We’ve seen numerous behind-the-scenes images from the set of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol that show Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, and Josh Holloway in action. Recently, we even caught a glimpse of the long-rumored return of Simon Pegg’s character, Benji.

Yet, there’s one actor who’s been mysteriously absent from the proceedings thus far – Ving Rhames. His Luther Stickell character appeared in the three previous Mission: Impossible films and back in August he indicated how excited he was to reprise the role for this fourth installment.

As it turns out, Rhames might not be appearing in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol after all. While promoting Death Race 2, he spoke to MovieWeb and revealed that his enthusiasm hasn’t waned – it’s just an issue of money:

“I may be doing something very small in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol but I will just say that the budget changed dramatically and I’ll leave it at that.”

That would seem to indicate that even if Rhames does return, it will be in a severely diminished capacity compared to his work in past Mission: Impossible entries. Evidently, that’s the best fans can hope for at this point – a brief cameo. Rhames indicates it’s up to the filmmakers whether or not that happens:

“Hmm… Cha-ching could create that but it’s up to them.”

Although the Mission: Impossible franchise has made Paramount quite a bit of money, this fourth film still represents something of a gamble for them. Despite decent critical reception, Mission: Impossible 3 didn’t do as well as they’d hoped and there’s still the issue of whether or not Tom Cruise remains a box office draw.

In fact, the only way the studio would agree to move forward with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was if Cruise took a pay cut and the film was retooled to leave room for Jeremy Renner’s character to take over the series at some point. But what does any of that have to do with Rhames?

If the star of this franchise was required to accept a reduced salary, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask the supporting cast to lower their asking price a little bit. Furthermore, it sounds as if the film will be a standalone story that’s more interested in breaking new ground than acknowledging where the series has already gone.

Ultimately, Luther might not be all that important to the overall plot. I’m a fan of Rhames, but if he only pops up to sort of wink at the audience and remind them of previous adventures, the question of whether or not it’s even worth it is certainly an understandable one.

Even if his involvement with the Mission: Impossible franchise comes to an end, Rhames has no shortage of other projects to look forward to. In a separate interview with Bloody Disgusting, he claims that his Deputy Fallon character from Piranha 3D could turn up in the upcoming sequel – Piranha 3DD.

Director John Gulager and writers Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton are currently discussing whether or not Fallon actually died in the first film. Rhames sounds as if he’s ready to reprise the role should they decide that he survived:

“They’re talking about [it], because you don’t necessarily see me die – and even though I’m not in the film that much, people responded to my character … So that’s why they’re talking about doing something. But I think they’re writing it as we speak.”

Piranha 3D delivered exactly what it promised, but if you weren’t on board with that it seems unlikely that the sequel will do anything to change your mind. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like the type of movie (or audience) that’s going to require a plausible explanation for bringing back a possibly deceased character. I can’t imagine anyone’s going to leave the theater saying “The truck-sized piranhas were great, but the way they brought back Ving Rhames was really unbelievable.”

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol hits theaters December 16, 2011.

Piranha 3DD arrives September 16th, 2011.

Source: MovieWeb and Bloody Disgusting.