Tom Cruise’s willingness to do crazy things for stunts is well-known at this point. Stories of him trying to film Mission: Impossible alone have made it clear that the man is dedicated to getting the shot that fits the outlandish and visually-demanding scripts from Christopher McQuarrie. And according to a newly-uncovered discussion about the first Mission: Impossible, it seems an ingenious solution was necessary to make one of the most iconic scenes in the series’ history a reality.
As The Hollywood Reporter detailed, Cruise was having a terrible time filming the infamous “close call” scene in the film where he’s suspended from a wire in an all-white secure room. With a computer disc in his teeth and sweat pouring from his face, the high-wire act is a near-silent set piece that’s instantly-recognizable 25 years later.
The moment is as harrowing as it is visually stunning. The rat in the air vents might be scary, sure, but mostly the idea of slamming face-first into a floor seems pretty painful even before FBI security would haul you away if alarms went off. Actually getting the shot, however, involved some spare English coinage and a bit of fun on the part of director Brian De Palma. According to the anniversary edition of the movie’s Blu-Ray, Cruise actually did slam his face on the ground quite a bit before they got it all right.
“We were running out of time, and I kept hitting my face and the take didn’t work,” the actor said, explaining he finally asked crewmembers for British pound coins to put in his shoes as counterweights.
“[Director] Brian [De Palma] said, ‘One more and then I am going to have to cut [into the moment] and do it,’” Cruise said. “I said, ‘I can do it.’ And I went down to the floor, and I didn’t touch. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. I didn’t touch.’ And I was holding it, holding it, holding it, holding it. And I’m sweating and I’m sweating. And he just keeps rolling.”
Cruise said he realized in that moment that they got the shot and De Palma was now just messing with him. Finally, De Palma began to laugh and called cut.
It’s really fascinating to know these details watching the scene again all these years later, as Cruise’s reaction to not hitting the ground seems that much more genuine. The shot De Palma uses certainly lingers on Cruise’s dangling body, his arms and legs desperately reaching away from the floor to make sure the take was useable. Imagining him holding that pose, only to have De Palma mess with him perhaps longer than we’ve seen on screen, is pretty funny. Simply put, though, that scene without that visual of Cruise bouncing just shy of the floor pretty obviously would not hold the same place in the series’ lore today.
And though there’s no sign of the English pounds used to apparently keep Cruise off the ground, they get a notable place in film history as the unsung heroes that made movie magic possible.