As two new installments of the “Mission: Impossible” film series are in the works, it’s hard to imagine the action franchise’s lead, Tom Cruise, was once meant to retire from the whole thing.
Starting in 1996, Cruise has played Ethan Hunt in six “Mission: Impossible” movies, and it can be argued the series has become one of the smartest decision the 59-year-old has made across his successful career. Each film has been a hit, and the series has sustained Cruise through some box office disappointments, personal life controversies, and even that kooky jump on Oprah’s couch.
But in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment, stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz confirms that the script for 2011’s “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” – the fourth film in the series – called for a plot twist that was to signal the end of Cruise’s Impossible ride.
"There was a point in the script… where he was supposed to get his leg broken," Smrz told the outlet. "They wanted it hyper-extended at the knee, just shredded, end of career, you know? The studio was going to write him out, and Tom did not want it. He was strapping in his harness, looked at me and said, 'I ain't going nowhere.' Then he walked out on set and did his thing. We had [the leg break] all set and ready to go, and it disappeared."
If a broken leg scene sounds dangerous, the script included a much more daunting stunt, one that has become widely recognized as one of the most spectacular in film history – Hunt’s heart-racing climb up and down the side of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Smrz remembered the insanity of the whole idea. “I said to Brad [Bird, director], 'Do you have any idea what we're doing?' We're climbing 1,700 feet in the air, 200 feet up a building. This has never been done before, and it'll never be done again, because they're never going to allow it.' It's a work of art, and I don't think it can ever be beat as far as a climbing sequence on a building."
So risky was the idea that Paramount was ready to cancel “Ghost Protocol” before shooting even started. "We had started prepping the building climb immediately on a studio lot,” Smrz recalled, “and were on the payroll for… weeks when we heard that they were going to pull the plug. Tom went to have a meeting with [the studio] and we would know the outcome at the end of it."
Cruise might not have wanted to do the broken leg scene, but he was 100% committed to the building climb.
As Yahoo reported, the crew worked out a deal with the building's owners that gave them full access to several floors that weren't in use. Smrz and his team then knocked out roughly 17 glass panels to make room for the stunt, camera cables, and other rigging.
"I told them, 'We won't scratch your building; we're not going to damage anything.' As they saw that we were not destructive and really cared about their building, they started to work with us.”
The production was initially given one day to use the exterior of the building, and the rest of the sequence would be shot over a few days on a 60-foot adjustable wall that was constructed in the desert outside of Dubai.
Well, leave it to Tom Cruise to change those plans in an instant too.
"The first day [on the Burj] went so well,” Smrz remembered, “that Tom said, 'We're filming the whole thing here on the real building.' We ended up doing one day of shooting over on the set, and the rest of it was on the real building."
The famous scene involved two parts – one climb up to retrieve nuclear launch codes, then the climb back down. The climb up included a terrifying free-fall down, roughly forty feet from a height of 1,700 feet off the ground.
While admitting that that plunge was the most nail-biting sequence of the whole shoot, Smrz said they accomplished it in one take.
"Somebody said, 'What if the cable breaks?'” said Smrz. “And I said, 'That's not an option.' We actually did the math, and there was enough time of free-fall for him to text me on the way down, and for me to receive it!"
Of course this is Tom Cruise, and if the producers really thought he’d die from the stunt, they wouldn’t have greenlighted it. And Smrz’ conviction of Cruise’s ability with stunts certainly helped the process along.
"If he wasn't an actor,” said Smrz, “Tom could have been a stuntman. And I wouldn’t put anybody in anything if I didn't think it was safe for a stunt guy. I've got to be 99.9 percent sure it's going to be successful before we do it, whether it's a stunt person or an actor. So putting Tom into the harness was no different than a stunt guy."
Be it Cruise’s desire to keep playing the part, or the fact “Ghost Protocol” was the biggest “Mission: Impossible” entry yet – $210 million domestic box-office and great reviews – Cruise was back at it for the fifth installment, “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” in 2015. And, after 2018’s “Mission Impossible - Fallout,” plans are already set for the next two to arrive in 2022 and 2023.
And you can bet there’ll be more harrowing situations Ethan Hunt will get stuck in. Smrz said Cruise knows how impressive that building climb was, and always wants to top it. But what’s that line about Father Time?
“Tom's going to try to step it up to the next level in every movie,” said Smrz, “but he's also getting older: I used to tell him, 'Tom, you're going to end up walking like I do if you keep this up!'"
"Mission: Impossible 7" is currently scheduled to be released on September 30, 2022.
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