Late 2015, on the set of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back a scene was taking place that would make most studio producers nauseous. Tom Cruise, billion-dollar box office superstar, is determined to jump through a plate glass window, just for a rehearsal, and nobody can talk him out of it. “It is not an ego thing for Tom at all,” says Cruise’s stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood. “He wants to do it all, and he works hard to build the skill-sets he needs for each project.”
Since meeting Cruise on the set of Doug Limon’s Edge Of Tomorrow, Eastwood has been brought into the fold to craft his stunts for the characters of both Jack Reacher and Ethan Hunt. Before that meeting Eastwood already had an impressive career doubling for legit action stars Daniel Craig, Brad Pitt, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But while those guys don’t mind getting dirty, he soon found out that Cruise is of a whole different breed.
For Cruise, who looks nothing like his 54 years of age, the preparation begins with physical conditioning and nutrition. “I spend as much time as possible preparing,” says Cruise. “There is a tremendous amount of training that goes into it, and, because I have made several movies with Wade, I like to help oversee all the training for the rest of the cast.” During preproduction for Never Go Back he introduced his co-stars, like Patrick Heusinger and Cobie Smulders, to a calorie-counting Paleo diet.
That dedication to peak performance — for himself and those around him — allows Cruise to pull off the gnarly stunts that fill theater seats, and keep pushing his boundaries. Currently Cruise and Eastwood are in full preparation for the sixth installment to the Mission Impossible franchise, and plotting their next jaw-dropping feat. Men’s Journal spoke with Eastwood about the benefit of working with an actor willing to ditch trailer comforts and get in the action.
First off, how did you get into stunt work?
I was doing Air Sea Rescue, and I was trying to get into stunts. I was 19. I had just finished doing my National Service in South Africa. I could have gotten out of it because I was a British Subject, but I didn't want to be one of those guys who did that, so I went and served. Then a film shoot come into town, and they approached the helipad we were at to see if anyone would be able to jump out of a helicopter for their movie. There were four of us that did it. The helicopter had never done a movie before either, and it had never flown with anyone standing on the skids. We nearly got blown off the side at 500 feet up. We did the jump, and after they told us they had spotted some crocodiles and that they wanted us to do it again. They even had snipers set up aiming at the crocodiles in case they came for us. Then I got asked to drive through a sugarcane field and flip a pickup truck. Right off I knew I loved everything about this job.
How did you first meet Tom?
The first time I worked with Tom was for Edge Of Tomorrow. It was a very challenging project to get that character just right, especially with the big mechanical suits that they were wearing. From the get go we definitely hit it off. I would say at first we would butt heads, and then we’d agree, and then go back to butting heads, but we always had respect for each other. I think we realized that our energy was in the same direction. We both want to push the bar and create something that no one has seen before. It is not just about showing up for work, and just doing what is there on the page. It was about striving for more, and pushing for more. Creating something that is better. It is about taking the audience on a real journey, and giving them a good time. That is what Tom is all about. He loves making these films, and he wants the audience to love them as well.
How is that different than most of your experiences with actors?
There are a lot of actors who will say this or that. They will say that they can drive a motorcycle or control a supercar. Then you get them in the seat and they barely know how to get it in gear. They’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t know it was a stick shift” or something crazy like that. So you have to prepare for the worst. Then I showed up for work with Tom and his skill levels are through the roof. He is incredibly capable. He can do it all.
Is it hard to shake him off a stunt?
From a safety standpoint you have to be sure that the risk is not too great. When we are doing these stunts with Tom, we are not just talking about a fast pull away. This is a level that requires a lot of talent, more than I would say any other actor has. He is almost to the point where he is dangerously good. The fact is he is an incredible actor, and this skillset is more than others have, which almost makes it dangerous in itself, because he wants to do everything. It is just not logical to assume that he can also be a world champion motorbike rider; there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
How do you differentiate between the characters of Jack Reacher and Ethan Hunt?
That is the challenge. There were a lot of times while we were filming Reacher, Hunt would come out in the fight a little bit. If that occurred we would go back and strip the fight bare. Each fight in a Jack Reacher movie should be specific to that character. The main marking of a Jack Reacher fight is there is honesty and brutality to the hits. It is more of a throwback to the ‘80s, when the movies were raw. Reacher is real... What are we going to do that is going to get the job done the quickest? Ethan lets us have more fun. There is a defined fitness profile there that we can’t really change too much. Every movie we bring him a little more into the modern day, and smooth out his combinations. Tom works hard at it.
How do you get him physically prepared?
Through programs we get him ready for every movie, and he shows up for every hour. Night and day he is going to work as hard as humanly possible. Whether we are talking about drifting in Jack Reacher or hang gliding from some mountain. He does everything to a mark. I do the exact same safety protocol with Tom as I do for my own stunt guys. He hits that mark every single take.
Why does it help to have an actor that is wiling to go to these lengths?
You are never cutting away from Tom. I think that is what helps bring the audience in to a whole new level, because they know they are not being cheated. He is with you the whole way, and it isn’t some computer-generated piece of action.
How is the preparation for the next Mission Impossible?
We are here in the deep end. We have been prepping for awhile now. It is growing weekly and I can promise that it is going to be very big.
How involved are you in his training?
I help design the training from top to bottom. We have an in-house program, but Tom also has his own amazing program he does on top of ours. So he will work out on his own, then he comes to us for our fight training, in which we take him back to the basics every time. Right now because we are in deep working on Mission 6, and he is showing up every day for a couple hours. Then if we are doing specific rehearsals for scenes that are coming up, we put him in that car or on those wire rigs that he might need. I can push Tom a lot further, not only because he wants to do it, but also because he is capable.
How would you describe his motivation?
He is nonstop. He loves what he does. It isn’t a job for him. Everyone around here feeds off of his energy. He will just say, “Best job in the world.”
Is it possible for anyone to pull off what he does?
Tom is very disciplined. His diet is perfect and his workouts are regular. There is a strict regime of training. The other thing is he has fun working out. He will work out until he is broken. He loves the challenge, so I guess you just have to find that place in your head where you allow yourself to enjoy it.