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He Accepted the Mission

So what if the Cold War is over? Somebody still has to save the free world. Tom Cruise signs on for 'Mission: Impossible'--and liberty reigns once again.

May 12, 1996|David Kronke | David Kronke is a regular contributor to Calendar

If this movie star thing ever peters out on him, Tom Cruise just might have a promising career as a stuntman. Cruise, who dabbled in race driving for a while and enjoys the odd act of aerial derring-do in his own plane, is the kind of thrill junkie who finds putting life and/or limb on the line for a "cool" (his word) shot "fun" (see previous parenthetical comment).

His latest vehicle, "Mission: Impossible," a high-tech, $64-million updating of the cloak-and-dagger CBS-TV series, gave him plenty of opportunity. In his quest for movie-magic verisimilitude, not to mention an occasional adrenaline buzz, Cruise, depending on the stunt, either offered, insisted or allowed himself to be cajoled to do it himself.

"Before each take, I'd get the 'hurt factor,' " Cruise recalls. "Either, 'This is gonna hurt a lot,' or 'This might hurt you,' you know; 'This one should be OK, but please watch this, because you could break your ankle.'

"People see it and say, 'That looks like it hurts.' Yeah, it hurts. I'm hitting that train, and people say, 'Your face looks so real.' Yeah, because I was flying across the Bond Stage [at Pinewood Studios in England, where many Bond films have been shot], and I hit the train." He claps his hands, popping them together loudly to simulate the abruptness of the impact. "That really hurts! You don't have to act that!"

Cruise mentions a stunt about which even he had some reservations: "There was a scene where we blow up these tanks, huge fish tanks, thousand-gallon tanks. First they're going to blow the tank [seven feet] behind me and then blow the tank overhead. And if I'm there, you know, I'm really gonna get hurt. I thought, 'Aw, I'm not going to worry about it,' but I'm looking at how nervous everyone is. I'm looking at the special effects guy and they're looking at me, they don't want to be the guy, you know, [to tell me how dangerous it is]."

The demands seemed to get ever more complicated, Cruise says, until he turned to director Brian De Palma and said, emphatically, " 'Brian, I'm an actor.' " Cruise laughs at the memory of the exchange. "I said, 'I am an actor. It's gonna take everything in my power to stand there when that first tank blows.' "

His wife, Nicole Kidman, tried to provide a voice of reason: "Nic's going, 'I don't want you to hurt yourself, what are you doing?' She's going, 'Oh, my God, I don't know, why don't you do a little family drama or something?'

"Now there's a huge audience watching, and I don't want to get creamed. They count off, 'One, two'--my adrenaline is going, and on 'Two,' I hear the first explosion and it takes everything in my power to stay standing there, and then on three, I went, and it was a wall of water. So then the water rushes out and I've got to run faster than the water and chunks of glass are everywhere and I have to jump over a guy.

"I don't remember anything, but one of the stunt guys was knocked down by the water and ended up with a chunk of glass in his leg; it was a gash. It was a gash; I thought, 'Oh, jeez.' My ankle got bruised and I was slightly limping and then I saw this guy--I wasn't going to mention my ankle after seeing him. It was, 'I'm fine, I'm fine.' "

"I just stood there, wringing my hands," says Paula Wagner, Cruise's partner at Cruise/Wagner Productions, which produced "Mission: Impossible." "I was a little nervous with him hanging upside down and doing stunts. It makes you nervous, but Tom is so responsible and reliable, his timing is letter-perfect."

Before forming Cruise/Wagner with the actor, Wagner was Cruise's agent. She remembers first meeting him just before he made 1983's "Risky Business," the movie that made him a star.

"I had heard about him, and seen some footage of him in 'Taps.' I saw some photographs and then I met him," she recalls. "When I met him, I said to myself, this man has something, something compelling and honest and energetic. His work was wonderful. There are few things in life you just know, but [his impending stardom] was one of them.

"It was a great opportunity to watch his work grow," she continues. "He made intelligent choices as a young actor, working with people he could grow with--the right directors and actors. He's been very strong in the kind of choices he has made, and the roles he has opted to do."

Wagner says his expertise expands beyond the art of filmmaking and into the craft and business areas. "He just has an amazing movie sense," she says. "He just understands it in all areas. He knows how to carefully nurture a film while it's being made and how a film is handled once it's presented to the studio, not to give away too much in a trailer. His instincts are impeccable."

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