Despite multiple starts and stops during pre-production, things finally started falling into place after Tom Cruise binge-watched J.J. Abrams’ ABC spy drama series “Alias” starring Jennifer Garner (per The Hollywood Reporter). Along with writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Abrams wanted to humanize Ethan Hunt after John Woo’s over-the-top take on the character, giving him a suburban life outside the spy world and a fiancee, Julia (Michelle Monaghan).
Abrams already had a relationship with Ricky Gervais, who had appeared in the 2004 “Alias” episode “Facade.” When Gervais left “Mission: Impossible III” in order to star in “For Your Consideration,” Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright had only just made a huge splash with their instant-classic zombie comedy, “Shaun of the Dead.” Abrams was a massive fan of the movie and Pegg suddenly found himself at the top of the list to play Benji.
Initially, Pegg didn’t really have much of a desire to go into big-budget filmmaking after having complete creative control on his early projects with Wright. In a now-hilarious aside during an interview asking Pegg and Wright if they had plans to leave the UK for Hollywood, Pegg quipped, “It’s not like we’re going to go away and do, I don’t know … ‘Mission: Impossible III.'”
Pegg eventually accepted the role that would catapult his acting career into franchise filmmaking with the “Mission Impossible” films, “Star Trek,” and “Star Wars.” But his big break fortunately never made him look like a Hollywood sell-out. “So it was a huge irony that I’d said, ‘I’m not going to go off and do this,” he told The Guardian. “But then, at that time, there was this attitude that anyone who went off to Hollywood was betraying their roots in some sense or selling out. It’s not like you cross some misty bridge at night and never come home again.”