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Movies & TV

22nd May 2021

25 years on, the stunt coordinator for Mission: Impossible discusses Tom Cruise’s first big stunt

Rory Cashin

The first Mission: Impossible movie turns a quarter of a century old this week.

Looking back at the franchise now, it seems odd to think that the first Mission: Impossible movie was a risk.

But a risk it was, as the director Brian De Palma was known for his very adult thrillers (The Untouchables, Scarface), and Tom Cruise had been leaning more into Oscar-worthy territory (Born Of The Fourth Of July, A Few Good Men and Interview With A Vampire) rather than big action movies.

Released on 22 May 1996, Mission: Impossible would go on to become the third biggest box-office hit of the year – behind only Independence Day and Twister – and as we know now, it all pretty much worked out for everybody, especially us film-lovers, because (M:I-2 aside) the series has only gone from strength to strength, with the upcoming Mission: Impossible 7 reported to contain the most dangerous stunt of Cruise’s career to date.

Clip via Double Features

But those stunts had to start somewhere, and in terms of the Mission: Impossible movies, the first major one involved Tom Cruise escaping a restaurant by blowing up a huge fish tank.

Knowing how Tom Cruise operates now – hanging off of planes, climbing the world’s tallest building, etc. – it should come as no surprise that he did the stunt for real, but at the time, it was perceived as a crazy, unnecessary risk.

We chatted to Wade Eastwood, the stunt coordinator for the fifth and sixth Mission: Impossible movies, and he is already working on the seventh and eighth entries, and we went all the way back to that first big stunt.

Eastwood said: “With all films, audiences have become more aware and more critical. They need more visual stimulation, so with the real action movies like the Missions and Bournes and Bonds, we’ve really had to challenge ourselves to create bigger action sequences and most stimulating visuals.

“The first Mission, in its time, I’m sure was quite complex and hectic from an action point of view, but if you look back at it now, the action in Mission One is probably the first ten pages of the action in Mission Six.

“Today, the audiences would want sharks coming out of that fish-tank and then chasing him down the street. But with the Missions, they’ve always stuck to story, and never doing action for action’s sake. Ethan’s character doesn’t want to fight, but sometimes he doesn’t really have a choice. He has to make these last-minute decisions, and he doesn’t want to fail, and he just doesn’t always have a plan.”

Clip via Jack Bauer

We also chatted to Eastwood about Cruise, and that desire to do all of these stunts himself.

Eastwood told us: “He gives 100%, and he just wanted the perfect position in the air with his legs and his body, and he wanted the audience to believe that he was giving everything to make that gap as Ethan Hunt. And when you look at that image, the one we’ve used in the movie and in the trailer, and you look at his body position and profile, he has the perfect leg extension, the perfect body position, and you can see he is making that gap for real.

“That is the image he wanted, and he got it, but he got it at the detriment of holding it in that position for just that nanosecond too long, and the leg not retracting enough without being locked out.

“That could easily have happened to my stuntman who set it up, and he did 35 or 40 takes of it, but he didn’t because he wasn’t giving a performance. I think that is the big difference because the stuntman did all of those lineup shots before we started shooting it just to make sure everything was working properly, but he wasn’t giving that performance.

“If I told the stuntman to do it like Ethan Hunt, which he couldn’t because he’s not Tom Cruise, then maybe he would have overstretched and done the same thing, you know? It’s a very different scenario.”

Mission: Impossible is available to watch on NOW right now, and Mission: Impossible 7 is currently scheduled to arrive in Irish cinemas in May 2022.

You can listen to our full chat with Eastwood, breaking down the biggest stunts of each of the first six Mission: Impossible movies, right here:

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