the perceived threat, but a very real threat within that.
“It wasn’t really a fear of ours that Tom would fall off the plane,” he says. “What we were terrified of is when the plane was on the runway, any debris — any debris — that got sucked into those propellers was headed straight for Tom. When we were in the air, if a bird flew by and hit Tom, he was dead. Can you imagine? ‘Death by pigeon.’ It would be a very embarrassing way to go. If the pilot, whose hand is on the throttle, had moved that throttle just a few millimeters forward, the differential airspeed from the slightest adjustment would have been the difference between Tom staying on the plane and Tom being ripped off the side of the plane, no matter what sort of safety mechanism was there to hold him.
“The number of variables for that stunt were far greater and each variable is an order of magnitude,” McQuarrie elaborates. “You’re not aware of that when you’re watching it. You’re watching a scene, you’re saying, ‘Oh my God, that guy’s hanging on the side of an airplane. That’s crazy.’ We’re looking at it and we’re making a thousand different calculations.”
Cruise points out that he actually did get hit by a little particle. “I literally thought it broke my ribs,” he stated. “But our big thing was figuring out how to do it. The plane had to have a steep angle of attack and steep climb out. During it — and we had to do the stunt eight times — it was just very, very cold. I can’t wear pads because of the wardrobe. We were worried about that temp and, again, any particles from the runway hitting me. I was in a harness, on my side, that was kind of loose so you can see the vibration of my body against the plane.
“Before we started,” closed Cruise, “I gave the thumbs up to everyone, but I was actually scared out of my mind!”
Mission Impossible: Fallout opens July 27th.
Images: Paramount Pictures