How 'Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation' Dangled Tom Cruise from a Plane

A Q&A with Wade Eastwood, the stunt coordinator. 

Paramount Pictures

Wade Eastwood is a badass. His stuntwork on blockbusters such as Interstellar, the past few James Bond movies, and more have helped propel a Hollywood trend of increasingly mind-blowing practical stunts, a bit of backlash to obvious CGI fakery. As a stunt coordinator, he has now dangled Tom Cruise off the outside of a gigantic plane in the new installment of the two-decade-strong Mission: Impossible franchise. Before Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation hits theaters Friday, we sat down to talk about what that felt like, Cruise’s training regimen, and how to make actors into stunt people.

Inverse: This is your first Mission: Impossible movie, but you previously worked with Tom Cruise on Edge of Tomorrow. Did that familiarity help out with your rapport for the big stunts?

Wade Eastwood: For me, I approach every film the same way. I’m always trying to create something new and unique and amazing. It doesn’t matter what film it is, I have to bring my A-game. That’s why I work and why I continue to work, but with Tom you’ve got to make sure you bring your A-game every day, seven days a week.

What percentage of the stunts in the movie are actually Tom Cruise?

100 percent.

That’s insane! I wanted to get to the big A400 sequence with Tom Cruise hanging off the side, which a lot of people have been talking about because it’s astonishing to watch. Was the sequence in the script? What point were you made aware that they wanted to do something like that?

It wasn’t in the script. It was just something that Tom wanted to do. We started discussions with different sequences like, “This movie used a plane or that movie used a plane,” and then we started looking at images with the director Christopher McQuarrie. We had sort of little pow-wows and little talks, and bounced cool images and ideas off of each other like “Oh, that would be cool, we should do that.”

We approached a few people and they were like, “No, you can’t do that, we won’t let you do this,” but eventually after awhile we were going to lose the plane sequence because you’re dealing with massive companies. Someone like Airbus, they’ve got their own health and safety liabilities, and insurances, and all these things. Any bad mark or blemish is going to cost them hundreds of millions.

Paramount Pictures

So we bounced a bunch of things around and it just came back to Tom who was just like, “Guys, this is so much fun, this sequence. It’s just so cool, we’ve got to find a way to do it.” He was right. He said, “Come up with something that’s more fun and funny and better for the character that will make the audiences laugh or wow them, and make the audiences stand up and cheer.” He wants it to be fun. He doesn’t want it to be something that’s been done before, or boring. He always went back to saying “We’ve got to create something fun.”

How was the sequence set up?

So I did a trip with Tom, first to Airbus, and presented a thing. Then Airbus came back and said, “Well, we’re not really happy.” We went back to Tom, we looked at other things, and long story short, ended up doing another trip down to France with some drawings and diagrams that presented the stunt from the pilot’s perspective. I’m also a pilot, so I presented something about how we’re going to make it as safe as possible, and how we were going to protect the aircraft, which is worth a fortune and very much still in the test phase.

I gave them my rig drawings, and the chief test pilot agreed with a handshake over the table. He was happy that I was going to make sure it was safe. Airbus had to approve it through other legal channels, then Paramount and all the red tape they had to go through, but they did a very good job of doing all that.

Two weeks later the plane showed up, the crew jumped out, and basically they gave us the keys.

Was there any point in the process where it wasn’t going to be done practically?

Let me put it this way: If something’s not going to be done practically it’s not going to be done with Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. Without him it would be a different sequence. You mention green screens to him and his crew and you better start running (laughs).

It’s real or it’s nothing. He knows. He’s like, “Guys, the audiences will see this. I don’t want fake, I want real.”

When it was a go, and you had to begin planning, when you knew it was that plane and you new Tom Cruise was going to be on the outside, what was your first move?

We had to work out how to film it, so we worked on some camera technology that had been used on helicopters before and handed that over to special effects supervisor Dom Tuohy, who built a really cool rig to film it. I did a mockup at my rehearsal area with wind forces and rigged up things on how I was going to make sure Tom was as safe as possible. Then we went up and did a little test on the side of a plane, and I looked over it with my stunt team and we designed a rig and everything that we needed.

We presented that to Airbus on the second meeting, which they approved. Then when the plane arrived we only had a very small window to use it — we had two days to use it because it had to go off and get sold to some company for a billion dollars.

Paramount Pictures

We went to work straight away because of the time crunch, put our rig in place with a dummy on the outside, and did a test. In the first test I wasn’t happy with the vibration coming from the camera rig. I was worried about any vibrations because I didn’t want a piece of metal or something to break off, which could hit Tom. So I asked them to make some changes. The effects guys built aerofoils on the side that would turn the vibrations down to almost nothing.

Did Tom Cruise land along with the plane? In the movie we see him on the side during takeoff, but he actually landed with it also?

Yep, he had to fly the full circuit. Tom insisted on feeling all the forces — he didn’t want to act it, and he wanted the audience to feel it. When you see the plane taking off it’s flying at 35 degrees. It’s doing an airshow takeoff, which they do at shows to make it look dramatic and wow the audience. We did airshow simulation takeoffs and circuits so that he was really flipping on the plane and really falling.

During the landing when we were coming back to base he would hand him gloves through a tiny little hole in the door where there was a glass window to try to keep him warm and keep him close to the door to land the plane.

How many take of that shot did you do?

I think we did five.

Obviously a massive and expensive stunt like that must be crazy to shoot. Can you describe the mood on set when the cameras roll and something like that is about to happen?

My job is to eliminate risk, so it doesn’t matter if it’s Tom Cruise or anyone off the street hanging off the side of a plane. I’m going to make sure that they’re as safe as possible. A name doesn’t come into consideration when dealing with safety. So I was very relaxed because I knew I had done my homework and my team was all on board.

I was worried about bird strike, but it didn’t happen. The mood generally on set was almost like we stepped out of this gigantic action movie franchise and got into doing a little — I don’t want to say student film, but an indie film. We went up north in England as a small group of people, and we had a job to do. We had the plan for two days and we were going to do this amazing stunt. We all stayed in this little country hotel, nothing fancy, and there was only one little pub in the town where you could walk and get food, and we’d all go there at night — Tom included. No fancy rooms, no additional costs, no Hollywood. It was just a small group. We went up there to shoot a really great piece of action, and that was why the whole thing was really cool for myself and the team. It was just that we all went up there to get the job done.

How long into the production did you shoot it considering it’s an extremely dangerous stunt and could jeopardize the movie if something went wrong?

It was the last thing we shot in case we lost Tom. No, I’m joking [laughs]. Hollywood doesn’t not care that much. It was actually meant to be shot earlier on, but we didn’t have all the commissions and red tape done in time, so we shot it in autumn in England.

We finished shooting the movie in March and we shot the plane sequence in like October, so it was about two-thirds of the way through the film. We tried to shoot in the summer, because it was in England and we wanted clear skies and warm weather, but we ended up doing it in autumn with less ideal weather. It was a little bit colder.

It’s easy to single out the A400 scene, which opens the movie, because of just how astonishing it is to watch, but what was your personal favorite out of the other stunt set-pieces in the movie?

For me it was all the car and bike stuff with Tom. I’m a racing driver — I’m actually racing Formula 3 this weekend — so I’m very into my cars and bikes, and so is Tom. We had to take an actor who also races cars and bikes, but he doesn’t do it everyday. He’s an actor and a producer, so we had to take this person and make them world class like the people doing this every day of their lives whilst he can still act the character Ethan Hunt.

What was the training like?

So some of the training process was — and Paramount were brilliant in backing me on it, because it was a serious training exercise — we would rent different tracks around England, and every week it was a different racetrack. So it was different circumstances, different conditions, different obstacles, different distractions, and a different layout. We would train on motorbikes all morning with a superbike trainer as well, then I would train Tom myself in the afternoon and do all this drift coaching and precision stunt stuff.

It’s a hard thing to learn to drift a car at high speeds. I’ll never forget the day he got it and it all sunk in. I mean he really got it, and we were always monitoring his lap times because we would do speed laps and drifting laps and precision laps. He had to agree to it because it was so dangerous on the roads we were doing it on in Morocco. They were such high speeds on such dangerous roads that I said to Tom at the beginning of the film, “If you’re not going to take a step backwards and slow down and learn, because it’s not something you’re doing every day, then I’m not going to be involved. It’s going to be too dangerous on you. You’re going to have to really start from basics, and if you’re on board then I’m on board.” And he was on board. We shook hands and he was like, “Alright, I’ll listen to everything and I won’t question it.” He goes, “As long as you bring me out at the end of this being amazing on a bike and car for this sequence.”

Paramount Pictures

I made him that promise, and he was so fast. His lap times were coming down to ridiculous speeds. I mean he was competitive, especially in the car. At the end of it he was competitive in today’s racing world. That’s how quick he was. And the accuracy of his drifting to a mark was unbelievable. When we got to Morocco on these tight streets and narrow buildings everywhere he was so accurate that I would not have ever taken him out of the car and said, “Tom, this one is a bit too difficult. I’m going to have to put a stunt double in for this.” At no time did he do anything where I thought a stunt driver or a pro could do it better. He was on the money every take.

Shifting away from the big stunts as we wrap up, could you talk a little bit about how you worked to develop the particular fighting styles of the characters? Particularly Rebecca Ferguson, who I thought was phenomenal.

I have a very good team, and I have a good fight base myself, so I get very involved. You need to pick on the actor’s strengths. Stunt people can do the stunts, and fight guys can do the most amazing fights, but they can’t act. What the actors are doing is these amazing fights and they’re acting the character. So you can’t suddenly try and take them too far out of their comfort zone. It’s a lot to take in.

Paramount Pictures

With Rebecca, for example, she had a dance background. She moved very gracefully, very beautifully, and the more stuff we did in her training I would notice that she always seemed to finish a move like a dance finish. I pushed more of the dance side of her fight styles — very flow-y and always moving, or whether it’s climbing up or lying down, whatever it was, she was always moving in a gymnastics dance style.

With Tom’s style we had to deal with Ethan from Mission one through five, so he had already established a style. We couldn’t suddenly create a new one, but I just wanted to make him just a little more aggro. We just played with ideas and played with past styles to polish it, as if his character has been doing other missions between four and five. So we changed things and worked a lot on his ground work. We worked hard on his basic fight style every day.

Is there anything else noteworthy about your experience on the film that I didn’t get to?

You have the whole Monty, I think.

Related Tags