It's common knowledge that Tom Cruise has accomplished many a tour-de-force on the set of his films. The legendary actor is known for doing most, if not all, of his own stunts -- and no film stretched him quite as thin as summer blockbuster, and all-around good time, "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation."
Just when we thought nothing could be as heart-stopping as Cruise's Ethan Hunt scaling the world's tallest building in "Ghost Protocol," the 53-year-old took his commitment to stunt work to daring new heights in "Rogue Nation" when he dangled from a mammoth four-engine turboprop plane, mid-takeoff in the dazzling four-minute, 10-second opening sequence. The only thing separating Cruise from falling off the side of a the Airbus A400M was a single harness. And that wasn't even the most incredible stunt in the movie. Needless to say, Cruise's stuntman has the easiest gig in Hollywood.
MTV News recently chatted with "Rogue Nation" stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood, ahead of the Nov. 17th home release of the latest "Mission: Impossible" movie on Digital HD, about some of our other favorite stunts in the film -- from the stunning hand-to-hand combat in the Opera House to the underwater sequence that literally took our breath away.
"Tom was very adamant about it being a fun move," Eastwood said. "He's all about people having fun, and not so much about violence. He wants people to escape and have a great fun and remember it, and that’s exactly what we did with the film."
Sure, the world's biggest action hero hanging 5,000 feet in the air caught the attention of anybody who watched the film's trailer, but director Christopher McQuarrie saved the real magic for moviegoers.
The Opera House
The scene features Ethan Hunt and Benji (Simon Pegg) searching for a suspect at the Vienna Opera House. What unfolds is what feels like a dance -- a very dangerous, yet elegant waltz at that. It's easily the strongest sequence in the entire film.
"Originally, that was just a fight in a loading dock," Eastwood said. "Then we looked at it and obviously sometimes a lot of action written in to the script is just a place holder, depending on the budget and how much room you got, and my job is to create a bigger spectacle, so I started coming up with this fight. I played with a lot of ideas, and it got so late in the day that we wound up casting one of my core stunt team members, Wolfgang [Stegemann]. He's an actor as well, but he's been with me for a long time, and he's just so good at it, that instead of them bringing in another actor for them to train it wound up he got the part as a flautist."
"When you're filming at that height, it's like filming in molasses -- it just slows you down," he added. "You got to get the camera guys up at height, everything's sort of not the same as working on the ground. We could have cheated that in many ways, and green screen and done this and that, but that's not what we wanted. We wanted to tie it into the feel, the music, the opera below, we wanted Tom and Wolfgang to feel the ambiance of the scene and just feel the scene, and that sort of reach with the music and the fight. Although it made our jobs much tougher, I think it certainly came out in the film that way. So we had all these different computer coded winches and the fight had a certain number of beats, which I rehearsed in my workshop with many of the operating tresses that we build ourselves, and we would put into, and say, 'Alright, this one goes up, that one go down, and he goes there and he does this,' and it took a long time."
Despite working with Cruise on "Edge of Tomorrow," Eastwood had never worked with Ethan Hunt. So he put Cruise through an intense, three-month training regiment, starting with the basics, to get to know Hunt's unique fighting style. "He can be a bit clumsy, but he's ruthless," Eastwood said, describing Ethan's fighting style.
"It's vitally important that you establish a look for the artist, a fight style, and a way in, or the audiences get lost, it just becomes another fight in an action movie, and I really believe in pushing hard to create a unique style for each character," he said. "The same way each character looks different or acts different, they have to fight in a way that is their character, so the audience can identify with it, but if you don’t identify with it then you can't get lost in the story, you just watch a fight, and that’s not the way to do it in my opinion."
Eastwood also worked with Rebecca Ferguson to develop a fighting style for her mysterious character Ilsa. Her technique was heavily inspired by Eastwood's sisters, who practiced dance and movement growing up.
"For me, I hate it when you're in a fight and there's a massive guy and the woman punches him and he falls over," Eastwood said. "A punch is all about, obviously apart from technique, it's about putting the weight behind it. A woman is by no means inferior, but they don’t have the weight to put behind a punch and the power that a guy has, so you have to do something slightly different. With Rebecca, she moves so well, and she was so great with the choreography. I always like to work on an actor's strength rather than teach them something that’s so alien to them that you're always cutting around it in the film with a stunt double or something else. I'd rather teach the actor something that works with their strength, whatever that strength is, and with Rebecca, it was movement and dance, so we incorporated that into her fight style and the fine moves and the jumping up on some of the bigger guys. It just kind of complemented her."
When asked about Ferguson's scene-stealing, kick-ass character, and her enormous impact on the film, Eastwood said that even Cruise knows how amazing Ilsa's finishing move is. "When Tom hears that, and I'm working with him now, that's what he wants to hear," Eastwood said. "He's has zero ego. He wants to create these amazing characters that audiences recognize and remember, and he hasn't got the ego to say, 'Oh, well, she looks better than me.' There's none of that. He wants audiences to fall in love with everyone, and it was clever of him to cast Rebecca."
Add to the list of awesome chase scenes in action movies in 2015: the great "Rogue Nation" motorcycle chase that features Ilsa, Ethan and a whole bunch of bad guys ripping through the streets of Morocco, kicking up dirt, dodging bullets and doing their damnedest not to crash and burn.
"For me, this scene was my baby," Eastwood said. "I raced a little bit in Europe, Formula 3, so cars and bikes are my thing. When you've got someone like Tom, who is great in a car or on a bike, you can push the limits. We took a normal sequence and made it a race-chase sequence. It's slightly less Hollywood and more real. That shows in the film. Getting your knee down, getting your elbows down as well, like some of these riders are doing in MotoGP, and feeling the bike move. Again, it's all about movement."
"When you're riding on the limit, or driving on the limit, the car or bike moves in particular way," he added. "You can try and fake it, but everyone gets used to that. It looks so real because they were really driving on the limit. The location also really complimented Tom's training with cars and bikes. We took him to another level. He goes so fast -- and safely fast -- on that bike. And he got so accurate and consistent, the bike was just drifting... When a stunt guy gets in a car or a bike, we just do what we have to do to make it look great, but he's got to act and do that. That's the difference."
The Underwater Scene
Perhaps the most nerve-wracking sequence in the entire film, the underwater scene, filmed as one shot, truly tested Cruise's commitment to the project. Not only did Cruise train with free-divers for three months leading up to production, but the adrenalin junkie also learned to hold his breath underwater for up to six minutes.
"That was another long one, with discussions going back and forth," Eastwood said. "It was an underwater sequence, and originally, it was a claustrophobic moment in a pipe somewhere. The idea of, 'We have to make the audience hold their breath with us,' and how do we do that in one shot? Once we started training, it became clearer. The more time you have to rehearse it and do it, the better it gets. They gave us the time and the space to do it, and we worked with the cast, to drill the scene."
But it was Ethan and Ilsa's terrifying dip into the whirlpool from hell that truly made us -- and Ferguson -- panic. Mainly because it was a 120-foot jump.
"Tom's great with heights. He gets up and he's good to go. But Rebecca was brand new to all of this, so we first put her up on the opera, which was 70-foot. And we started in the rehearsal workshop, and we put her up at 15-foot, and she screamed her head off. So she had to learn to trust us. We start things very slow and we build people up, most importantly to build their confidence so that they can act and deliver a performance while jumping off a building. So we started small, and then we got to the opera jump, and she screamed, but she did it -- and she did it about 20 times."
"Then we got to the underwater scene, and it was nearly double that height. She came to the location for rehearsal, and I could hear her just shouting, 'Nope. No way! Not a chance.' And we were all laughing, but by the end of it, she did it. She did it over a dozen times! It took us a lot to get her to 70-foot and so to get her to 120-foot -- and we did one of her diving -- was really ballsy."
"Mission Impossible -- Rogue Nation" comes to Digital HD November 17, and to Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand December 15.