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Mission: Impossible Tried To Bring A Popular Character Back Twice, Here’s Why They Couldn’t

The Mission: Impossible series has, for the most part, settled on a pretty regular ensemble of IMF agents that return alongside Tom Cruise. But in the earlier days of the franchise, experimentation was the name of the game, with new faces popping up in every film. Surprisingly enough, one of those faces was action star Maggie Q, whose Mission: Impossible III character of Zhen Lei almost returned not once, but twice, to help Ethan Hunt out in the field once again. Unfortunately, fate and contractual obligations got in the way.

I learned this as I spoke with Maggie Q recently, on behalf of her new film The Protégé. With the Mission: Impossible franchise in the habit of bringing back old friends for its next two films, one would have expected an attempt to be made to get Zhen Lei back into the fold. But as she explained in our interview, a very familiar foe thwarted those attempts:

Yeah, they tried. Twice they tried to bring me back, and I was on a show, and I couldn’t. It was a big bummer...I was contracted, so I couldn’t.

Looking at the timing, you can pretty much pinpoint which Mission: Impossible films Maggie Q would have been tapped to return for. Both 2011’s Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and 2015’s Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation could have served for Zhen Lei’s return to the IMF. Unfortunately, Maggie Q was unavailable for both films, as Ghost Protocol would have cut into her Nikita schedule, and by time Rogue Nation came around, she was starring on CBS’s Stalker.

One could theorize that the first spot meant for Zhen Lei’s expertise in the Mission: Impossible series went to Jane Carter (Paula Patton) in Ghost Protocol. However, we absolutely know that Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) picked up that gig in Rogue Nation, as it was revealed that both Patton and Maggie Q were unavailable for the shooting of that film. The latter case is particularly interesting, as Ilsa has become another fan favorite, with her place in the IMF team secured in every sequel starting with Rogue Nation, and continuing through the current two-sequel shooting plan.

Still, Maggie Q’s career has gone on a pretty awesome path of destiny itself. After Stalker, she found a regular role in the short-lived Designated Survivor, as well as the lead role of Anna in director Martin Campbell’s The Protégé. This latest film is another interesting coincidence, as Maggie Q likened her Mission: Impossible experience to a moment in history every James Bond fan is probably thinking about right now:

It was really nice to know and hear, but there’s a famous story about Pierce Brosnan. Pierce was on a show, and was offered Bond, remember? And he had to turn it down because he was under contract, and they do not let you out of contract. You’d have to die to get out of a contract. So Pierce had to turn down James Bond, but he was meant to play Bond, so it later came around again. You know, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be; but they definitely did, and it felt real good. I was really happy about it, but I couldn’t do it.

Just as Pierce Brosnan eventually got to play James Bond, and under Martin Campbell’s hand nonetheless, there’s always an opportunity for Maggie Q to surprisingly show up in a Mission: Impossible sequel in the future. Who knows? If Tom Cruise retires from the franchise due to his vow to eventually stop doing stunts, maybe Zhen Lei could take over the Impossible Missions Force, and keep the world safe once again.

For now, fans will be able to see Maggie Q match wits with Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson in The Protégé. The film opens on August 20th, only in theaters, so be sure to check your local listings before heading out to the movies. As for Mission: Impossible 7, that’ll be headed to a theater near you on May 27th, 2022. Which allows for more than enough time to check out the 2022 release schedule, should you choose to accept it.

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.