For film enthusiasts, no one can ever replace actor Simon Pegg, but Ricky Gervais came close.
After the smashing success of “Mission: Impossible II,” Paramount Pictures was eager to make a sequel but Tom Cruise struggled to find the right director and cast for the third film.
Between 2002 and 2004, Hollywood bigwigs David Fincher and Joe Carnahan were circling the project. It is reported that Scarlett Johansson, Anne-Moss, and the legendary Kenneth Branagh were all in the mix to star alongside Cruise.
It is not commonly known that funnyman Ricky Gervais was this close to snagging the role of CIA whiz, Benji Dunn. He was offered the role when he bumped into Cruise at the Golden Globe awards. “Hey, wanna be in my movie?” Cruise allegedly asked. And Gervais, without missing a beat, said, “Sure, why not!”
Gervais was riding high after smashing it in the UK version of “The Office” and was cooking up “Extras,” a hilarious series with big names making side-splitting cameos. However, the stars didn’t align, and Gervais had to pass up the role of Benji Dunn on “Mission: Impossible III” because of a clashing commitment to “For Your Consideration,” a blistering takedown of Hollywood’s awards season by Christopher Guest. This meant the door was left wide open for Pegg to make his mark on the franchise for the next two decades.
Initially, the ‘Shaun of the Dead’ actor wasn’t keen on venturing into big-budget filmmaking, especially after enjoying complete creative freedom in his early projects. In a now-amusing moment during an interview where Pegg was asked about the possibility of moving to Hollywood, Pegg jokingly remarked, “It’s not like we’re going to go away and do, I don’t know… ‘Mission: Impossible III.'”
However, fate had other plans, and Pegg eventually embraced the role that propelled his acting career into the realm of franchise filmmaking with “Mission Impossible,” “Star Trek,” and “Star Wars.” Despite this major breakthrough, he managed to avoid any impression of becoming a Hollywood sell-out.
He reflected on the irony with The Guardian: “So it was a huge irony that I’d said, ‘I’m not going to go off and do this.’ 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.”
In the end, Pegg’s success in blockbuster films didn’t compromise his genuine passion for his craft nor sever his connection with his British roots.