While many people are focusing their attention on Jack Reacher star Tom Cruise (and the vast difference in appearance between the actor and the character described in author Lee Child’s source novels), the more intriguing story (for us at least) is the return of Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning writer of The Usual Suspects and director of the 2000 film The Way of the Gun, which has since become a cult-favorite in certain circles of cinephiles.
McQuarrie’s resume has been pretty sparse since the 21st century began; his only film credit during the ’00s (besides Gun) was doing the screenplay for his friend Bryan Singer’s 2008 WWII thriller, Valkyrie, which is where McQuarrie first struck-up a working relationship with Cruise. During our interview at the Jack Reacher press junket in New York, the acclaimed filmmaker talked about what it’s been like being stuck in ‘director jail’ for over a decade, and why Reacher (and the industry wisdom of Tom Cruise) were necessary in helping him get back to making commercially viable films.
SR: How was it jumping into a blockbuster film of this scope when your last directing job was Way of the Gun over a decade ago?
McQ: You know, it was a lot of fun – I mean putting into it everything I had learned from the experience of making ‘Way of the Gun’ – and probably more so ‘Valkyrie.’ I learned so much from those two movies. I learned more about writing from editing ‘The Way of the Gun,’ and I learned more about directing from producing ‘Valkyrie’ that by the time this came around I felt like I was ready to make a movie that could exist in two places at the same time – that is, a movie that satisfied me and a movie that did not offend the industry [laughs].
Was it helpful having Tom Cruise as a guide to making this sort of high-profile film?
Well without ‘Valkyrie’ there wouldn’t be a ‘Jack Reacher,’ honestly. Let me put it another way: there would not be a ‘Jack Reacher’ with ME involved. ‘Valkyrie’ is where Tom and I really got to know one another, and I learned a lot from Tom about what I had been doing to alienate the film business. One afternoon I was on the [Valkyrie] set talking to another actor, Jamie Parker, about a dream project of mine – a movie I really wanted to do. Tom was just sitting off to one side, overhearing our conversation – and I didn’t know that Tom was even listening, he was typing away on his Blackberry, managing all sorts of other stuff in his life – and when it was all over he suddenly looked up and I realized he had been listening to the whole story and he said, ‘You know, that’s a really great story and it sounds like a really great script… but we have to focus on helping you write scripts that can actually get made.’ [Laughs]
It wasn’t him saying ‘I would never make that movie,’ it was him saying, ‘I’d love to make that movie – but it’s impossible to get that movie made; you need to work up to that place to get there.’ And he and I spent a lot of time on that movie, just talking about storytelling and talking about his experiences working with other directors. It’s never him explicitly sitting down and saying, ‘Take a knee sparky, I’m gonna tell you how to make a movie.’ He imparts to you his experiences and from that you sort of gather what it is you need to do to make that kind of film. It’s important to point out, though, that what he’s NOT saying is, ‘change who you are and buy into the system.’
When we brought him ‘Valkyrie’ – you know, as a studio, we didn’t approach him as an actor – he said ‘Guys, you need a lot more money to make this movie, you’re talking about $20 – 30 million dollars – you need a lot more money.’ And we said, ‘No, no no! We can do it! We think we can do this for budget.’ And he said, ‘Guys, you’re blowing up the tenth Panzer division in the first ten minutes of the movie – you need more money.’ And so we were waiting for the compromise that came with that [money]… and it never came. It was just him saying, ‘It needs to be bigger,’ and by making it bigger, by its very nature, you make it more commercial.