Mission Impossible – Fallout stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood may not be a household name, but it’s guaranteed you’ve seen his work. For over twenty-five years, the legendary stuntman and 2nd unit director has been pivotal to the success of numerous blockbusters. Eastwood has been the stunt double for both Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan on the Bond films. He doubled Brendan Fraser in The Mummy trilogy. He also doubled Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 3. That’s just a minor sample of his work. He’s done a wide variety of films, including comedies like Bridesmaids and The Hangover. Eastwood is an action master, widely considered one of the best stunt coordinators in the film industry.
Born in South Africa, Wade Eastwood became a stuntman after his military service. He came to Hollywood after making a name for himself doing stunts in South African films and commercials. Eastwood first worked with Tom Cruise on the sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow. They became very close friends. Eastwood has been Cruise’s stunt coordinator since. Along with Director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise, he was instrumental in planning, staging, and filming the action scenes in both Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
I was blown away by the action in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. The sixth installment of the franchise is quite simply an action masterpiece. It’s the best action film since George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Paramount Pictures granted us an exclusive interview with Wade Eastwood. It’s always the exceptional people that are most humble. Wade Eastwood had nothing but praise for Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, who he affectionately calls McQ, Henry Cavill, his team, and champion Wushu fighter Liang Yang. He speaks directly on Tom Cruise breaking his ankle during the shoot, and drumroll please, why the filming hiatus made Mission: Impossible – Fallout even better. We discuss and breakdown the epic scenes. From the incredible High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachuting, to the ass-kicking bathroom fight, and the greatest helicopter chase ever filmed. Wade Eastwood gives us a behind the scenes peek on action greatness.
Congrats on such a spectacular film.
Wade Eastwood: Thank you, thank you. It makes those long hours, the blood, sweat, and tears worth it.
You have an impressive resume as a stuntman, stunt coordinator, and 2nd unit director. You’ve worked extensively with Tom Cruise for the last several years. What makes that relationship so special?
Wade Eastwood: That’s a good question. Many years ago, a stunt man I knew asked if I’d ever worked with Tom Cruise. He’d just finished a job with him. He said you two are identical. You’d get along so well. You’re both detail oriented, love racing cars and flying planes. He said, Tom would absolutely love me, and that I would love him. It was a passing comment, but I didn’t know Tom then at all. I did a bunch of other movies, then it just came up. We ended up working together. We just hit it off. It was exactly as that guy had said. We had a very similar perspective on films, on filmmaking, on action, on characters. We like story driving action, not just for the sake of big visual spectacles. It has to be motivated by emotion and story, the narrative. Everything Tom and I spoke about, we really connected, and the rest is history. We did the movie together, and before it was finished, he said you’re working on the next one. (laughs)
Before we dig deep, please describe for our readers what a stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director does on a major motion picture.
Wade Eastwood: I create action. I get involved very early on, before we even prep for the movie. I try to get the script right with the director, producer, and actor, in this case, Tom. We look at the story and see where it warrants action. Are we doing it because the story warrants it, or because it’s the five minute mark of the movie? We want it to have an organic flow, go with the character. We don’t just put action in for the sake of it. We want action, it’s fun, it’s Mission Impossible, it’s for the sake of the audience, but we create action that’s character driven. When we start to prep, before we begin shooting, I have to make sure the action is safe. It’s been rehearsed, the actors have enough time to train, be proficient, be in step with the crew around them, whether it’s driving, wire work, whatever.
Wade Eastwood: Now as a 2nd unit director, I shoot the action, whether it’s with McQ [Director Christopher McQuarrie] in the main unit, setting the cameras; because I understand action. That’s what I do. Or it’s with my own unit, my own crew. Tom will finish a sequence, do the dialogue, he’ll run into my set, then slide away, then we shoot the action. The two units run parallel. It works in multiple ways. Tom would be with McQ on his unit, then be a player on mine as well.
You worked as stunt coordinator on Rogue Nation. That was impressive, but the action scenes in Fallout are next-level, the best since Fury Road. Let’s go through them. But we have to start with the rooftop chase, where Tom broke his ankle. Describe that incident and the aftermath. Was it a holy sh*t moment? Production was delayed for two months.
Wade Eastwood: Yes, it was exactly one of those. It was such a small stunt. It was nothing. Tom had done it a couple of times. It wasn’t dangerous at all. With anything, it’s always the little ones that get you. Rolling over a table corner in a bar, even though the corner has been rubberized, and you’ve taken every precaution, that little bit catches you, that corner digs into a rib, and it’s bruised or cracked. It’s always the little stunts. The big ones are overplanned. It’s just one of those things, you break an ankle, sprain something, twist something. I don’t want to see anyone hurt, especially Tom, who I’m very close to. Touch wood. In twenty-seven years, I’ve had a very safe record and no injuries, really, at all. It’s remarkable…well, not to me, I assess the risks, I make it safe as possible. But accidents can happen, we are doing stunts. It’s not fake. Everything we do is real, whether it’s Tom doing it or the stunt double.
Wade Eastwood: It was sad, but in all fairness, we needed that hiatus. Our schedule was bottlenecking badly. The action in the story was so much, we did need that time to catch up, especially with the amount of changes we were given. When you watch the movie, you see how busy it is. Well, it wasn’t that busy when we started. It was actually a blessing for the crew. A lot of the crew just wanted a break. We had to keep working, keep prepping, we needed that time off. I took a week, took my family to the south of Europe. We needed a break. It’s such an intense movie. It gave everyone a recharge. The producers didn’t have to ask us for a break. We were all very happy. It gave us more time to prep and make the movie better. We’re never going to rush. Tom doesn’t cheat shots. We had the time to do the HALO properly, the helicopter sequence properly, the third act properly. It was painful for Tom, but it really helped the movie.
The HALO scene, describe the shooting process. Between the actual jump and the visual effects, it looks incredibly dangerous and complex.
Wade Eastwood: There was a long training process. That was the last thing we actually did, after months of driving, helicopter flying, fighting. Tom was really exhausted. The HALO really, mentally and physically, takes it out of you. You’re jumping at 25,000 feet, at night, out of a jet aircraft, free falling, but still having to be within focal length of the camera. Then you have to track towards the camera, spinning your body to look out of control, then coming back towards camera. You have to do all that, then open your parachute before hitting the ground. Then you have to be in character, hyperventilating as Ethan Hunt, having to rescue Walker (Henry Cavill), he’s out of oxygen. I really want the audience, and your readers, to appreciate what it takes.
Wade Eastwood: For a regular, proficient, military trained HALO jumper, that’s a process, but to do it, in character as Ethan Hunt! Imagine doing that jump, hitting a body, tracking the camera, shouting at that person as hard as you can, attaching the oxygen tube, flip them over, and then pull the parachute. That’s quite a lot to do. But then remember that you’re not yourself. You have to do it as Ethan Hunt. You have to do all that stuff I described, then be an actor. You have to hyperventilate, you have to show panic, you have to find the camera, find the light, the sunset, the refraction of light through your glass visor. That’s pretty much what Tom does. He’s so special. He doesn’t just do it as a professional athlete or skydiver. He does it as Ethan Hunt on top of that. He delivers a performance. I just cannot explain how difficult that side of it is.
Let’s discuss the mind-blowing Helicopter climax. Two parts, what was the methodology to film the scene, and what difficulties did you face? The scene is so spectacular.
Wade Eastwood: It was very complex. Tom is a pilot. I’m a helicopter pilot, he’s fixed wing. I flew helicopters many years ago in New Zealand. Tom did some flying there in The Last Samurai. We talked about shooting a helicopter scene there for many years. McQ came about with a great idea for a sequence. I went to New Zealand early on. I took some friends I knew. We flew the helicopters through canyons. I had one fly in front me. It gave McQ the visual cues needed for the location. This canyon could be incredible for this. This mountain range could be incredible for that. I came back and showed McQ the visuals. He was incredibly excited. He was writing the character sequence, and it fit right in. We’ve seen all these helicopter sequences, Magnum P.I., television shows, none of them were subjective with the character going through it. Two helicopters buzzing. It was kind of boring. We can’t be bored.
Wade Eastwood: We had to stay subjective. We all agreed on that, Tom, McQ, and I. We started looking at rigs. In cars, we have these mounts that we use for car chases, car commercials. We asked to get these mounts put inside helicopters. We designed them, worked with the FAA, these aeronautical institutions that you have to work with. We found you could get away with a lot of stuff. Airbus worked so well with us, giving us helicopter engineers and stuff. We started testing. Now we’re with Tom, as Ethan, doing subjective action. It’s not these wide shots of helicopters buzzing each other. This is a different era. Audiences are much more critical. They want more, they want to be in the action. Suddenly, the helicopter sequence started coming alive. It developed, and developed, and developed. Tom hooked up with one of my old buddies. He showed him mountain flying. Then we attacked. I can honestly say, with hand on heart, there isn’t a single shot in that sequence, all the stuff you see flying, that’s not Tom Cruise. There’s no CG painted out pilots. That’s 100% Tom Cruise in that sequence.
Is there a point when you can say no? This is too dangerous for an actor, even Tom Cruise?
Wade Eastwood: (laughs) There’s always that worry, but this is a Mission Impossible movie. The thing that’s different is that Tom is very capable. If he was incapable, then I would be worried, the studio wouldn’t do it. There is only one Tom Cruise. Obviously we can’t have anyone get hurt, then we can’t shoot. There’s insurance issues and all kinds of other stuff involved, which costs a lot of money. I want your audience to understand. Tom does not do this because he is ego driven. Some people wonder why he does this, he doesn’t need to. Of course he doesn’t need to, he loves doing it. That’s the difference. Tom loves racing cars, flying planes, and helicopters. He’s a kid in a candy store when he gets in that helicopter. He’s so happy. Whenever I go, Tom that was amazing. He never says I anything. He always asks if the audience will love it. He loves entertaining.
Wade Eastwood: I always compare it to this. If I became a big actor doing action movies, and they say here is the stunt double or stunt pilot, I’m a stuntman and pilot. Why, I can do it. I love racing cars, bikes, and helicopters. Why would I let someone else do it? I’m good at it. Tom is genuinely very good at this stuff. He’s very capable. So why not, as long as he’s safe. He’s had the training, all of the safety protocols are met. We’re not shortcutting anything. We’re professionals preparing for action sequences. Why not let him do it? By letting him do it, the audiences aren’t cheated. They are very smart. They know, they can see frame by frame, there’s a CG morph. That’s the stunt double, that’s where they cut. You can analyze this movie all you want. When we go with Ethan Hunt, running, jumping, flying, fighting, that’s Ethan Hunt for real. That’s why the audience is so engaged, so engrossed in the movie. That’s what we want. That’s the payoff.
The bathroom fight scene was amazingly choreographed. The villain Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill fight pretty much kicks their asses. Who was that stuntman? Please explain your process for that fight scene.
Wade Eastwood: That was an amazing fight. Liang is an incredible stunt performer. Liang Yang is a good friend of mine. He’s been on my stunt team for many years. He’s absolutely one of the most humble guys you’ll ever meet in your life. He was a Chinese Wushu champion. He’s doubled all sorts of people for me in the past, so talented. I can’t say enough about him. I was actually with him today at work. I auditioned a bunch of people McQ sent my way for the role. Henry [Cavill] was so incredible. I have to give a shout out to Henry. The guy is a gentleman, an amazing actor, just incredible to work with. He trained so hard, every day with us on the fights. He was so good. He knew everyone else’s fights, not just his own. He became an integral part of the stunt family. Such a lovely guy, he’s become a great friend. Tom just loved working with him.
Wade Eastwood: Now the bathroom fight was one of my favorites. I approach sequences like that, if you want to know my methodology, I create the space in my workshop. I walk it, now there’s all sorts of things written, but I clear everyone out. I come in early, and I walk it. I stand on my own, with the skills I have, my fights skills, the skills I have learned in my life. What would I do in that situation? I know I’m going for the face. I know what I’ve got to do, how would I do it as Wade? I think because I look at things this way, this is why the action works with Mission Impossible. Ethan doesn’t want to fight. He doesn’t want to do these things. But he has to complete the mission, he has to deal with it. So he would grab this, smash that, use that as a weapon. I walk through as myself, as a human, not a star, not a stuntman. That’s how I start every fight. Then I incorporate the characters, then the Hollywoodized element. I think that’s why it works so well. I don’t over complicate things. I like it brutal. I wanted to make Tom’s fighting next level, Ethan 2.0. Henry is such a powerhouse of a guy. He’s a rugby player, but a gentleman. I wanted a gentleman fighter, but brutal. His character is the hammer. I work on actors strengths, never their weaknesses.
Wade Eastwood: We auditioned all of these guys, but they were just weakening the fight. I presented Liang to Chris [McQuarrie]. Tom had already worked with him and me on Edge of Tomorrow. Tom was straight away sold. He loved Liang from before. So I presented him to Chris, but he was wondering if a stunt double could actually act. I’m telling Chris, let me shoot this action scene with Liang. So I shot the fight in workshop. Then I presented it to Chris and Tom. I just remember Chris looking at me. He’s looking at me over the top of his glasses, and just says, book him! (laughs) The fight was amazing. Liang is so good. Just like a great actor can help another actor, a great fighter can help another fighter. I love that fight. I remember every bit of it, the training. I’m so happy its been received so well.
You normally don’t see the A-list stars getting beaten like that.
Wade Eastwood: Exactly, especially with those no look kicks. Tom comes up to him, he doesn’t even look at him. Just get out of here. (laughs) More praise to Tom. When we did the fight, he said Liang would kick my ass. Let’s have him kick both of our asses. Tom doesn’t care. This fight is so much fun, Liang is so good, let him kick our asses.
It adds realism, it shows these guys aren’t supermen.
Wade Eastwood: Well, pardon the pun but Henry actually is Superman! (laughs)
Let’s get into your future. You’ve been a stunt coordinator for many years on huge films. But now you have stuntmen, I bring up David Leitch as an example, directing films like John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Deadpool 2. Is that where you see your career going?
Wade Eastwood: I love David. I’m actually seeing him next week. He’s an amazing guy. He’s an old friend. He actually used to work for me as a stuntman. He’s such a passionate filmmaker. After watching Deadpool 2, he’s so talented. I’m so happy for him. Yes, there is a transition to directing. Tom has jested a few times. But, I don’t want to make the mistake of just taking anything. It’s not because I want to go on a specific career path. I’ve got a great job. I’m happy as a 2nd unit director. It would have to be something that really interests me. It would have to be something good. It has to be gritty, get under my skin. I don’t want it to be commercial and just there. I have been offered things, but I won’t do it unless it’s the right project. You only get one shot at it. I don’t care about the the title of main unit director. I like having the creative input on a whole project. It has to be the right project, with a real heart and story to it. It has to engage me emotionally, not just action. I know how to shoot action. I want a character’s journey. Otherwise I’m happy to stay where I am.
You’re currently working on the new Men In Black film. What can you tell us about that?
Wade Eastwood: It’s so much fun. I’ve never worked with Chris Hemsworth before. He’s a riot, laugh out loud funny. Great guy, and Tessa Thompson has been amazing too. It’s been a really good vibe. I’ve also never worked with her before. We’re having a good laugh on it. I think it’s going to be a lot fun. There’s a lot of laugh out loud moments in the film. It’s the same team I’ve been working with for years. We’ve been traveling around and having a whole lot of fun.
You’ve raised your own bar so high in Fallout. What can you guys do to top yourselves in the sequel?
Wade Eastwood: Oh yeah, we’ve got loads of ideas. But we can never say them. (laughs) It will be loads more challenging, but there’s always bigger, better, more amazing. If I don’t have that challenge. I might as well quit my job.