A few days ago we had the chance to attend the press conference for Tom Cruise’s latest action-thriller “Jack Reacher.”
Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Unusual Suspects”), the film is based on Lee Child’s popular novel “One Shot,” which is the ninth book in a 15-volume series featuring the Reacher character.
In an innocent heartland city, five are shot dead by an expert sniper. The police quickly identify and arrest the culprit, and build a slam-dunk case. But the accused man claims he’s innocent and says “Get Jack Reacher.” Reacher himself sees the news report and turns up in the city. The defense is immensely relieved, but Reacher has come to bury the guy. Shocked at the accused’s request, Reacher sets out to confirm for himself the absolute certainty of the man’s guilt, but comes up with more than he bargained for.
Here is what Christopher McQuarrie, Lee Child, and co-stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike had to say and yes Tom Cruise was not present…sorry
I wanna start with Lee Child, the creator of Jack Reacher. It occurred to me as I lay in my bed napping the other night letting my thoughts unwind that all modern day detectives are heirs of Sherlock Holmes to a certain extent. And certain Jack Reacher with his amazing powers of deduction, observation and memory is certainly in that category. But certainly also with a lot of interesting differences that are very action movie friendly. And so I was wondering the extent to which you drew on old influences of detective fiction in creating this character, but also were you ever thinking as you wrote the Jack Reacher books of movies?
Lee Child: I’ll answer that last one first which is my personal theory is that if you write a book with one eye on its eventual screen adaptation, you’re gonna end up with a bad book and a bad screenplay. So what I do is I write the books. And I throw in whatever I like and it is the ultimate power without responsibility because then when it comes to the movie, it’s somebody else’s problem; i.e., the screen writer; i.e., Chris. So yeah I just put in whatever feels good for the books and there is a lot of Sherlock Holmes in there. I love Sherlock Holmes both as a character and as a writing proposition because actually writing Sherlock Holmes is the biggest gas of all time because people are very impressed with the fact that he gets things right. While it’s easy to get things right when the same writer is writing both ends of the question. You know, you think is this man an unemployed bricklayer and of course because you’re writing the answer — yes, he is. And so you stand very smart. So yeah, I love Sherlock Holmes but Reacher I think is also a kind of half breed, a blend of a much more ancient character, the Sir Lancelot type of character. So the wanderer essentially. And just the other week, a Spanish journalist said his dad is a big fan of the books and his dad calls Reacher Sherlock Homeless which and I’m thinking why didn’t I think of that 15 years ago.
Christopher, I wanted to ask you about how this pairing came to be. You with Jack Reacher and to the extent to which you work with Lee if at all and the development of this project when you’re working with this kind of project with this kind of scale and with this kind of star, it’s never a simple thing. So I wanted to know a little bit about the evolution here.
Christopher McQuarrie: Normally it is not ever a simple thing. In this case it was only in that Don Granger the producer of the movie brought me the book which he’d been working on a few years before I came aboard and asked me to write and direct it. We had worked together on Valkyrie. He was working at United Artists at the time that I was producing the movie. And when he offered me the book I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it, but I’m not gonna help you get it made.” I had been in director jail for about 12 years and was tired of asking for permission to make movies. So I issued the challenge to Don that if he could get the studio to offer me the movie to direct, then I would read the book thinking he’s never do it and a week later he came back with the offer from the studio. So I did an adaptation and because Lee is a very cinematic writer, it’s a fairly straightforward adaptation. We gave it to Tom Cruise in his capacity as a producer because I never expected that Tom would be in a movie directed by somebody who’d been in director jail for 12 years. And he reads the script and called back and said, “I don’t know who you have in mind to play this guy, but I’d love to do it.” So at every turn I had, in the case of Don, a producer who was invested in my getting the film made as a director and the other producer, Tom, turned around and hired Tom. So.
Rosamond, I’d like to ask going back to the Holmes motif which I hope I don’t sound like a broken record with, but in a sense if Reacher is a descendent of Holmes, your character becomes a decedent of Watson. You end up having to do a certain amount of the leg work or assist Jack in certain of the leg work –
Rosamund Pike: Well, I know he had to say no shit, Sherlock, which is a — (Laughs)
No, you do not. But there’s also a dynamic there of an expectation of a romantic relationship which is always sort of teetering there. So I’m, wondering how you approached or looked at those two prongs of the relationship your character has to Jack Reacher.
Rosamund Pike: I don’t know. Reacher’s the guy who rocks into town and he does things differently from everybody else. He doesn’t sort of — he, you know, in any sort of normal social interaction, he just kind of doesn’t behave properly. And so Helen is left so of startled at every turn by his mode of operation. And what interested me about her is that she’s a good lawyer, you know. She’s a competent accomplished lawyer, but she hasn’t got the brilliance of Reacher and that drives her mad. It’s like, you know, she’s a girl who’s good at maths and then she meets a mathematician and they’re two very different creatures and, you know, I think so often, especially when we see a lawyer depicted on screen, we someone who’s always in control. Who’s sort of in command of their case, who doesn’t have any chinks in their armor and I think drama comes when you get the chinks. And I know that Chris agreed and we thought it was much more interesting to see a lawyer out of her depth than a lawyer in control of the show. And it was, it was fun. And you see a different side of the law because Reacher pushes her to do something that no defense attorney would ever do which is go and interview the families of the victims, the families of the people her client killed. And suddenly, you know, her whole belief system is really rocked. And you talk about the potential romance. I mean, you know, Chris is such a good writer that he manages to give you all the sort of satisfaction of a love affair without them ever having touched. We go through sort of almost every beat, you know, the attraction, the frustration, even the break up scene. You know, we’ve got this wonderful scene, you know, big important scene where Reacher comes up to Helen with an impossible idea that her client might in fact be innocent. I mean she hired this guy just to help her keep him off death row. The idea of him being innocent is more than she can fathom. She hasn’t got the equipment. Without proof, she hasn’t got the equipment. So she just says, “I just — I can’t do this anymore.” And it’s a line that’s completely applicable to the case, but it’s also a line out of a romance and it’s their break up and then you see her thinking, “Oh my God, what have done,” and then she follows him out. And, you know, so it was fun. I mean I think, you know, Tom and I had a very easy chemistry. It wasn’t anything we had to work on. And in a way I started to think maybe a sex scene is what people put in when there isn’t any chemistry. (Laughs)
David, your character starts as a kind of almost friendly rival to Jack Reacher and then becomes his most implacable foe or one of his more implacable foes. We’ll get to the implacability of the various foes in a second. So I wonder how the script came to you and what your reaction was when you found out you were going up against, you know, a character being played by Tom Cruise and what the interaction and dynamic was like in the performances.
David Oyelowo: Well, one of my first interactions outside of the script with Jack Reacher, the film, was meeting Chris at a hotel in Los Angeles. And one of the things that we talked about was exactly that. The fact that, you know, he needed in whoever played Emerson someone who was a genuine counterpoint to Jack Reacher. Someone who there is a world within which this could go on to be Lethal Weapon. This could go on to be these two teaming up and going after the bad guys so to speak. But, you know, in Chris’ parlance, you know, the movie gets in the way. And, you know, one of the things that was a lot of fun to play was this antagonistic relationship. One of the things I have an allergic reaction to playing especially as a black actor is the, you know, the mandatory kind of best friend cop detective type, you know. And you will never see me in that movie. What I loved about this is that he was a genuine counterpoint. He was, you know, there is an Emerson movie, you know, that is parallel to this in a sense and he’s on his own track and that was a lot of fun to play.
The idea of Werner Herzog playing a near blow fell type villain is so inspired and comes off so well in the film that it’s almost shocking that no one has come with it before. But I’d like to know how you came up with it, Christopher, and then how you approached Mr. Herzog to participate.
Christopher McQuarrie: That was entirely the doing of casting director, Mindy Marin. When we first sat down to talk about the role, I gave her my list of criteria. The main ones being that I wanted somebody European and unknown to a wider audience I thought. I thought The Zec would be a lot more intimidating if he was somebody unfamiliar. 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 because I started to wonder and I’d seen other things that he had done and I knew he could it. I was suddenly worried that he was too unfamiliar and that he was gonna 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. Like just hire the guy.” So I did and then when we put them in the room together, it was — and as a matter of fact we were having a good laugh about our first rehearsal with Werner. We had about 90 minutes put aside for us to rehearse some of the scenes towards the end of the movie and the trailer and the first three hours of that 90 minute meeting were Werner Herzog telling stories about his experience in an African prison. That was kinda what the relationship was. He would never leave the set. He would just hang out with the crew, he would hang out with the other actors and he’s still very much a student of film. And was also there constantly observing and constantly learning. And it was just a great experience.
Lee, how did you like seeing these characters brought to life by this particular cast if I may ask?
Lee Child: I loved it. I mean the — and it’s about the cast. You know, people talk about Tom Cruise quite rightly but it’s an exceptional cast really from top to bottom, the smallest roles to the largest. And I just love talent and technique and I love seeing things done well and that’s what I saw. You know, it’s tough with the adaptation because obviously it’s a running time issue, you’ve got to share approximately 6/7th of the novel which Chris did very well except that there were certain things where he wanted to, you know, there was no room for the character but there was maybe something about that character that had to be preserved. And I think Rosamond ended up with a short straw really because Helen Roden has about three big internal conflicts going on in her head in the book. Plus she had to carry two important beats from two other characters so that was like five things she had to do. And then it wasn’t actually five it was six because both I and the book and Chris and the screenplay, we tend to characterize Reacher by other people’s reactions to him. So she spent two hours doing six different things in a two hander with Tom Cruise. And I felt, you know, I was watching two actors at the very peak and, you know, whatever I’m watching, baseball, football, whatever it is I like to see things done really, really well. And, yeah, and that’s what I was seeing throughout. It was very inspiring and I thought, you know, like everything it just makes me feel I should work a little bit harder, you know. I gotta try and come up with something that they can’t do.
This is leading out of the casting questions that you’ve already been answering. And there was a lot of kick back from your fans, Lee Child, because Jack Reacher is written as a certain kind of physicality and clearly, Tom Cruise is not that physicality. I’m not sure who is. Maybe Clive Owen. I’m just throwing out names. But the point being you’ve defied that, Mr. McQuarrie, in terms of your casting and I’m curious what both of you think of going past that and concentrating on what you wanted.
Christopher McQuarrie: Don Granger and I talked very early on before Tom entered into the equation about who would play Jack Reacher in the event that the movie got made. When we started to compile the list of 6’5″, 250 pound blonde haired, blue eyed American actors and discovered that not only were there none, there had never been one. And there were none in the pipeline. We knew very early on that fans were going to have a reaction no matter who we cast. And we thought, “Well, if they’re gonna be angry, let’s make sure that they’re angry before they see the movie and not after they see the movie.” So we knew we were gonna make compromises on the physical size of the character. That meant we could not compromise on any other aspect of the character. And it’s interesting to listen to those fans who react and I’m very sensitive to it. 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. But I listen to those people speak with such authority about the character and I’m always shocked at how little they know about the character beyond his physical size. And so that was the thing that we concentrated on and there is a difference between the character and the characteristics, who Reacher is as a person, how he thinks, how he interacts with other people. To me, that’s all I saw when I read the books was the guy I wanted to sit down and have a beer with. I really don’t think about his physical size until it becomes important in the scene. And the other problem was that his physical size when I was writing the script with no actor in mind, his physical size actually became an obstacle for a great many scenes. Somebody who was so big I suddenly had to take a 6’5″ guy and fill the room with 6’8″ guys so that I had any sense of tension or suspense as to how he was gonna get out of it. So when Tom expressed interest I — that was a snap judgment on my part. I thought that solves a lot of my problems.
Lee Child: I mean I — first of all, I’m extremely grateful that any of my readers are so passionate about it. I mean that’s the sort of gold standard metric that I would have given my right arm for at the beginning of my career that people were gonna care. But it’s inevitability. I think readers just don’t think it through that you take a choice in a book, it’s going to be a different choice in a movie. I mean a very trivial example at the far end of the scale would be Silence of the Lambs which was a great book and a great movie. But in the book, Hannibal Lector has six fingers on one hand and that’s the sort of book type thing you do because you think you need a 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. So you do a different choice in the movie. 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. And I’m confident that — well put it this way. I’m confident that 10% of my fans are gonna hate the movie anyway because it, you know, this is their possession. It’s been taken away from them. I absolutely understand that. But 90% of them, if they go with open minds are gonna come out like I did and think I wanna see it again right now immediately because it was great.
Talking about Werner Herzog and inspired casting and think a lot of film buffs know based on his interviews, his documentaries that he’s a pacifist. He doesn’t believe in the death penalty. So it’s interesting that you cast him in this role and the fact that the death penalty is an issue that’s brought up in this movie. I was wondering if anyone on the panel can answer this. Did any of your feelings about the criminal justice system in the United States particularly the death penalty, were they affected by your experience working on this project? And also I’m curious to know the unusual situation of a daughter going up against her father in the legal system. I was wondering, Ms. Pike, if you could talk to maybe any back story that you may have discussed with the screen writer or the author, what would motivate an attorney to do that, to go up against a parent no matter how strongly she feels about a certain issue. I’m wondering if you could talk a little about that in terms of how it shaped your character.
Rosamund Pike: I can answer that first. I mean we, you know, one of the first things I said to Chris in our first meeting was, you know, there’s sort of a gaping hole in this relationship is that this clearly was a mother and there clearly isn’t a mother now. I mean that’s not explicit in Chris’ screenplay, but it somehow was like glaring for me. And, you know, and my personal idea was that this mother probably died of cancer. There’s this sort of hovering moment. There’s a line where, you know, Helen picks that word where she talks about corruption to her father and she’s says it’s like a cancer and you sort of think what’s she doing with that. Why is she saying that? And I think she, in some ways, it’s her most juvenile side that makes her go up against her father. It’s like a child who’s angry at a parent for the death of another parent. I mean we don’t wanna be too heavy handed here, but I think that is what it is and, you know, Chris wrote this wonderful scene where, you know, the father comes out after I’ve been to interview the family of the victim and, you know, on one level Helen is like a petulant teenager and on one level she’s like a little girl who just wants to be loved, but she can’t say it because she’s too proud. And I think it’s like her father’s kind of shut down after whatever’s happen to him because he’s, you know, and I think I learned this in sort of investigating American justice system is that it seems like in these big sort of city positions that District Attorneys too often those roles sort of lose sight of the justice system become more a role that can, you know, gear someone towards a political position in the future. They seem to be used politically. So, you know, you get these DA’s who want positive convictions more than they want justice or more than want fair trial or more than they’re interested in the truth because positive convictions show that you’re cleaning up a town and show that you’re kind of getting numbers and, you know, we see it everywhere. Numbers are kind of read more than, you know, nuance. So I did look into the American justice system and I read these and I’m gonna talk too much and I’m gonna be told to shut up, but I read some of the papers of Clarence Darrow, you know, that wonderful reformist attorney in Chicago back at the turn of the century and how he defended seemingly reprehensible people and believed in the idea of fair trial and believed that everybody should have an advocate. Anyway, I’m gonna pass it over to Chris who I’m sure has a more eloquent way of putting it.
Christopher McQuarrie: In answer to the other part of your question, it’s less to do with the movie affecting my opinion than my opinion I think affecting the movie. We had talked about Darrow very early on and when you read Darrow and you read his actually brilliant perspective on the death penalty and everything that’s wrong with it, you start to agree with what Darrow says and then life gives you a case that challenges that very thing. So when you’re looking at it from orbit, it feels as though of course it’s a moral issue and Darrow is right. And then suddenly something happens where you’re forced to looked at it and you’re emotional response to it is something else. And I wanted to create a dynamic between two characters where each one was forced to confront both sides of that. Reacher comes in with a very specific opinion about this guy should have paid for his crimes, got away with it, and I’ve come to make sure he pays this time. And then is forced to confront the evidence and look beyond his bias and here’s Helen who comes from a place of pacifism and also it has to do with her relationship with her father and her opposition to him the emotional complexity of her reasons for being against the death penalty. And then suddenly have to spend a day with somebody who had lost someone. That and then to have those two people in a room together sort of to me typified the complexity of that issue. And I don’t believe in telling someone in the audience what they should feel about a specific issue. I don’t think I know enough about any specific issue to have the answers to it. I just wanted to create a dynamic where it caused people to think about it.
Rosamund Pike: Yeah, and you’ve got characters in conflict.
Okay, we all know that Tom Cruise is an amateur race car driver so did he give you any input into the race car scenes and stunts in general on the film?
Christopher McQuarrie: I would be reluctant to use the word amateur after what I saw. It was more than input. The scene as it’s written in the script is very short. He drives away from the hotel; he very promptly crashes the car and runs away. Tom of course read those pages and had a vision. And he said, “Look, I think this could be the set piece. This could be the central sequence of the movie. Tell me what you want to do and we’ll figure out a way to do it.” When I sat down with Paul Jennings, the stunt coordinator second unit director, Paul said and we sat in my office one day and just watching all the old car chases that we really loved. Surprisingly that did not include a lot of car chases made in the last 10 years or so. And that was not by choice. We weren’t saying let’s go back and look at older scenes. It’s just I would suggest one, he would suggest one and we noticed that there was a ceiling at which we didn’t go beyond a certain date. Paul pointed out that in all of those car chases, if the camera wasn’t in danger, the shot wasn’t worth doing. Quite often you were seeing instances where the camera probably did get wiped out on the next take. The other mandate that grew out of this was you have a guy who is a professional driver. He should be in every shot he possibly can. And so we then went back to Tom with this scene, with this car chase and with this design and Cliff Lanning, the assistant director, worked out looking at all the boards. There’s 200 and some individual frames, all the different shots that we had in the scene. And he managed to isolate probably 20% of those in which Tom would explicitly be on camera. And Cliff said, “Okay, so 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 gonna be in all of these shots.” What happened was that the equipment that we had very quickly — we had sort of designed everything in a way that the cameras were sort of mounted to the cars and shot in the very standard fashion. But then what entered into this was this vehicle, the pursuit arm. It’s a Porsche Cayenne with a crane on the roof and a zoom lens and you can literally drive up to the car and put the crane in the window at 70 miles an hour. We realized we could break away from the older school car chase which was you were — 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 reinventing 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. You know, you had multiple challenges. One, the longer the car runs, the hotter the engine gets, the more the horsepower drops. We had to wet the streets down and the streets would only stay wet so long. So any time he did a stunt, the variable changed every time you did a take. Then a clutch would break and a new car would come in and he’d have to know that car. And there were four different cars that he was driving. And then I would put David Oyelowo in another car in front of Tom and David would have to incorporate his stunts into it and it –
David Oyelowo: And nearly got killed twice. Don’t leave that out, Chris.
Christopher McQuarrie: I won’t leave — well, you included it. So, but because of how rehearsed everything was, we were able to have actors free driving in stunt sequences where were essentially improvising the action. We would come up with some of those stunts 30 minutes before we’d shoot them and a half hour later we were moving onto the next thing.
Getting back to the questions of fans and the book, I didn’t read the book, but I was curious as to what was behind casting David as Emerson and how was he described in the book?
Christopher McQuarrie: I actually had a completely different idea for Emerson closer to who he was in the book and I actually had an actor in mind. And essentially the movie was cast when Mindy Marin said you’ve got to meet with David Oyelowo. And I had seen some of his work and respected it immensely and thought well I don’t wanna meet with him because I don’t have a part for David. I don’t really see where he fits into this. And I went and I met with David and I immediately walked out of there thinking I’ve gotta find a part for David in the movie and I had not cast Emerson yet. And there was something of a moral debate about the casting of David in that role. We had before meeting David and when you’re compiling lists for actors, there was sort of a universal unspoken mandate that we weren’t gonna cast anyone of color in that role. The list just was very Caucasian no matter how you sliced it. And the reason why was we didn’t want to suddenly have the only person of color in the movie turn out to be that person. Now we suddenly found ourselves in a place of reverse racism where we’re saying well we’re specifically not going to hire this guy because he is a person of color even though he’s perfectly suited for this role and it was once again Tom Cruise who said, he’s really good. Just put him in the role. What are you doing? And that’s what we did and that’s how David ended up in the movie and I actually — the fun we had on the movie working together — David is extremely good natured and I’m not. And so I loved coming to work every day and sort of taking advantage of the fact that David is such a completely good soul and I’m –
David Oyelowo: Gullible is the word he’s not using.
Christopher McQuarrie: Not really — yes.
David Oyelowo: But also what Chris is leaving out is the way he told me I got the role is that he said, “Oh, I’ve just shown your tape to Tom Cruise and Tom said can we get this guy?” (LAUGHS) I thought yes will be the answer to that question.
“Jack Reacher” Opens December 21, 2012.