When You’re Not Tom Cruise, Filming Mission Impossible Action Scenes Is “Terrifying”

Anytime a new Mission: Impossible movie lands in theaters, viewers watch in awe as star Tom Cruise repeatedly does what we all assumed was the sort of thing no human should try, taking on the most over-the-top and action-packed stunts we can imagine. Whether it’s jumping motorcycles off of mountains or thrilling car chases through the tiny streets of Rome, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 seemingly has some of Cruise’s best stunt work to date. And while he–on the surface–seems fearless in the face of these feats, the rest of the cast doesn’t necessarily agree.

Warning: The following contains very light spoilers about two action sequences in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1.

“It is very terrifying,” Read Reckoning star Greg Tarzan Davis tells GameSpot. “I won’t lie, it’s very terrifying.” Davis was merely a passenger in one of the cars involved in the car chase through Rome, but even without the responsibilities of driving the car, he made it clear how intense the experience was.

“What makes it even harder is there are these cameras attached [to the car],” he continued, detailing his experience. “It was kind of blocking [co-star] Shea [Whigham’s] vision… I don’t know if I was more scared for my life or more scared for Shea knocking one of the cameras but he did a great job.”

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Hayley Atwell, making her Mission: Impossible debut as Grace, was also in the car chase. The big difference? She was handcuffed to Cruise the entire time. Preparing for that means months and months of training.

“I trained for five months, as well as doing unarmed combat and stunt choreography and working with knives and guns. I learned how to drift,” she said, adding that she worked closely with stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood on her driving and drifting abilities. “He would also position himself as the camera, so I would have to do a 180 and skid and stop just into a close up,” Atwell added.

Much like Whigham, Atwell often had her vision obstructed while she was driving and Cruise was, well, seemingly doing several different tasks at once, in addition to holding on while the car sped around Rome.

“It got to a point where in Rome, I drift in front of the wedding cake monument while Tom Cruise is handcuffed to me in the passenger seat, a place he never wants to be literally or metaphorically,” she said jokingly. “And I’d have to drift [and] do donuts while the cameras were rigged to the windscreen, so I couldn’t quite see where I was going. And then at the same time, Tom would be playing with lines and really searching for sort of gestures or ad-libbing certain things. And I would have to work out whether it was Tom telling Haley to actually slow down or take a left, or it was Ethan telling Grace, in which case Grace is going to probably do the opposite. Or if it was Tom suggesting what I should say, as Grace. So there was a lot going on and it is insane.

It’s so messy, and to have Tom Cruise–being handcuffed to him, with his life in your hands, it’s not for the faint-hearted.”

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Of course, the car chase is just one of the incredible stunts in the film. Another showstopper sees Cruise launching his motorcycle off a mountain, allowing him to base jump onto a speeding Orient Express train, or at least a well-made recreation of the iconic train that’s used in the movie.

Throughout the course of the scene we not only watch Cruise do battle with the film’s villain (Esai Morales), but also come face-to-face with Whigham and Davis as they try to capture him. While neither man did the motorcycle jump Cruise carried out multiple times, standing atop a speeding train isn’t exactly the easiest environment to work in.

“I lost the shoe during the filming of that scene,” Davis admitted. “And when you see the shoe goes off of the cliff and into the river, you like, ‘That could have been me. How many more takes we have of this?'”

Still, the cast all stepped up to the place. Why? Nobody puts it more succinctly than Whigham.

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“Because it’s Tom [and] because it’s [director Christopher] McQuarrie, you just do it,” he said. “You do it without thinking about it.”

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 is in theaters now.

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