Under the Radar

Stunt Coordinator & Military Vet Wade Eastwood Talks 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back'

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is Tom Cruise's second film in what we should all hope becomes a long-running film series based on the novels by Lee Child and it's out now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, Digital HD and On Demand. This time, Reacher decides to clear Army Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) who's been framed for treason. Plus he seems to have a teenage kid that he didn't know about.

South African Army veteran Wade Eastwood was the stunt coordinator and second unit director on Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. He's worked closely with Cruise on Edge of Tomorrow, Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation, the upcoming reboot of  The Mummy and Mission Impossible 6. Eastwood was also the stunt coordinator on Inferno and worked with Brad Pitt on World War Z. He talked to us about his military service and how he worked his way up from low-budget movies to the top of his profession.

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Tell our readers about your military service.

I was 19 in South Africa with compulsory national service. So I went in and did my basic training with the Royal Engineers as a Sapper. And then from that, I extended my service to armored cars and township riot patrols. Once my service was terminated, I went straight into the film business.

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Wade Eastwood on the set of "World War Z."

A lot of people who serve in the military are interested in the film business. So Describe how you made that transition.

The military is a great setup for life, not just the entertainment business. You know the old hurry up and wait that you do so much of in the military? That’s a direct transition into film business because you do a lot of hurry up and wait in the film business, whether you're waiting for weather or a broken camera or a light or something.

The military teaches you to improvise and be resilient. Even at these hard times that we can have in the military, it's definitely a great grounding and a great basis for everything that happens when you come out.

The film industry is very similar to it. It's a big organization and it takes a lot of bodies to make up the working title and a project that works. You have to learn to work with a lot of different people in a very close environment. There are a lot of egos. There are some great people, but also you're always gonna have those difficult people as well. The military teaches you how to communicate and how to prepare yourself. And I'm very glad that I did my service.

Wade Eastwood and Tom Cruise with an unidentified person on the set of Edge of Tomorrow.

Wade Eastwood and Tom Cruise with an unidentified person on the set of "Edge of Tomorrow."

How did you become a stuntman?

When I finished my military service in South Africa, I did life saving on the beaches in Durban. I went straight back into SC Rescue. A film company came to our hangar and said they were looking for a few guys to jump out of a helicopter for a film. That’s all they said and we're like, “Yeah, sure!”

I was a big film fan and I'd actually put some inquiries out, but it's such a small network that I didn’t get any replies. So we went and jumped out of this helicopter for a film. At the last minute, he told us that we're jumping into a river full of crocodiles. It was all very last minute throwing this together for a small budget movie.

We hung onto the helicopter skids and flew over this river and jumped in and then had to get up the banks Navy SEAL-style and go into this forest and penetrate the camp.

From there, it was crashing boats and cars in the same film and teaching yourself as you went. I started in very small films and worked my way up to the larger budgets as my experience grew, as I gained knowledge.

Left to right: Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher and Cobie Smulders plays Turner in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

Left to right: Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher and Cobie Smulders plays Turner in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

You made the move from doing stunts to being a stunt coordinator. Is that something that happens because you're the best stuntman on the set? What does that job involve that is beyond what you did as a stuntman?

If you’ve got vision and if you can be creative, it's a natural transition if you’ve been in the business a long time and have a lot of experience. If you can manage a team well and you’ve got good creativity, then you can move into the coordination fields. You work more directly with the director of the movie and creative producers and you bring your flair to the film.

If you can master stunt coordination, then you can move up to second unit directing, where you run an action unit that runs alongside the main unit. The actor might do a big drama sequence or a big talking sequence and run out the door and jump in a car. As soon as he jumps in the car and screeches out, that moves to second unit to then take over the action side of the film. And that was my position on Jack Reacher, second unit director and stunt coordinator.

That’s sort of the transition, but there are people who shortcut it and move too quickly from stunt performer to stunt coordinator, but it’s normally a quick sprint trip -- they have a shorter career later because they haven't had the experience in setting up the stunts and actually doing them as a performer and working out the best ways to do them before they try coordinate stunts and tell other people what to do.

It’s so very similar to the military. You know you can't be a sergeant, a sergeant major, or a corporal in charge of a group of guys and tell them what to do if you haven't actually done it yourself and gone through the workings and the stages that it took to get you to that level. You can't shortcut it. Otherwise, you're gonna get in the wrong situations and get yourself killed in the military.

In the film industry, there are those guys who try the shortcuts and it doesn’t work. You have to do the discipline route and then when you get to that place, if you’ve got the right creativity, then you can command a great unit or a great team.

Left to right: Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher and Cobie Smulders plays Turner in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

One of the most impressive things about "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" is that all the fight sequences look like real fights instead of movie fights.

I'm glad that came across. The Reacher movies are great because you are going back to basics and it's raw. We're not being driven by visuals, these CG movies that have massive computer visuals that suck the audience in but make absolutely no sense. You’ve got two guys and they're smashing through buildings and through trucks and steel and metal and they come out the other side and then a guy punches someone in the face and the second guy’s finished.

Come on, you’ve just been through 15 buildings full of steel or trucks. None of it makes sense to me. People do get taken away by those visuals, but in a movie like Reacher it's raw. I love walking into the space, into the set, and walking in there and have all my stunt team around me as the threat (if that’s what’s going on in the scene) and asking myself what I would do first in this situation. What am I looking at? What props, what objects are available? - and then transferring that into Reacher. So just giving it that Hollywood -- that little bit of Hollywood flair, but not running away with it, not going crazy. And it's just keeping it raw and real.

What would you really do in that situation? You wouldn’t jump, run up a wall, and do a back flip and flip your legs around. No, you wouldn’t. You would actually attack the person in front of you directly rather than put yourself at a disadvantage by showing him your back, by doing a somersault or something. I love those movies because they're hard-hitting, they're brutal, and they're real. I think that’s why the audiences identify with them.

Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher in "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

You worked a lot with Tom Cruise. Does he approach these scenes differently than some other actors you’ve worked with?

Oh, yes. Tom approaches things in a completely different way. Firstly, he's a massive film fan and his knowledge is vast. It's huge. He loves making movies and he always say to people, “You're not gonna pitch up for work and just do your 9-5 and off you go home and collect a paycheck. That’s not gonna happen on a Tom Cruise movie. You are gonna be pushed to your limits.” If you don’t want it, then you shouldn’t be there.

I have to agree with him. He really pushes you to bring out the best of what you do in your creative genre. And he wants the best of what he does. He wants you to push him so that you get the maximum out of him that you can. Tom will give you 500 percent if you ask for it. Tom challenges me on a daily basis and I challenge him on a daily basis.

You feel exhausted, sure, but you feel so rewarded at the end of that film and so proud that you know that you didn’t just call it in. You really made that movie and you gave so much to that movie. And as a result, it's great. It's just all gold; it's all bonus. That’s a good feeling. You really finished a project, you really gave your heart and soul to it, and that’s how it should be.

Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

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