If the “Mission: Impossible” films are really just an excuse for Tom Cruise to thumb his nose at death, we’re certainly for it. But while filming the sixth installment of the series, “Fallout,” the 55-year-old superstar also became the first actor ever to perform a high altitude, low opening jump (known in the military as a HALO jump) for a movie.
In the movie, the harrowing scene takes place in the skies over Paris. In real life, Cruise performed the jump in the United Arab Emirates, the only country that would allow them to film such a dangerous jump. And while the lights of the French capital and the thunderstorm Ethan jumps into were added with CGI, Cruise is actually being filmed by a skydiver with a camera strapped to his helmet.
“We wanted to film the scene at dusk, so there was about a three-minute window to shoot the scene, and if we didn’t get it right we’d be back out there the next day doing it again,” explained director Christopher McQuarrie, who joined Cruise at Paramount’s CinemaCon presentation back in May. “Between the practice jumps and the stuff we did with the cameras, Tom jumped 106 times.”
Before Cruise’s Ethan Hunt jumps, his oxygen tube suddenly pulls out. But that wasn’t a prop. “Tom actually needs that to breathe,” McQuarrie said. “Once he gets that in, he jumps and the cameraman is falling backwards just inches away from his face. If the distance between them isn’t right, then Tom’s face isn’t going to be in focus and the shot won’t work.”
Speaking of Cruise’s face, the equipment used by the military for HALO jumps completely obscures the face with darkened visors. Perfectly fine for a Navy SEAL, but not good for a movie. So the “Mission: Impossible” production designers had to design a suit with special lights that would allow the camera to show Cruise’s face as he jumps out of the plane.
“There are just all these things I need to remember,” Cruise recalled. “I have to keep in mind the distance between me and the camera when I jump out. I need to keep in mind where the camera is at all times. I need to remember my lines and how to get the oxygen pipe back on the stuntman playing Henry [Cavill]. And then, oh yeah, I have to think about the altitude so I know when to deploy the parachute.”
After spending countless hours in a huge wind tunnel rehearsing everything to a tee, it was then filmed in the UAE for three nights.
“It was so important for me to get it right,” Cruise said, “because I want to put the audience right there in that moment, feeling this sense of danger as Ethan has to improvise when everything goes wrong.”
Co-star Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn) has now worked with Cruise on four “M:I” films, but he says that even watching Cruise climb up the side of the Burj Khalifa or dangle off the side of a military jet as it takes off doesn’t make watching him do the next crazy stunt any less nerve-wracking.
“The main difference between watching Tom do these stunts on set and watching them in the theater is that in the theater, you know he lives at the end,” he quipped.
Watch a behind-the-scenes clip from Paramount about the skydive in the clip above.