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Adapting a novel for the big screen is surely no easy task, but Christopher McQuarrie, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects, was up for the challenge when it came to Jack Reacher. His take, as both writer and director, is of one particular book, One Shot, the ninth novel in author Lee Child’s beloved thriller series. The project sees McQuarrie paired again with star and producer Tom Cruise, with whom he worked on Valkyrie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and the upcoming All You Need Is Kill.
The casting decision was a controversial one with fans – Reacher is essentially the physical opposite of Cruise – but McQuarrie and Child have insisted the essence of the character is intact. Consider also the accomplished supporting actors — Werner Herzog as villain The Zec, Rosamund Pike as tireless lawyer Helen, David Oyelowo as Reacher’s cop counterpart, Richard Jenkins as Helen’s district attorney father, and Robert Duvall as the surly owner of a local shooting range – and it’s clear McQuarrie’s take is inspired.
The director was joined by Child, Pike and Oyelowo at a recent press conference in New York City, where they discussed the controversy of casting a very different-looking Reacher, Herzog’s epic performance and on-set demeanor, the logistics of filming the movie’s main car-chase sequence, and Cruise’s insistence that he do all his own stunts.
McQuarrie, on how he came to adapt the screenplay, direct the film and cast Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: “Don Granger, the producer of the movie, brought me the book, which he’d been working on for a few years before I came aboard, and asked me to write and direct it. I did an adaptation, and because Lee is a very cinematic writer, it’s a very straightforward adaptation. We gave it to Tom Cruise in his capacity as a producer … and he read the script and called back and said, “I don’t know who you have in mind to play this character, but I’d love to do it.” So the other producer, Tom, turned around and hired Tom.”
What drew Pike to the role of Helen: “Reacher’s a guy who rocks into town and he does things differently than everybody else. In any sort of normal social interaction, he just doesn’t behave properly. And so Helen is left sort of startled at every turn by his mode of operation. What interested me about her is that she’s a good lawyer — she’s a competent, accomplished lawyer — but she hasn’t got the brilliance of Reacher, and that drives her mad. It’s like she’s a girl who’s good at maths and she meets a mathematician. I think Tom and I had a very easy chemistry — it wasn’t anything we had to work on.”
Oyelowo, on playing Reacher’s counterpart Emerson: “One of my first interactions, outside of the script, with Jack Reacher and the film was meeting Chris [McQuarrie] at a hotel in Los Angeles. And one of the things we talked about was … the fact that he needed, in whoever played Emerson, someone who was a genuine counterpoint to Jack Reacher. One of the things I have an allergic reaction to playing, especially as a black actor, is the mandatory best friend/cop/detective type. You will never see me in that movie.”
How McQuarrie tapped Werner Herzog to play the film’s villain, The Zec: “That was entirely the doing of casting director Mindy Marin. When we first sat down and talked about the role, I gave her my list of criteria — the main ones being that I wanted someone European and unknown to a wider audience. And the first name out of her mouth was Werner Herzog, which I thought was an inspired idea, but we would obviously never get Werner Herzog. And a week later I was on the phone with Werner Herzog, who was actually very excited about playing the role, and suddenly I had huge doubts about it. I was worried that he was too unfamiliar and he was going to feel like a documentary character in a Tom Cruise movie. So I vacillated on it for quite a while, and I was talking to Tom about it and Tom said, ‘It’s Werner Herzog, man, I don’t understand! Just hire the guy!’”
McQuarrie, on Herzog’s first rehearsal and on-set dynamic: “We had about 90 minutes put aside for us to rehearse some of the scenes, towards the end of the movie. And the first three hours of that 90-minute meeting were Werner Herzog telling stories about his [his character’s] experiences in an African prison. That was kind of what the relationship was. He would never leave the set. He would lust hang out with the crew, he would hang out with the other actors. He’s still very much a student of film, and was always there constantly observing and constantly learning.”
Why McQuarrie changed Jack Reacher’s look for the film: “Don Granger and I talked very early on, before Tom entered into the equation, about who would play Jack Reacher. When we started to compile the list of six-foot-five, 250-pound blond-hair, blue-eyed American actors, and discovered that not only were there none, there had never been one. We knew very early on that fans were going to have a reaction no matter who we cast. So we knew we were going to make compromises on the physical size of the character, that meant we weren’t going to make compromises on any other aspect of the character. I think that anybody who has bought a Reacher novel has bought a share of stock in Jack Reacher, and they’re entitled to their opinion.”
Child’s take on character variations between the page and screen: “It’s an inevitability. … You take a choice in a book and it’s going to be a different choice in the movie. A very trivial example at the far end of the scale would be Silence of the Lambs. In the book, Hannibal Lecter has got six fingers on one hand, and that’s a sort of book-type thing you do because you think you need the sort of grotesquery there on the blank page. You don’t need it on the screen because Anthony Hopkins is on the screen already looking grotesque. Now, Reacher’s size is a lot more than six fingers on a hand, but it’s the same thing essentially. It was necessary for the book, it’s not absolutely necessary for the film.”
McQuarrie on the evolution of the film’s main car chase sequence, and working with Cruise, a professional driver: “The scene as it’s written in the script is very short: He [Reacher] drives away from the hotel, he very promptly crashes the car and runs away. Tom of course read those pages and had a vision. He said, ‘Look, I think this could be the set piece, this could be the central sequence of the movie.’ When I sat down with Paul Jennings, the stunt coordinator/second unit director, we sat in my office just watching all the old car chases that we really loved. Paul pointed out that in all of those car chases, if the camera wasn’t in danger the shot wasn’t worth doing. The other mandate that grew out of this was, you have a guy who is a professional driver — he should be in every shot that he can. And so we then went back to Tom with this car chase and design — and Cliff Lanning, the assistant director, worked out looking at all the boards … and he managed to isolate probably 20 percent of those in which Tom would explicitly be on camera. And so Cliff said, ‘OK, here’s the plan, Tom: You’ll be in all of these shots and then we’ll go off and shoot with second unit the rest of these shots,’ and Tom said, ‘No, I’m going to be in all of these shots.’”
How McQuarrie approached the logistics of the chase scene with Cruise doing his own stunts: “We realized we could break away from the older-school car chase … the challenge of car chases is you’re trying to hide the fact that it’s not the actor really driving the car. Now we were challenged to find ways to prove that the actor was driving the car. And that kind of became the fun of that sequence. So we were constantly re-inventing it as we were going, and Tom was able to very quickly make those adjustments because of his experience driving that car. And he became very familiar with it — he was driving two or three hours a day. There were four different cars that he was driving. Because of how rehearsed everything was, we were able to have actors free-driving in stunt sequences where we were essentially improvising the action. We would come up with some of those stunts 30 minutes before we’d shoot them, and a half an hour later we were moving on to the next thing.”
Jack Reacher opens Friday nationwide.