How ‘Rogue Nation’ Stunt Coordinator Kept Tom Cruise Safe

Stunt expert Wade Eastwood helped create "Mission: Impossible's" memorable action sequences

Mission Impossible Stunt Coordination
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

When you tell people you’re going to interview the stuntman on a Tom Cruise movie, they’ll scratch their heads and ask, “What do you mean? Doesn’t Tom do his own stunts?”

Maybe so, but keeping the face of the franchise unscarred is something to consider. “With a megastar like Cruise, someone has to make sure the stunts are done as safely as possible,” says Wade Eastwood (pictured above, in red shirt), stunt coordinator on “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” the Paramount pic that opened July 31.

Take the movie’s signature, tour-de-force footage of Cruise clinging to the side of a huge military aircraft as it takes off and climbs steeply into the sky. Yep, that’s really Cruise holding on for dear life as the wind pins his hair to his scalp.

But before the footage was shot, Eastwood (no relation to Clint) took every precaution to ensure the life and limb of the multimillion-dollar actor. For example, he checked for metal fatigue in the camera rig attached to the side of the plane “that could have caused part of it to break off and send a projectile traveling at great speed into Tom.”

Cruise relished the danger, adds Eastwood. “Tom didn’t want to have the feeling of being too safe. He said it would ruin his performance.”

The crew went through several takes over two days, with the plane climbing to nearly 5,000 feet each time. “Everything you see is real,” Eastwood says. “It was all Tom.”

That passion for realism extended to all the film’s hazardous scenarios, from a scene where sniper-assassins play a cat-and-mouse game with one another and with Cruise in the rafters above the stage of the Vienna State Opera as “Turandot” plays far below, to an underwater sequence in which Cruise holds his breath for a reported six minutes as he retrieves a computer chip, to high-speed car and motorcycle chases in Morocco.

The opera house scene, for example, was shot without the aid of greenscreen trickery. A full performance of Puccini’s masterwork was actually taking place during the shooting. “There are short cuts,” Eastwood says, “but Tom doesn’t like doing it that way. He feels that it takes away from the character and the acting.”

As a result, the action had to be timed to the music rather than the other way around. Additional footage was captured on a specially built opera-house set, and the entire sequence was shot over three weeks.

For the tense underwater scene — probably the film’s most difficult — Cruise trained with a freediver to learn breath-holding techniques. As the actor maneuvers in the water during what seems a single take, trying to locate the computer chip while at the same time struggling to avoid a rotating metal arm, the audience is practically holding its breath with him.

“We didn’t want cuts,” Eastwood says. “We were looking for a claustrophobic effect. Tom really wanted to make the sequence difficult, and we wanted to take the audience on that journey with us.”

Eastwood likes to point out that stunts are doubly difficult when performed by an actor. “If I’ve got a stunt guy working, we cut in and out, and the stunt guy does what’s required of him as a stuntman. With Tom, he’ll do what’s required of him as a stuntman, but he also has to act the character. That’s the biggest difference.”