Tom Cruise Almost Left Mission Impossible

We all assumed it was supposed to happen, and now we know for sure. Tom Cruise really was supposed to step aside as the Mission: Impossible lead after Ghost Protocol to make way for Jeremy Renner. That all changed, however, when Christopher McQuarrie was brought in to handle rewrites. Now, of course, it’s almost impossible to think of Mission: Impossible without Cruise. But such a reality came very close to happening.

It seems to have slipped from the public consciousness now, but at one point, Tom Cruise’s career was in trouble. The problems arose after Cruise went on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and expressed wild enthusiasm for his new relationship with Katie Holmes. Cruise got so excited that he literally jumped up and down on the couch. Soon after that, the actor went on The Today Show and got into an argument over the validity of psychiatry. It was if the actor was having some sort of meltdown before our eyes. It got to a point where Paramount Pictures, who had had a 14-year history with Cruise up until that point, decided to sever ties with the actor.

By 2008, though, Cruise had mended his relationship with Paramount head Sumner Redstone and work began on a new Mission: Impossible film. The studio needed Cruise to come back for the next entry…but they allegedly didn’t want him to stick around very long. Jeremy Renner joined the cast of what would become Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and almost immediately, people began to theorize Renner would take over the series from Cruise. Renner, for his part, played into the assumption, telling  MTV: “It’s a franchise to potentially take over…I can’t predict the future and what they want, but that’s certainly the idea.” But Renner quickly walked those comments back, and by the time Ghost Protocol hit theaters, it was clear Tom Cruise was still leading the franchise.

But Cruise’s potential departure was more than just the result of rumor and speculation. During a recent appearance on the Light the Fuse PodcastRobert Elswit – cinematographer of both Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation – confirmed once and for all that Cruise really was supposed to step aside. According to Elswit (via Collider), the plan was for Cruise to become the new IMF director at the end of the movie:

“The original version of Ghost Protocol—most of the people involved probably wouldn’t speak about this, but I can because nobody gives a shit about what I say. The original version of this movie was at the end of it Tom Cruise stops being Ethan Hunt the agent and becomes Ethan Hunt the Secretary. The whole version of this was they were gonna put another IMF Mission unit together with another actor — maybe it’s Jeremy Renner, who knows who it is — and they’re gonna go through this series of wild events, and at the end Tom gets to be the Secretary and a new agent takes over the franchise. Which I think seemed kind of nutty, but that was kind of the marching orders.”

Elswit is right: it does seem kind of nutty, especially now that Cruise is back on top. But you have to remember the mood towards Cruise was very different Ghost Protocol hit theaters. Elswit goes on to say that the film originally ended with a big fight in the snow, “and all this stuff happens and then Tom gets elevated to Secretary.” As you might recall, the IMF Secretary in Ghost Protocol, played by Tom Wilkinson, is shot and killed early in the film, leaving room for someone – like Cruise – to assume the role. So what happened? Why didn’t Cruise become the new Secretary?

According to Elswit, everything changed when Christopher McQuarrie came in for some rewrites.

“At some point…Chris McQuarrie came in, and Chris McQuarrie and Tom sat down and said, ‘How do we fix this?’… Chris came in and he kind of rewrote it, the last half, maybe more, and made it so that we had to change a few things that we shot at the beginning, like add lines, reshoot little pieces so that it all made sense. He tied the whole thing together and made it so that at the end of the movie, Tom ends up not becoming the Secretary but just goes on in his own lonely way.”

And the rest is history. Cruise is still the star of the show, and McQuarrie is in charge of the franchise, having directed the last two films, and recently signed on to direct the next two. Meanwhile, Renner has left entirely. All-in-all, I think this is for the best. No offense to Renner, but Cruise is the driving force behind this franchise. Audiences want to see him risk his life and perform crazy stunts. That’s what Mission: Impossible is all about.

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