The first big action release of 2013 is Jack Reacher, based on the novel by Lee Child. You can check out my review by clicking here. Director Christopher McQuarrie was recently in Australia to talk about the film and I was fortunate to speak with him for 10 minutes. It was a very interesting conversation…
You can download the full audio from the interview by clicking here.
Matt: Whenever I hear the name Christopher McQuarrie, the first thing I think about is The Usual Suspects – one of your first ever writing credits. It’s regarded today as one of the best ever movies with a “twist”. When you were writing that script, did you always think it was something special?
Christopher: Not like that, no. There were no expectations whatsoever. Bryan Singer and I made that movie more as an inside joke to ourselves and I don’t think we ever anticipated what it would be today.
Matt: Wow. But it won you an Oscar back in 1996. Was that a big boost to your filmaking career?
Christopher: That was a big boost to my bank account. I got paid more to write movies that I didn’t really want to write about.
Matt: Out of curiosity, where do you keep your Oscar statue?
Christopher: Now I keep it at home but for years my parents had joint custody.
Matt: Trying to break into the film industry, did you always see writing as a transition into directing?
Christopher: Not always. There came a point shortly after The Usual Suspects where there were movies that I wanted to make and I saw them so specifically and I wanted to make them myself. The Way Of The Gun was meant to be the foray into that but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.
Matt: I was reading that you helped out the script of last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol but you weren’t listed as one of the film’s final writers. Does that often happen in Hollywood? Are you helping friends out on the side with some of their projects?
Christopher: Yes, all the time. It’s a very strange and cryptic process. Strangely, there’s more of my work in Ghost Protocol than there is in The Tourist and yet I ended up with credit on The Tourist which I didn't pursue credit on and I didn’t end up with credit on Mission: Impossible where I did pursue credit.
Matt: Tom Cruise was involved with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and he was also in Valkyrie which you co-wrote the script for back in 2008. You guys must know each other fairly well so how did you first meet?
Christopher: We first met just prior to Valkyrie. It was around the time he’d gone off to reboot United Artists and I had never had a meeting with his company. I suggested on a lark to my manager that we have a meeting with Don Granger who is now the producer on Reacher. A meeting with Don Granger led to a meeting with Paula Wagner which led to a meeting with Tom Cruise.
Matt: Tom Cruise is the star of this film but he’s also one of the producers. How does that relationship work? You’re telling him what to do in front of the camera but then he’s overseeing the whole filmmaking process itself?
Christopher: Yeah, it’s not anything that’s cut and dry. Those are official titles that don’t really explain what the collaborative relationship is between myself, Don and Tom where we all seem to be functioning together as a team.
Matt: And with Cruise being the producer here was he always the man lined up for the role of Jack Reacher or were there other actors in mind?
Christopher: No and in fact, it was quite the opposite. I never expected that to be the case. When the project came to me, I simply assumed that Tom wasn’t going to be in the movie. Given my track record as a director, I really wasn’t expecting to be put on a list with the other directors that he’d worked with. I was actually surprised when he read it in his capacity as a producer and then hear him say that he wanted to do it.
Matt: The most curious casting decision for me was Werner Herzog as the villain. I know him as an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker as opposed to an action bad guy. How did he come across your radar?
Christopher: I told Mindy Marin, the casting director, that I wanted someone lesser known to a wider audience. I wanted someone European. I felt that the essence of what would make the character threatening is that he was someone with whom we are not familiar. The first name that she suggested was Werner.
Matt: I love the film’s dialogue-free introduction as we see the crime take place but I was curious about the decision to reveal the identity of the killer early on. Is that how it played out in the book? Or was there thought to keeping it hidden and more of a surprise later on?
Christopher: That’s a great question and you’re the first person who has asked me that. In the book, the identity of the killer is kept secret throughout and it’s ultimately a mystery that Reacher uncovers. The challenge is that Lee Child shows you the crime and of course because he’s writing a book, he doesn’t have to show you the killer’s face. When you’re trying to shoot that same scene, you would have to so clearly hide the killer’s face that it would be obvious that you’re concealing his identity.
We knew very early on that taking that as an element of the book and putting that literally into the movie was going to put a burden on the film. The audience was going to be way ahead of you. They were going to know right from the very beginning that it was a set up. I said to Don Granger that I believe I can only sustain this for about 10 minutes. I don’t think I can sustain this mystery for the whole movie.
Nor do I want to make another movie, having worked on films like The Tourist, where you have to hide someone’s identity the whole time. It’s exhausting and it limits your ability to move from scene to scene. So I decided early on that I was going to reveal that to the audience and conceal it from Reacher.
Interestingly enough, when the film was finished, we cut a version like that. We had the material so I could hide the shooter’s identity and reveal that Barr wasn’t the shooter until late in the movie. With test audiences, that film scored much lower.
Matt: Wow. There’s a great car chase sequence in the film and from the point of view of the guy sitting in the director’s chair, how easy is that to pull off? Does a lot of planning go into a scene like that?
Christopher: Yes, endless planning. There was endless planning on storyboarding and designing and working it out. There was a huge amount because we shot it at night and there were huge lighting concerns. The whole bridge had to be lit, the alleys had to be lit, a helicopter had to be co-ordinated for that sequence.
There’s also the driving and the time that Tom spent on his own, on the days that he wasn’t working, practicing over and over again. He drove every stunt in that car chase.
Matt: The title of the book is One Shot but then the title of the film has been changed to the name of the leading character – Jack Reacher. Is that sort of decision that you as a director get involved with or is more the studio trying to market the film?
Christopher: Yeah, that’s a marketing decision. It’s an alchemy that I don’t really understand and so I leave that up to them.
Matt: I’ll finish up by noting that the Internet Movie Database lists you as a possible writer for Top Gun 2. Is there any truth in that and any chance the film will get off the ground?
Christopher: Whether or not you’ll see the film get off the ground is anyone’s guess. I’m not involved with it though. I was involved in the very early discussions of it and there was some talk that I was going to write it but then Reacher happened and so I went one way and that movie went another.