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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Mission accepted: how Tom Cruise hangs on as an action man at 56

The Hollywood megastar upped the ante for his latest film by making a 7,000-metre free-fall in the skies over Abu Dhabi

The Mission: Impossible franchise is developing something of an ongoing love affair with the UAE. The team was first spotted here in 2010, when sections of Ghost Protocol were shot in Dubai, including the unforgettable stunt sequence that saw Tom Cruise himself scale the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

The crew were back earlier this year, this time choosing Abu Dhabi as the location to shoot a dramatic stunt for Mission: Impossible – Fallout that the film’s director, Christopher McQuarrie, has referred to simply – and ominously – as “the stunt”. Cruise has described the Halo (High Altitude Low Opening) jump as “one of [my] most dangerous stunts yet”.

Given that Cruise is famous for performing all of his own stunts – from the Burj Khalifa conquest to hanging, unharnessed, from the side of an Airbus A400M in flight in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, that claim clearly shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“The stunt” required Cruise to leap from a military aircraft at a dizzying height of 7,600 metres, then free-fall to 600 metres before he opened his parachute. The military manoeuvre is normally used as a last-ditch option to sneak troops behind enemy lines, jumping from a plane that is too high to attract attention or fire from the ground, then opening the parachute at a sufficiently low altitude to hopefully avoid being spotted. It took more than 100 jumps to film the final take.

What's the secret?

Cruise is 56 years old. The fact that he performed the Burj Khalifa climb in his late 40s would seem astonishing to many, yet here he is, almost a decade later, upping the stakes even further. So what is the secret of Cruise’s apparent eternal youth and his seemingly never-diminishing appeal?

Click to watch a behind-the-scenes clip from the Burj Khalifa:

Cruise clearly keeps fit, although in a 2013 interview with Men’s Health, he said he doesn’t have any particularly special routine that keeps him able to leap from planes and scale dizzyingly high towers. Cruise merely puts his fitness down to: “Sea-kayaking, caving … fencing, treadmill, weights... rock-climbing, hiking … I jog … I do so many different activities.”

The actor is an old-school action hero in the vein of Steve McQueen or Burt Reynolds, living in an era in which even actors who would like to perform their own stunts are usually prevented from doing so by nervous insurance companies. But still, it takes more than leaping from a tall building to attain such an unassailable position in the hearts of audiences worldwide. If it didn’t, the stuntmen who regularly stand in for actors on set would be just as famous and popular as their doubles.

Enduring popularity

Indeed, the first film that really brought Cruise to public attention wasn’t even an action film, but 1983 romantic comedy Risky Business – the sunglasses that Cruise’s character wore in that film became so popular that he is said to have single-handedly increased Ray-Ban sales by 2,000 per cent.

Since then, Cruise has gone on to be the first actor to star in five consecutive movies that took more than US$100 million (Dh367.3m) at the American box office (A Few Good Men, The Firm, Interview with the Vampire, Mission: Impossible and Jerry Maguire), and has an estimated net worth of more than half a billion dollars.

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Read more:

New 'Mission Impossible: Fallout' footage released online

Latest Mission Impossible clip shows Abu Dhabi as you've never seen it before

Mission Impossible director shares snaps of Abu Dhabi stunt

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There have been exceptions – last year’s The Mummy was probably the flop of the summer, losing Universal about $100m, but for him, hits are far more common than flops. Cruise has even managed to maintain his popularity in spite of his commitment to the controversial Scientology sect, and despite going through highly publicised break-ups with some of Hollywood’s best-loved actresses: Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Katie Holmes and Mimi Rogers.

His enduring popularity can be accredited to various factors: firstly, he can clearly act. From big-budget action roles in Mission: Impossible and Jack Reacher to rom-coms such as Risky Business and Cocktail, high-end drama (Rainman, A Few Good Men), straight-up comedy (Jerry Maguire), sci-fi (Minority Report) or art-house psycho-drama Eyes Wide Shut, Cruise always seems to pull off his roles with aplomb.

A real-life hero

Secondly, by all accounts the actor seems to be a straightforward, decent human being. He regularly spends time talking with fans and signing autographs, and he supports numerous charities, including Unicef. He’s even something of a hero in real life. In 1995, after witnessing a woman getting struck by a car in his native Los Angeles, Cruise accompanied her to the hospital.

When he learnt that she didn’t have insurance, he paid her emergency room bill of $7,000. The following year, while holidaying on a luxurious yacht off Mediterranean island Capri, Cruise helped to rescue the French crew of a stricken yacht nearby, and a year after that, he saved a woman being mugged in London, joining forces with his bodyguards to chase away the attackers.

Cruise’s popularity extends beyond Europe and the US, too. In 2006, he was given his own national day by Japan for his “love, devotion and time for the country”. Each October 10, Tom Cruise Day is celebrated in the Far Eastern nation, where his 2003 film The Last Samurai grossed $117m more than in the US.

Early reviewers have already been falling over themselves to praise Mission: Impossible – Fallout, with some even calling it the best film of the year so far, amid some very solid competition. It doesn’t look like Cruise’s popularity will be diminishing just yet, and we look forward to feasting on his latest work when it hits cinemas across the UAE this weekend.

Five more stars who remain daring at a ripe old age

Cruise is famous for doing his own stunts, all the more so for doing so well into his fifties. The actor is not alone, however, although the scale of Cruise’s stunts is often somewhat unique. Here are some other older actors who still do their own stunt work.

Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2. Glen Wilson / Sony Pictures
Denzel Washington in 'The Equalizer 2.' Glen Wilson / Sony Pictures

Denzel Washington, 63

The star of Training Day and Fences is back in cinemas this week with The Equalizer 2, and Denzel Washington acted in all of his own fight scenes. If the first Equalizer film is any indication, these scenes will be very frequent. Washington also shot a gruelling waterboarding scene for the 2012 film Safe House, and he rode on top of a speeding train in the 2010 movie Unstoppable.

Jason Statham in 'Expendables 3'. Courtesy Lionsgate
Jason Statham in 'Expendables 3.' Courtesy Lionsgate

Jason Statham, 50

British hardman Jason Statham is another Hollywood star who likes to perform his own stunts. Most famously, in 2016, he came close to death on the set of The Expendables 3 when the brakes on the three-tonne lorry he was driving failed, launching him into the Black Sea. His co-star Sylvester Stallone told the Mirror that it went down 60ft “and became impaled. Luckily we had taken the doors off before”, he added.

Sylvester Stallone in 'The Expendables'. Courtesy Lionsgate
Sylvester Stallone in 'The Expendables'. Courtesy Lionsgate

Sylvester Stallone, 72

The Expendables franchise sounds like its set could be an insurance agent’s worst nightmare. Sylvester Stallone star of the Rocky and Rambo films, has always carried out his own stunts on set, and has picked up plenty of injuries in the process. Perhaps the most serious came when he broke his neck while filming a fight scene with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on the set of 2010’s first instalment of the series.

Jackie Chan in 'Kung-Fu Yoga.' Courtesy Well Go USA
Jackie Chan in 'Kung-Fu Yoga.' Courtesy Well Go USA

Jackie Chan, 64

The martial arts expert hasn’t slowed down too much, despite his advancing years, as demonstrated when he was spotted leaping around Atlantis, The Palm during the Kung Fu Yoga shoot in 2016. Chan’s popularity in both the United States and Chinese markets have made him one of the world’s highest-earning stars, and his movies are frequently based almost entirely around his stunts and fight moves.

Matt Damon in 'Jason Bourne'. Jasin Boland / Universal Pictures
Matt Damon in 'Jason Bourne'. Jasin Boland / Universal Pictures

Matt Damon, 47

The star is a spring chicken on this list at a sprightly 47, but he performed all manner of stunts on the sets of the numerous Bourne movies, something of a “thinking man’s” Mission: Impossible and another franchise to have shot scenes in Abu Dhabi. He also carried out stunt work on Saving Private Ryan and Courage Under Fire.