27 years after it began and with its seventh film about to debut, the Mission: Impossible film series stands apart as its own unique animal among Hollywood franchises. At this point, Tom Cruise’s commitment to doing his own increasingly amazing and death defying stunts is legendary, as he and Christopher McQuarrie (who has been directing the films since 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) continue to work to raise the bar beyond what’s come before.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is filled with huge action set pieces that involve much of the cast, but amusingly, when asked what the most memorable day was on set, nearly all of Cruise’s co-stars name a huge stunt – and indeed an entire scene – that they weren’t even part of, but did witness filming first hand. As franchise newcomer Greg Tarzan Davis (Top Gun: Maverick) explained to Fandom, the most notable day was “Maybe the very first day, when we had to take a helicopter to sit on top of a mountain in Norway, and we’re standing on the bridge, the bridge that Tom drives off of, and he flies over us in a helicopter and his warm up for that stunt was to jump off the helicopter and skydive, plain and simple.”
Davis is, of course, referring to the much-hyped moment in the film where Cruise’s Ethan Hunt rides a motorcycle straight off a cliff and opens a parachute to survive – a moment which, naturally, Cruise did himself, complete with tons of prep that went beyond even that warm up helicopter skydive Davis referenced.
TOM CRUISE: DRESS CASUAL
The MCU’s Hayley Atwell is another newcomer to the M:I films in Dead Reckoning, playing Grace, a skilled professional thief who gets in way over her head when she’s hired to steal an object a bunch of major players – including Ethan and the IMF – are also trying to get a hold of.
Speaking to Fandom, Atwell noted the unbelievable nature of what Cruise was physically doing to make the film began well before the cast gathered to watch him film that jaw-dropping cliff jump scene, recalling, “I remember before that, we’d go around for dinner at his house, a whole bunch of us, and we’d walk in and he’d be like, ‘Hey, guys!’ and he’d host a meal. And then we would have discovered that he’d done 29 sky jumps that day. And then he was just hanging out, having a nice meal with everyone. He wears it so easily, you know? He clearly loves what he does and he gets so much energy back from it. And so I think every day was a display of that level of commitment and professionalism.”
Series veteran Simon Pegg, who’s portrayed Benji Dunn since 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, recalled that watching Cruise film the actual cliff jump, “I was standing with Pom Klementieff and Hayley Atwell and Tarzan Davis and Shea Whigham and Esai Morales and we’re all together, all holding on to each other watching it happen. Because obviously, on the day, you have no idea what’s going to occur. Everything is very much taken care of and it’s very planned and there’s no recklessness, and yet there’s always a degree of uncertainty.”
As Pegg noted, all they could see from their vantage point was Cruise riding his motorcycle straight off a cliff, not what happened after that. “To be there, seeing him do that… And he would go off and disappear. And then they’d just be this pause, and we’d wait for the radio to crackle ‘Good canopy,’ which meant his chute had opened. And that gap between him vanishing and that radio coming to life felt like an eternity. It was so terrifying. But, you know, he did it six times.”
BEYOND THE CLIFF
As wild as it was watching Cruise’s solo stunt, Shea Whigham, who previously worked with Atwell in Agent Carter, said that when it came to standout moments while filming Dead Reckoning Part One, “You could take numerous days. You could take a foot chase in Venice, you could take shutting down the Via Imperiali [in Rome] to have an old fashioned gunfight / car chase that, to me, would rival [William] Friedkin in French Connection. I mean, that’s how good it is when people see it.”
Atwell’s Grace ends up alongside Ethan during that big Rome car chase and said it also made a big impression on her, explaining, “There’s no time to really pinch yourself because there’s just too much to do. If you overthink something, or you kind of take your eye off the ball, you put yourself into a state and other people in danger. So it’s a very, very focused set.”
However, she did admit that at one point she let herself appreciate just what an unlikely situation she was in, explaining, “In between takes, there was a new setup and I just turned to him and I was like, ‘I’m in a Tom Cruise film!’ And I was like ‘You’re Tom Cruise!’ And he looked at me and he was like, ‘I know!’ – like he couldn’t believe it either. And then he went, ‘No! I’m in a Hayley Atwell movie!’ And I thought that sums up for me his energy, which is one of still such passion for what he does.”
Added Atwell, “He is a fan of movies as much as he is an established and legendary filmmaker himself. And I think that’s what’s always kept him very hungry to always push the envelope and deliver better than the time before. So it’s just so enjoyable to watch someone and to work with someone who, 41 years into his career, he still has the same level of enthusiasm as he probably always has.”
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One opens July 12.