In "Mission: Impossible III," Tom Cruise plays the head of an elite task force that gets itself into sticky, possibly even lethal situations. The actor impressed his co-stars when he proved to be a truly fearless leader by electing to do most of the dangerous stunts himself.
In one scene, Cruise's character Ethan Hunt breaks into a skyscraper by swinging off the roof of a neighboring building. Ving Rhames, who plays fellow Impossible Missions Force (IMF) field team member Luther Strickwell, found this stunt particularly disturbing.
"He did it anywhere between six to 10 times," says Rhames, who also co-starred in the previous two "Mission" films. "I was a little more nervous than the others. It brought up feelings of -- people don't like to talk about this -- but what happens if a stunt goes wrong? Maybe the first time or second or third time, but the more you do a stunt, the more you risk something happening."
Relative newcomer Maggie Q, who plays IMF's demolitions expert and token woman, thinks that Cruise's willingness to risk his neck is comparable with martial arts action star Jackie Chan, whom she's trained with for several films.
"You knew [Jackie] grew up in a Kung Fu school, he was in the circus, he had a tough upbringing and he's a tough guy. There's no doubt he can handle it," she says. "When I see Tom do the same things, that, I think, is amazing. Tom earns a lot of respect from the action director and the stunt people who know just how difficult everything is. Tom has an undying energy -- when he's acting of course, but really, all the time."
Despite these extreme action sequences, the film also emphasizes Ethan's humanity through his friendship with Luther and a romance with Julia (Michelle Monaghan).
"Tom and I have very good natural chemistry," explains Rhames. "The conversations we have in this one, it could be two friends at a bar having these conversations. We have them in the middle of a dangerous situation, but this is truer to how men and friends relate to one another.
"You learn more about [Ethan's] past, his present with the love interest story line," Rhames adds. "The audience will invest more in his character because you know more about his personal life as opposed to the other two. It dealt more with Ethan as the Impossible Mission Force leader. Rarely did you get to see him in a situation outside of action hero."
Director J.J. Abrams isn't worried that the media circus surrounding his star will affect the film, but instead used that public familiarity to play off the character.
"The opening sequence of the movie is very purposefully shocking and terrifying," says Abrams. "Tom's such an icon that I wanted from the very beginning of the movie not to have him playing a cool guy, but rather having him play an absolutely vulnerable, relatable man.
"And I have to tell you, knowing Tom as well as I do, I see every day who this guy is as a real person," says the director. "And he is funny and he is self-deprecating and he's smart and he's easygoing and he's kind, not just to me but to everyone who worked on the crew. He's a good person."
"Mission: Impossible III" opens in theaters nationwide Friday, May 5.