Tom Cruise on Developing Stuntman Skills at an Early Age: 'I Was the Kid Who Would Climb to the Rafters'

"It's that moment when you jump off the roof and you go, 'This is not gonna work. This was a terrible idea,' " Tom Cruise said as he reflected on practicing his stuntman skills at 4 years old

Tom Cruise has been a stunt pro since childhood.

During the Top Gun: Maverick premiere at the Cannes Film Festival Wednesday, the 59-year-old actor recalled being a novice stuntman when he was a little boy.

"I think I was about 4½ years old, and I had this doll, and you throw it up in the air and a parachute comes down. I played with this thing, and I'd throw it off a tree, and I was like, 'I really want to do this.' I remember taking the sheets off my bed, and I would tie a rope ... and I climbed up to the eave, and I got up to the roof. I looked and my mother was in the kitchen — she had four kids — and I jumped off the roof," he explained at a panel discussion with journalist Didier Allouch.

Cruise added that he immediately had regrets after taking the dive.

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"It's that moment when you jump off the roof and you go, 'This is not gonna work. This is terrible. I'm gonna die.' And I hit the ground so hard. Luckily, it was wet. I don't know how it happened, but I figured out after that my face went past my feet as my ass hit the ground. And I saw stars in the daytime for the first time, and I remember looking up, going, 'This is very interesting.' "

He then recalled being afraid of his mother's reaction, stating, "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, my mom's going to kill me' because the sheets were dirty.' "

Tom Cruise
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Reflecting on how his stuntman skills have improved over time, the Mission: Impossible star added, "Now, here I am on a movie set ... but I was the kid who would climb to the rafters or climb the tallest tree. I wanted that, I wanted to do that, and how do I develop these skills and make it part of the story and character?"

"Even if I wasn't working on a movie, I was studying film, I was pushing myself to learn different skills. I was like, 'I'm going to put this in a movie one day.' So I'd take dance lessons and put it into Les Grossman [in Tropic Thunder], or Rock of Ages, and take singing lessons so I had the skills," Cruise said.

As for why he performs his own stunts, the actor quipped, "No one asked Gene Kelly, 'Why do you dance? Why do you do your dancing? Why do you do your own singing?' If I do a musical, I want to sing, and I want to dance. And I want to see how I can do it."

It's been 36 years since the need-for-speed blockbuster Top Gun was released. This new film finds Cruise's Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell three decades after his graduation from the TOPGUN Naval aviation program, when he is called back as an instructor for the elite fliers.

Sharing why it took more than 30 years to release a sequel, Cruise said at Wednesday's premiere, "For Top Gun, they go, 'Why 36 years?' I wasn't ready in '86. I remember the studio wanted to make a sequel immediately, and I was like, 'I don't want to do it, I need to grow as an artist, I need to understand what cinema is.' Some of the things that I've learned, in terms of Mission: Impossible, in doing sequels I learned that I can have a dialogue with an audience. I didn't expect to have that."

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"But there's this dialogue and this investment in characters, and they kept asking, all around the world in every different language, 'How do we do it?' And I would go home at night and think about, how could I do it, how would it happen? [Top Gun producer] Jerry Bruckheimer and I sat down and talked about it, and Chris McQuarrie and I for many years talked about it, and we sat down, and I wrote down all the things, how I could do it for an audience today that I felt would be worthy of that — because you see those faces, I don't want to disappoint them, I want to deliver. And, artistically, for me, it's got to work. And it takes time."

Updated by Carita Rizzo
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