Tom Cruise Doesn't Want To Feel Too Safe When Doing Mission: Impossible Stunt Work

Tom Cruise doing his own stunts has become just as much a part of the marketing of his films as the actual stories. The mythology built around Cruise as a death-defying madman putting his life on the line for our entertainment only rises to new heights with every subsequent film. In "Top Gun: Maverick," you are not just going to see the sequel to Tony Scott's 1986 film. You are going to see Tom Cruise really fly these planes around, and the filmmakers he works with are going to make sure you know it is actually him doing everything he is doing.

The "Mission: Impossible" films are, of course, the best example of this. If you listen to the fabulous multihour interviews with Christopher McQuarrie, writer/director of the last two and next two in the series, on the Empire Film podcast, you will know those movies are essentially built around what stunts and set pieces Cruise wants to do. In "Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation," he wanted to do an underwater scene, a high-speed motorcycle chase, and, most famously, a hang off the side of an airplane. How the sequences worked themselves into the story was something to figure out at a later date, which in the case of "Mission: Impossible" was often during shooting.

There is a method to the madness. Cruise isn't solely doing these things because of a death wish. He truly believes — and I agree with him — there is a difference in investment an audience has when a film doesn't need to mask that the lead actor can't do something. It comes from an acting instinct first and foremost. Because of that, safety is not necessarily what matters most to him.

'He said it would ruin his performance'

One man who is total agreement with Tom Cruise's approaches to stunt work is Wade Eastwood, who has acted as a stunt coordinator on nearly every single Cruise film since "Edge of Tomorrow." He understands the impact that seeing the man himself has on a film. In an interview with Variety around the release of "Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation," Eastwood said of Cruise doing his own stunts:

"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."

When it came to the film's most dangerous stunt, which was Cruise hanging off the side of the A400 in the opening scene, a stunt coordinator has a lot to wrangle. Not only does he need to prepare Cruise for a stunt nobody has attempted on film before, but he has to make sure he, you know, doesn't die. I am sure Cruise would like to live another day as well, but as the star and lead producer on the films, he needs to make sure he gets the shot perfectly. As Ethan Hunt, he is not hooked onto the plane with a wire, as Cruise is. He is just hanging on. So while he needs to be safe, there needs to be some form of danger for him to really feel in the moment. As Eastwood put it, "Tom didn't want to have the feeling of being too safe. He said it would ruin his performance." Ultimately, he performed the stunt eight times. He didn't die, they got the shot, and it's perfect.

How often is a double used?

So, Tom Cruise does all his own stunts. But there have to at least be times where they just have to use a double, right? There must be things Cruise simply cannot do. Well, lucky for us, we have an actual answer for this in regards to one specific "Mission: Impossible" movie. In talking on the wonderful "Light the Fuse" podcast, Brad Bird, director of "Ghost Protocol," revealed there are three shots in that film where they used a double in place of Cruise.

One was not for safety purposes. During the scene where Ethan Hunt is chasing after the film's villain, played by the late Michael Nyqvist, as a sandstorm hurdles through Dubai, during one shot the wind was so strong it messed up the camera move. They decided to reshoot the shot on another day with the second unit. However, while they were doing that, Cruise was off shooting another scene, so he physically could not be there to perform. Had he been free, he obviously would have done the running (he loves the running), but he couldn't.

The other two shots were proper stunt reasons, both of which involved Ethan Hunt crashing to the ground. On both occasions, the stuntmen were injured performing the stunts. So it ended up being a good thing he opted out of them. As we saw with "Mission: Impossible – Fallout," a Cruise injury can severely delay the production. But his power and stunt mythology has only grown exponentially in the last 11 years since "Ghost Protocol." It truly might be 100% him now.