EXCLUSIVE: How To Pull Off a Tom Cruise 'Impossible' Plane Stunt

Orlando Parfitt
Yahoo Entertainment

Tom Cruise told Yahoo Movies that a sequence in the upcoming ''Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation '' is "undoubtedly the most dangerous stunt I've ever done."

The scene in question, which can be seen at the end of the brand new trailer above, sees his character Ethan Hunt strapped to the side of an Airbus A400M plane as it takes off… and Cruise was doing it for real.

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We spoke to the 52-year-old star, along with director Christopher McQuarrie, in depth about the mind-blowing stunt.


Tom Cruise during the plane stunt in M:I5. Photo: Paramount Pictures

How did the stunt come about?

Tom Cruise: I knew I wanted to have an airplane sequence. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. As a kid I remember flying on an airplane and thinking, “What would it be like out on the wing, or on the side of the airplane?”

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Christopher McQuarrie: We knew we needed a stunt. The bar had been raised to such a point [with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol] that the expectations [were] so high. We kept looking for a location. Unfortunately, when you've climbed the tallest building in the world, you can’t have an action sequence on the second-tallest building in the world. So any skyscraper was out.

So we came up with two incredibly physically punishing things for Tom to do, and we ended up using both in the film. The first is the Airbus A400M scene, the second has only been fleetingly alluded to in the trailer.

While searching for different locations, the production designer James Bissell bought me a model of this Airbus airplane and presented it as something we could use in the movie. I suggested to Tom, "What if you were on the outside of this thing when it took off?” I meant it as sort of a half-joke, but he said back to me: "Yeah, I could do that!"

Tom Cruise during the plane stunt in M:I5. Photo: Paramount Pictures

How'd they pull it off?

Cruise: The things we had to figure out were the engineering of putting a camera outside the airplane, [and] figuring out where I could go outside the airplane [to get] the images that we had in mind for it. Then it was physically getting the shot, because we wanted to climb at a steep angle so you could see the ground rush away from below me. And that’s a very big airplane.

So we met with the test pilot and the guys who created the A400m Airbus and we just talked the numbers on how it could be done. Then we had to design the rig [for the camera] – because anytime you're using that kind of power from the engines with that speed you want to make sure the camera doesn’t break off and hit me!

What were the dangers?

Cruise: The things we were all very concerned about were particles on the runway and bird strikes. We spent days clearing out the nearby grass of any birds, and they brushed the runway as best they could. My stunt coordinator would poke me if he got reports of bird strikes. The pilot had to be on the lookout for anything in the air that could impact me in any way.

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I also was testing how to keep my eyes open so you have a shot – I can't have my eyes closed the entire time. The thing that no one else was thinking about, but I was, was the fuel. You have jet fuel coming right out of the back at me because I'm on the wing above the engine. Even when we were taxiing, I was also inhaling the fumes and they were going in my eyes.

So we came up with this idea of a lens that covered my entire eyeball, so when I opened my eyes, my pupils and retina had protection from any particles and hard air from the runway. I remember one time we were going down the runway and there was just a little particle that just hit me — it was smaller than a finger nail. I was thankful it didn't hit my hands or face. If it did I'd have a problem, because those parts were exposed, but it still could have broken my ribs.

Also, there [were concerns about] the temperature because we're in England, [and] it gets colder every thousand feet. It was so cold, especially because I wanted to wear a suit on the side of the plane.

McQuarrie: As dangerous as the Burj Khalifa [climb] was [in Ghost Protocol] - and it was incredibly dangerous - the Burj Khalifa was static. And here you're moving at such high speeds. If a bird hit him at that sort of a speed, that would have been it. That was the one variable that we were constantly aware of.

But the flying wasn't nearly as bad as the taxiing on the runway, because of the exhaust fumes he was inhaling. You cannot understand how physically punishing that stunt was. I read about a guy in the 1970s who did something similar - [his] name was something like “the human fly" - and it started raining, and the rain was actually cutting his skin and they had to touch back down. Certainly nobody's ever done it in a business suit!

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. Photo: Paramount Pictures

How did they complete the scene?

Cruise: Once I was on the side of the airplane, that was it. We had a loading station where everyone got in and checked the cameras. Then they wire we me up for sound. Then I'm on. There’s no way to get me off the airplane halfway through - I'm on the side of the plane from the moment the engine starts to the moment the engine shuts down. The climb, the taxi, down the runway, getting the shot, leveling off, turning around and landing. And I did it eight times to get the shot.

McQuarrie: I've never been more stressed my entire life than I was watching that plane take off and land. True to form, the big note that Tom gave me before we took off was “Just remember: If I look like I'm panicking, I'm acting! Do not cut unless I do this" - and he touched the top of his head. Sometimes it was difficult to distinguish one from the other. But the truth of the matter is he had a great time doing it.

Cruise: I fly warbirds (vintage military aircrafts), I fly aerobatic airplanes, but this was pretty damn exciting and exhilarating. The adrenaline was flowing! When that thing was going down the runway it was everything to keep my feet down, then it went up and my body was slamming on the side. I was like "Whoa, this is intense."

It's the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done, to be honest. The Burj Khalifa scene was incredibly dangerous, so was [the climbing scene in Mission: Impossible 2]. Motorcycle scenes are dangerous because I can't wear pads and I don't wear a helmet. I'm going at high speeds and anything can happen. But I’m in control on a motorcycle - I can put the breaks on.

But outside the airplane, there's so many factors. Just too many things can happen. You don't want to do it. Once we had it, [I said], "We're not doing it anymore!"

Orlando Parfitt writes for Yahoo Movies UK&IE.