The first time stunt performer Kelly Phelan saw the Eiffel Tower, she was hanging from the top of it. As Jennifer Aniston’s stunt double in , Phelan pulls off a sequence for the history books, ascending and descending from 1,000 feet in the air down the side of the .
The stunt in question takes place toward the end of the , which brings back newly minted detectives ( and ) for another high-stakes crime-solving spree. The couple’s investigation into the kidnapping of the Maharajah (Adeel Akhtar) from his lavish island wedding leads them to Paris and the famed Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, where they aim to confront the culprit and rescue their friend. Things don’t go quite as planned, though, and Audrey finds herself whizzing up and down the sides of the monument as she tries to stop villain Connor Miller (Mark Strong) from making off with a $70 million payout.
Enter Phelan, who pulled off that death-defying stunt in real life. There is a glorious tradition of stunts in cinema going back to the medium’s very beginnings, from silent-film heroine Pearl White’s derring-do in the legendary serial The Perils of Pauline, to Michelle Yeoh threatening to upstage Jackie Chan with her motorcycle skills in Supercop, to Zoë Bell slashing her way through Kill Bill while doubling for Uma Thurman. Phelan made her own mark in Murder Mystery 2, becoming the first woman in film history to drop from that height. (For reference, even Jackie Chan, who mastered a dizzying Eiffel Tower fight of his own in Rush Hour 3, didn’t use the full height of the tower.) Phelan may also be the last — probably on this structure, and maybe ever. Due to the Eiffel Tower’s advanced age — at 134 years old, it’s earned a rest — it’s unlikely this type of stunt will be performed on it again. And given the rise of digital effects, there’s no guarantee anyone will ever do something similar anywhere else.
“It’s an experience that I would have never put on my bucket list because I truly didn’t think it would ever be done,” Phelan told Netflix. “I’ve done a lot of high-wire work, but never on a world-famous monument.”
So how did she get there? Ahead, the fearless crew of explain how they pulled off the seemingly impossible.
“When I read [the script by James Vanderbilt] I got really specific with studying the Eiffel Tower,” director Jeremy Garelick tells Tudum. “How does this make sense? What are the physics here? How can you do this?”
To find out, Garelick worked with three storyboard artists to create visuals for what the sequence would eventually look like on-screen. Then came the physics part: how to get two human bodies to move up and down on the monument at high speed, and have cameras set up to capture it.
“There’s a lot of moving parts that go into this,” second unit director J.J. Perry told Netflix. “It’s not just the wire work itself; it’s the building, the camera, getting everything up and running. You’re doing all of this in two languages and we’re on three levels. We’re up 1,000 feet on the third floor, we’re in the intermediate level at 700 feet, and then there’s another level that’s at 500 feet.”
Turns out, the tower’s own engineering held the answer. “Basically the Eiffel Tower is a big stick of truss that points straight up in the air,” Perry said. “So, if we took another couple of sticks of truss and hung it off the side, we could just go straight up and down. Jennifer Aniston’s character double Kelly [Phelan] and Mark Strong’s double John [Medalin] are on a winch system. It ascends them at 28 feet per second, and then it drops them at 28 feet per second. The camera counters them. That’s how it’s done.”
Since access to the actual tower was limited, Aniston and Sandler shot their scenes on an enormous replica of the top level inside Paris’ Cité du Cinema studio. Nicknamed “The Beast,” the set was designed by production designer Perry Blake, who used 65 tons of steel to create a believable dupe for the monument. “It's probably about the same size as the real Eiffel Tower at the top,” Blake told Netflix, adding that he studied the original drawings and plans to nail the details, right down to a century’s worth of paint jobs.
“Our painters really had to get in there and make layers of paint,” he said. “Also, over the years there’s different kinds of junk that’s been put on it. Air conditioning systems, electrical systems, newfangled sparkly lights, old lights — all this stuff, which has never really been taken down. We wanted to make sure that it had that texture, the layers of the different people who have come through and made it more modern as it’s gone along.”
Just as one simply does not walk into Mordor, you just don’t rappel down the Eiffel Tower without a little practice. Stunt coordinator Justin Yu worked with Phelan and John Medalin, Mark Strong’s stunt double, to break down the different parts of the stunt in a rehearsal space. “Calculation and preparation are the keys to any huge stunt,” he tells Tudum. “Above all, though, is trust. Safety is paramount with my team. Due to the difficulty and multiple moving parts of this stunt, we placed special attention on preparation.”
They did hang tests, and the two doubles worked with their respective actors to perfect the stunt choreography for a seamless transition.
“Kelly was a crucial factor in how the stunt was eventually performed,” Yu says. “Her collegiate-level gymnastics background makes her one of the most skilled and fearless stuntwomen in the industry, and her commitment was key to making Jennifer look as good as possible.”
The concern was mutual. Leading up to the big day, Phelan got a series of supportive texts from Aniston, cheering her on. “Jen and her whole team have been my biggest fans, and it’s a group of just strong, empowered women,” she said. “It was so uplifting. She was texting me like, ‘Thank you so much. You’re making this movie so much better by your bravery and your hard work.’ It’s just all around been an incredible experience.”
Once you’ve nailed the logistics of flying through the air, there’s the small issue of how to keep your clothes on in the process. Audrey’s dressed to impress when she and Nick show up at the Jules Verne, so Phelan had to perform the stunt in a cocktail dress and Christian Louboutin heels.
Costume designer Debra McGuire worked with Phelan and Yu to make sure that she’d be safe and comfortable in whatever Aniston was wearing in character. “That little postage stamp of a lace dress was Yves Saint Laurent,” McGuire tells Tudum. The production sourced two of the designer frocks for Aniston, says McGuire, but needed a minimum of a dozen dresses due to the strenuous nature of the stunt work; the rest were replicas, created in-house with less expensive, but hardly more functional materials. “So that’s how I’m able to work in the world of budget,” she jokes, referring to the impromptu knockoff factory set up by the wardrobe department. “We found a fabric that matched almost perfectly. And so we made those  dresses. […] It’s a miracle that [Phelan] was able to do the work in that dress. That’s what the pros do.”
Yu echoes his admiration, praising Phelan’s “fortitude” in performing the wearing nothing but a harness under a very skimpy dress — after all, the nights in Paris can get pretty cold in early spring, especially 1,000 feet off the ground.
Turns out the biggest challenge facing the crew wasn’t the height, or even gravity. It was the weather. “Due to high winds, we had to evacuate the tower during our rehearsal week,” Yu recalls. “There were moments when the peak of the tower swayed and the elevator lines crossed.”
The team was reconsidering a workaround when the winds finally died down, and things got back on track. “The weather cleared up, the skies opened up, and it was fun,” Phelan said. “It was a really fun day. I’ll remember it, and I’ll show my baby Penelope someday and my grandkids.”