Mike Fleming

BREAKING:: So Paramount Pictures won’t be screen-testing any young actors to star opposite Tom Cruise after all. I’ve learned that the studio has just chosen Jeremy Renner to infuse new blood in its Mission: Impossible franchise. Renner is the Oscar-nominated star of The Hurt Locker and will star alongside Cruise in the fourth installment of the franchise that will begin production in the fall as a reboot. Brad Bird is directing and Cruise is producing with JJ Abrams.

Paramount has struggled to find the right co-star to play the operative opposite Cruise. One factor was  selecting an actor who could potentially carry the series on his own down the line, should Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character not continue to be the emphasis. While Cruise is expected to return for a fifth installment, production chief Adam Goodman wanted a guy who could grow into a leading man in his own right. The studio boss was interested in actors like Tom Hardy and Chris Pine, but they were booked. So the studio planned to test a group of young actors later this week, and Deadline spent all Tuesday going back and forth with the studio over candidates Kevin Zegers, Christopher Egan and Anthony Mackie (the latter of whom starred with Renner in The Hurt Locker). But it was clear that Paramount wasn’t sure what it was going to do. Those tests have been canceled now (Mackie, another seasoned actor poised for a breakout, ultimately pulled himself out of the running and didn’t sign a test deal.) Goodman, sources said, felt Renner’s “has a Daniel Craig quality” and the heft to carry the franchise. Interesting that, rather than trying to create a star by going with a young unknown, Paramount instead has placed its bet on a 39-year old actor who has been around for years.

This casting fills a big piece in the Mission: Impossible 4 puzzle, which has included coming to resolution on a budget. The script by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec came in just as Cruise’s Knight and Day opened to lackluster U.S. box office which caused Paramount to rethink M:I4 budget. Cruise’s deal has now been completed, though his perks package is still being worked out. The film will shoot in the U.S., Vancouver, Prague and Dubai.

Renner only truly reached the A-list with The Hurt Locker even though his earlier work is memorable, but he has the grit, maturity, and chops to take this next big step. It is the second major role for Renner coming out of his  turn as the reckless explosives specialist. Renner also will star in Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, playing the role of Hawkeye in that star-studded superhero ensemble that will be directed by Joss Whedon. Paramount is expected to release that film under its distribution deal with Marvel Studios, made before the company was acquired by Disney. Renner will next be seen in the Ben Affleck-directed The Town, the GK Films-produced drama that Warner Bros opens September 17.