There was a plan to de-age Julia Roberts in the most recent Mission: Impossible movie, but the plan was eventually scrapped
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One director Christopher McQuarrie recently disclosed that he considered a de-aging sequence for the latest entry in the franchise. The flashback scene would have recreated Tom Cruise as his 80s self before he joined the IMF, and Deadline reports that a de-aged Julia Roberts was considered to play his lover in the sequence. The de-aging spectacle was scrapped for both creative and cost considerations.
The idea was to open the latest Mission: Impossible film in 1989, giving fans a glimpse of Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, before his days as a stunt-happy super spy. Speaking on the Empire Spoiler Special podcast, McQuarrie said that he imagined the sequence as if it had been shot in 1989. In doing so, he felt Julia Roberts was a natural casting choice.
Christopher McQuarrie thought Julia Roberts would be perfect for a 1989 flashback scene opposite Tom Cruise
“It would be Tony Scott’s Mission: Impossible. That’s who would have been directing the movie before Brian De Palma, you know, in that era,” explained McQuarrie. The late Tony Scott directed Tom Cruise in classics like 1986’s Top Gun and 1990’s Days of Thunder.
So McQuarrie and his team asked themselves who would play this role of Ethan Hunt’s lover in 1989. “I looked back at who was the ingenue, who was the breakout star in 1989? And right around then was Mystic Pizza. And I was like, ‘Oh my God. Julia Roberts, a then-pre-Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, as this young woman.’”
It was a bold thought, but one that was right on the mark. McQuarrie thought not only about how Tony Scott would have cast the sequence, but how he would have shot it. It all sounds exciting and nostalgic… If the actors could be convincingly de-aged.
For McQuarrie, the technique is not there. The director felt that seeing Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts suddenly appear as younger versions of themselves, even if the effect was perfect, would be too distracting.
Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts are two of the biggest movie stars of the past few decades. They are instantly recognizable and have been for many years. McQuarrie feared that, whether fans marvel at the effect or scrutinize it, they would not be where they needed to be: in the story.
Another factor was cost. Not only do actors like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts bring with them a considerable price tag just to be there, but de-aging is an expensive and time-consuming visual effects process – just ask the $300 million dollar Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
“I got the bill for de-aging those people before their salaries were even factored into it,” said McQuarrie. “And if you put two of them in a shot together… It would have been as expensive as the train by the time we were done.”
Between the cost, distraction, and creative inconsistency of the proposed flashback sequence, the team opted not to de-age Tom Cruise or cast Julia Roberts. A version of the idea made its way to the film, with the actress Mariela Garriga playing the role originally intended for Roberts.
The cost, distraction, and creative inconsistency of the proposed flashback sequence meant the team opted not to de-age Tom Cruise or cast Julia Roberts
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One opened below expectations at the box office. While Tom Cruise movies tend to maintain greater box office longevity than most others, the film is now duking it out with Barbie, Oppenheimer, the A24 horror breakout Talk to Me, and holdovers like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
The 2023 box office is crowded, but still struggling to reach pre-COVID numbers. Despite these challenges, blockbuster budgets still seem to be on the rise. Christopher McQuarrie and the Mission: Impossible team probably made the right call in saving money where they could and resisting casting Julia Roberts.
De-aging is all the rage in a Hollywood climate desperate to mine nostalgia. It is also a technique wrapped up in the hot debate around the role of AI in the film and television industry, which is a key sticking point in the contract negotiations between the striking Screen Actors Guild and the major Hollywood studios, represented by the AMPTP.
Dead Reckoning would have had a different feel with Julia Roberts in the mix. The idea of Tony Scott-inspired flashback sequence certainly sounds fun, but Christopher McQuarrie is a smart filmmaker. His choice to avoid it was probably the right one.
McQuarrie is leaving de-aging on the table for future projects, as he recently admitted he believes he has figured out how to properly leverage the technology. For Dead Reckoning, fans are stuck with modern Tom Cruise – and that is just fine with us.