Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has an Academy Award for writing “The Usual Suspects” and he’s kind of become Tom Cruise’s go-to scribe having penned “Valkyrie,” this week’s upcoming “Jack Reacher” and even tweaking several scripts that Cruise considered starring in (but not before McQuarrie tailored them for his needs). Recently he’s written “The Wolverine,” “Jack The Giant Slayer,” “All You Need Is Kill” and may even pen “Mission: Impossible 5” for Cruise (“Top Gun 2” seems dead now that Tony Scott passed away earlier this year).
So McQuarrie isn’t sweating it lately. But if you look at his CV, there’s huge gap between his 2000 directorial debut “The Way of the Gun” (which he also wrote) and “Valkyrie” in 2008 that is pretty blank. What happened? Well for one, “The Way of the Gun” received terrible reviews and was swiftly forgotten, but perhaps none of us really realized how much it hurt him. During the press conference for “Jack Reacher” this weekend, McQuarrie candidly said that making “Jack Reacher” was tough because he landed in “director jail for about 12 years.”
According to McQuarrie, producer Don Granger brought him the book years ago and offered it to him to write and direct, but the writer/director assumed his cachet had evaporated and his name wouldn’t help the project get off the ground. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do it, but I’m not [the person] that’s gonna help it get made,’ ” he explained. “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.”
Much to his surprise, his friend Tom Cruise, who had already tasked him with rewriting many of the projects he would eventually take on, was game right away. “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,” he said. “And [Tom] read 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.’ “
Given that the character is a 6’5″, 250-pound, blonde-haired, blue-eyed American, many fans were mortified when Paramount and McQuarrie announced that they had cast the comparitively dimunitive Cruise in the lead role as Jack Reacher. Finding that character was an impossibility. “When we started to compile the list of all the American actors [with these physiques], we discovered that not only were there none, there had never been one,” McQuarrie said. “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.’ “
McQuarrie’s thought was that size doesn’t matter, character counts. Making compromises in physique “meant we could not compromise on any other aspect of the character,” he said. “It’s interesting to listen to those fans who react and I’m very sensitive to it. 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 as for casting Werner Herzog as the villain? It’s a genius move that endeared the films to cinephiles the world over, and McQuarrie gives all the credit to his casting director, Mindy Marin. “I gave her my list of criteria. The main ones being that I wanted somebody European and unknown to a wider audience,” he explained. “I thought the villian 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 him.”
A week later McQuarrie was on the phone with an excited Herzog, who was very keen to take on the role, but of course, this triggered second-guessing doubts. “I was suddenly worried that he was too unfamiliar and that he was gonna feel like a documentary character in a Tom Cruise movie,” McQuarrie said. The director vacillated back and forth, but it was Tom Cruise who gave him the best advice possible. “It’s Werner Herzog, man. I don’t understand. Like just hire the guy.”
Herzog became a favorite on the set of the actors and the crew. “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,” McQuarrie laughed. “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.”
“Jack Reacher” opens on December 21st. Read our review here.