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Man On a Mission: 'Mission Impossible' Stunt Coordinator Wade Eastwood

In a cinematic landscape bloated with CGI fakery, the Mission: Impossible team wanted to keep it real.

Wade Eastwood, stunt coordinator for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is credited with stunt work on 70 Hollywood films. He recently spoke with M&F about training actors to do the impossible.

M&F: You’ve been a stunt coordinator on so many different films, the first thing that jumps out is the question:  How much more intensive is stunt coordination for a movie that famously eschews CGI like Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation versus something goes pretty heavy on CGI, like Godzilla?

Wade Eastwood: Hugely different. We could have done the plane sequence in Mission: Impossible, for example, with CGI very easily. Put a body on the side with a wind machine on the ground, and then put a green screen in the background and make it look like the plane is taking off. Then when it’s out in the sky you put a little body on it—very easy to do. But would it have sold the film? Would it have been believable that it was actually Ethan Hunt? The big thing with Tom, and everyone behind the Mission franchise, is it’s about each of the characters and about the story, and if you have a shot of Ethan taking off in that moment you go to CG, the audience knows when it goes CG and it takes them out of it. The lighting is different, the performance of the character is different, everything is. The G force does not come across in the performance. So it’s not an ego thing, like, “I’m gonna do it because I can,” it’s like “Will I get the same performance and will the audience get the same gratification if we do this CG?” And we’ll ask that in the meeting, and we’ll all look at each other; he wants the truth and if we say no, then we’re doing it for real. That’s how it goes with him because he’s so passionate about film.

M&F: In the 80s and 90s, you probably had more directors who were used to handling real action on set. Do you think fewer directors understand its value today?

WE: Yeah, I mean, the audiences definitely understand it. Look, if you want to escape with a big movie, like a Spiderman-type movie, you need CG. It’s like a video game—you want that escape. Those are great movies and in that genre it fits.

But there’s a million movies that don’t fit with CG. And real action movies don’t fit. People are still using way too much visual effects, and all it does is take you completely out of the story and out of the character. The audiences today know what they’re doing; kids are buying computers and making their own movies and YouTubing it and GoPro’ing stuff, and they’re very aware of film editing. They’re not fools. You can go back and look at the early Bond movies, look at The Fall Guy, look at Dukes of Hazard. I mean, look at those fights. They’re terrible. The guy gets punched and they turn their head the wrong way, you can see all kinds of mistakes, but they were very fun back then. Tom is very much an 80s child. He wants fun. He’s moved with the times but he still wants the fun. He wants the audience to just have a great experience.

I think it’s more challenging—we do so much prep and rehearsal and R&D. I’m very big on my prep time and training, and prep time reduces the risk. If the schedule can’t be adhered to, we ain’t shooting it. Simple as that. And if it is adhered to, we will be ready when the time comes for shooting it, to safely execute all of those stunts practically. And obviously, Tom has to have the ability. He’s an uber athlete. He’s more than able, so we just have to grab that and train it.

With Rebecca Ferguson [who plays Ilsa Faust] she’s never been in a film like this. So we had to take her and work on her strengths and some of her fears because she was afraid of heights, but she had to jump 120 feet into water.

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M&F: Wow.

WE: She wouldn’t jump from a 50-foot stage when we first met her. So we had to build a trust. She had to learn to trust us and trust the equipment we were giving her, and we did it slow and we built trust and she was an absolute joy to work with. She completely gave us everything—I mean, 120 foot up, she was shaking, she was scared but she took the step off that platform into pure free fall.

M&F: Is most of the training built around the actual activity that you need the person to do or do you use a conventional gym to build up any kind of strength?

WE: Yeah, we use some forms of conventional training. We train power. Tom did use some weights for his character look and physique, so we do more core stuff and a more power circuit training. A lot of fight training is in itself a huge workout. The actors would go to the gym for two hours then they come to me for two hours of fight training—that’s four hours out of the day. Then they go do dialogue and play characters and scenes. It’s every day, seven days a week. It’s pretty intense. And then driver training is something separate if they need to be in a car.

M&F: You’ve worked on Edge of Tomorrow and are scheduled to work on a few more films with Cruise—like the sequel to Jack Reacher.

WE: Tom is not one of these actors that has a massive entourage with bodyguards and all that—he’s not that guy. He’s a real, simple, hardworking guy who just really loves his job. He’s 50-years-old and he still runs around like a 19-year-old. And the human body, you know, through natural progression, just can’t physically do that without upkeep and he takes care of his body. He knows that he’s going to put his body through a lot of stuff. So, Tom’s entourage, if you like, rather than having security guards and all these fake friends around him, Tom’s entourage is made up of a physical trainer and a physical therapist. So he can push his body hard and fix it, and push it harder, and fix it—and that’s all he does. And when he’s not doing that, he’s bugging me about somewhere to go—let’s go skydiving, let’s go and get another license, let’s start racing cars, let’s go do this, and he’s doing it because he loves doing it. He’s never been in a position where he can’t keep up. He comes to the film physically prepared so he can give 100%--and that’s the defining thing with Tom.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, December 15. Enter here for a chance to win one of 10 Blu-ray/DVD combo packs in our giveaway. 

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