With this week’s release of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” Tom Cruise is ready to show moviegoers across the world his latest batch of death-defying stunts. The film, directed by Cruise’s “Rogue Nation” collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, features three set pieces in which Cruise risks it all for the sake of cinematic entertainment: A plane jump, a foot chase in Paris, and a helicopter battle. Last night, McQuarrie appeared during an IMAX screening of “Fallout” in New York City and went into detail about what Cruise went through to pull off each action spectacle.
“We’re always thinking about the experience you’re going to have, which is one of the reasons Tom does all the crazy things he does in these movies,” McQuarrie told the crowd. “It’s not that Tom is a daredevil, it’s not that he’s a crazy showoff. What he does by doing these crazy stunts is he gives us the opportunity of a subjective first person experience when we’re watching it.”
Cruise’s on set injury was widely reported on during production (the actor broke his ankle performing a stunt in which he jumps from one building roof to another), but McQuarrie said what came next was even crazier than the stunt that left Cruise hurt. Doctors told Cruise it would take at least nine months for his ankle to heal, but the actor was only willing to halt production for six weeks. As a result, Cruise performed the rigorous Paris foot chase with his ankle still broken.
“Every shot in the foot chase, except the scene where he breaks his ankle, was shot after he broke his foot,” McQuarrie explained. “It’s his right ankle. Every time he puts weight on his right ankle I want you to subconsciously say, ‘Ow.'”
Not only was Cruise’s ankle broken for the foot chase, but it also wasn’t fully healed for the plane jump sequence. The set piece finds the actor performing a HALO jump from 25,000 feet above the ground and resulted in numerous challenges for the production. McQuarrie explained that Cruise couldn’t wear the normal head gear since goggles would block his face, which is “what everyone is paying to see.” Putting lights inside the helmet to illuminate Cruise’s face was another problem since an electrical spark inside an oxygen helmet could result in Cruise’s head lighting on fire. The solution was to invent all new gear.
“We had to spend months developing these helmets,” McQuarrie said. “Everything you’re seeing Tom wearing in this sequence did not exist before filming.”
Further complicating matters was the fact Cruise and McQuarrie wanted to shoot the scene at dusk, which gave them three minutes of available light each day to pull off the stunt. Cruise revealed at CinemaCon he jumped out of the plane 106 times as a result. The director also praised the cameraman, a skydiver who had to learn how to be a filmmaker and also perform everything Cruise was doing but facing backwards so the camera could remain on Cruise. The two had to nail the right distance between the camera and Cruise so the one-take shot would remain in focus.
“In order to fall into his close-up, Tom had to get three feet from the lens,” McQuarrie said. “There’s no tape measurer that anyone is holding onto. Tom had to remember what that three feet is, and because we’re at dusk, he has a three inch margin of error. If he’s any closer, he’s out of focus and we’re back shooting it the next day.”
The film’s climactic action set piece finds Cruise engaging in a helicopter battle. Tom was adamant about flying the helicopter himself, which was a huge task considering it takes most people three months to qualify for a license to fly the kind of helicopters used in the scene.
“Tom asked why it takes three months, and that’s working every day for eight hours day for three months,” McQuarrie said. “He said, ‘What if I do it 16 hours a day?’ So they got him another crew. He trained with crew number 1 and when they were exhausted, he trained with crew number 2 and trained for 16 hours a day and qualified on this helicopter in 6 weeks.”
Flash-forward a few months and Cruise was inside the helicopter performing downward spirals, which McQuarrie doesn’t recommend even trained pilots perform.
“All of that stuff is real, and we do it so we can put the camera in any place,” McQuarrie said. “He’s not just flying, he’s acting and he’s also operating a camera because he has to make sure the camera stays pointed at the helicopter in front of him [so we can get that footage]. That’s what Tom does so you can have a good time.”
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” opens in theaters nationwide Friday, July 27 via Paramount Pictures.
Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.