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Ironically enough, the one actress director Christopher McQuarrie didn’t meet in person during hectic fast-casting sessions in Los Angeles for the role of Helen opposite Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher called in via Skype: Rosamund Pike, McQuarrie tells Andrew L. Urban.

The Polo Lounge on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is just a 7 minute drive from the Peninsula Hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Christopher McQuarrie, while trying to cast the key character of Helen to star opposite Tom Cruise in his latest film, Jack Reacher, had set up consecutive and alternating meetings with some of Hollywood’s leading actresses at each venue.

It is bad form to have high profile prospective cast bump into each other in these situations, so McQuarrie would flit from one to the other. “I don’t know what the people at the Polo Lounge must have thought as I kept coming and going,” he says in retrospect while promoting the film on a Sydney junket.

“I met with every actress under the sun,” is how he puts it – perhaps because it felt like that. There was one actress he wanted to meet who wasn’t in Los Angeles, so he arranged a Skype call with Rosamund Pike in London, which was scheduled to last 20 minutes. “We talked for over an hour and when we finished, I knew she was right for the role.

"a certain humour or lightness"

“I was looking for a certain humour or lightness in the character, and someone who felt totally out of Jack Reacher’s world.” Pike has it all, from intelligence to looks to tone, as far as McQuarrie is concerned. And she is clearly not of Reacher’s world – for one thing, even though she blends into the American dialogue and accent, she is English.

Since Tom Cruise was already ‘attached’ as the title character, Helen was the next major role. 

McQuarrie’s favorite scene is a phone call between Helen and Reacher. “It’s after a huge car chase. Reacher has been framed for murder and knows that what the villains want him to do is run. And he calls Helen at her apartment when she's being interviewed by the police who are looking for Reacher, and she has to make the decision, whose side am I on? Am I going to turn him in to the police, who I am talking to, or am I going to put my faith in this guy who I'm really starting to believe is crazy. And overwhelming evidence is now indicating that he's murdered someone and she has to make a choice. It's a situation in which all of the character dynamics that we've been building up in the course of the story have coalesced into this one scene.” 

"We both were looking for some cracks to appear"

Pike was interested in surprising the audience with her character. “I really wasn’t interested in portraying a stereotypical lawyer that’s popular now in a lot of Hollywood fare. We’ve sort of come to expect a type of law portrayed on film that has become somewhat perfect, groomed, manicured, hard-edged and slightly cold. I was interested in finding the humanity of this woman, someone who’s actually trying to present a polished front but is, in fact, struggling to hold it all together. We both were looking for some cracks to appear.” 

Pike wanted audiences “to feel that Helen was out on a limb, without means or funds to build a strong case. Her client is in a coma and she doesn't have the financial backing from her firm to hire a private investigator. I wanted the audience to see a different side of the law, a lawyer who is winging it rather than in full control of her game. Her hiring of Reacher is a gamble, one that at one point seems likely to backfire, as Helen starts to wonder if she has hired a conspiracy theorist, a violent lunatic who doesn't care about proof.” 

With the sleuth skills of Sherlock Holmes and the mystique of the stranger who rides into town, rights the wrongs, defeats the bad guys – and rides out again, Jack Reacher is a character who doesn’t change during the story. He’s the classic Lone Ranger figure, the hero who turns up out of the blue and rides off into the sunset at the end. In this case, he’s not on horseback.

The genesis of the film began when McQuarrie’s agent prodded him to try to persuade Paramount to let him write the adaptation and direct the film. “I had already decided that I was never going to try and sell myself to a studio again,” says McQuarrie, “and I knew that Cruise Wagner Productions owned the rights to the book (One Shot). So I said if the studio wants me to direct it and Tom Cruise lets the book go, I’ll do it.” To his amazement, a week later he got a ‘yes’ to both.

"I’d be interested"

But then he had a script doctoring gig to do with Cruise on Mission Impossible and at one brief point during a conversation over the script, Cruise interrupted to casually say, ‘By the way, I read the One Shot script – I like it. I don’t know who you’ve got in mind to play Jack Reacher, but I’d be interested…’ and then the conversation returned to the task at hand.

McQuarrie was stunned – in a good way; here was Cruise offering to play the lead role, surely! That meant two things: 1, it would get made; 2 it would have as its star the actor who McQuarrie regards as “the biggest movie star who ever lived”. When I ask him why he thinks so, he doesn’t hesitate: “Based on the length of his career and the money his films have earned … and he’ll hold on to that leading status.” (But after a short chat, McQuarrie admits that Clint Eastwood is probably another contender for that description. And maybe John Wayne…)

A tall man in blue jeans and a matching blue jacket, a firm handshake, the hair of David Lynch and the nose of Matt Damon, McQuarrie is affable and entertaining – and self deprecating, despite being an Academy Award winning writer, producer and director whose credits include The Usual Suspects, The Way of the Gun and Valkyrie, which also stars Cruise. 

The Jack Reacher of the books is tall and blond, but McQuarrie says fans of the books are “shareholders, investors in the Jack Reacher brand and the movie is just one facet of that brand. We paid attention to the tone of the book and the character. But a literal translation wouldn’t have worked.”

"every night was a party, and we all had enormous fun"

And having Cruise in the title role also turbo charged that “major chase” sequence. “We looked at a lot of filmed car chases and there’s an ‘impression’ of a chase, but with Tom we have an experienced driver so we could make it much bigger than originally written. So wherever possible, Tom is doing the driving, and the guys who drive the pursuit cars are in seventh heaven because they never get to drive like that normally on a film. So every night was a party, and we all had enormous fun.

“My mantra was that if the camera is not in danger then the shot’s not worth doing. And then of course I was usually in the car with the camera …. It was wild.”

[Jack Reacher opens January 3, 2013]

Published December 20, 2012

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Christopher McQuarrie


Tom Cruise - as Jack Reacher

Rosamund Pike

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