SR: What made you settle on ‘Jack Reacher’ as a film you wanted to not only write, but direct as well?
McQ: It was the first film that anyone would let me do in twelve years. After ‘The Way of the Gun’ I went hard to work on what the next movie was going to be, and spent the next twelve years not being able to get anything made. I was adamantly steadfast with still developing the kind of material that was – whether or not I thought it was – it was stuff that was still intensely anti-commercial. The look of ‘Way of the Gun’ – the way that ‘Way of the Gun’ was shot – did not lead to anybody saying, ‘Yeah! Let’s get that guy to direct our movie!’ Whereas with ‘The Usual Suspects’ I still had people wanting me to write their screenplays.
So I just never successfully made that transition… I don’t think anybody considered me to be a director until [Producer] Don Granger came to me after ‘Valkyrie’ with this [Lee Child] book. I had never heard of the books before, and he said to me, ‘I want you to write and direct the adaptation of this book,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I’m not going to help you do that. I’ve been in director jail for twelve years, I’m never going to ask permission to make a movie again. I’d rather not make a movie than ask permission. And the truth of the matter is, if I write this thing they’re just going to dangle directing in front of me like a carrot, and when it’s over we’re going to come to some kind of falling-out, and then they’re going to have a script that I wrote and somebody else is going to direct it. And I don’t need to spend more time building somebody else’s brand. So if you can get the studio to offer me the movie, I’ll do it – but otherwise I’m not going to read the book.’
The other thing I said was, ‘You have to get Tom to sign off on this, because I know he’s attached as a producer – I have to assume that Tom wants to be an actor in this movie; he’s not going to want to be in a movie with me directing. I don’t have the track record of the directors that he’s worked with previously, so you need to get Tom to just let the book go, so that it’s mine free and clear.’
Now I gave these instructions to Don Granger thinking that he could not achieve either of them, and to his credit, he came back a week later and he’d gotten the studio to offer me the movie and he’d gotten Tom to say, ‘Go with God – it’s yours.’ About four months later I was finished with the script; we handed it to Tom in his capacity as producer – while he was making ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ – and he and I ended up talking about the script and he said, ‘Look, I don’t know who you have in mind to play this guy, but I’d love to do it.’
So I never had to go through the stress of sending the script to an actor and waiting two, four, six, weeks for them to get around to reading the script and say yes or no; I sent it to the producer for notes on the script and I got a call back from the actor.
Now that you’ve successfully done a film like this – would you do it again?
Definitely would do it again. I mean I love working with Tom, I love this character, I love the size of this movie. It’s a nice, gritty, handful of a budget, but it’s not too big and it’s not too small.
Which Lee Child Reacher novel would you want to tackle in a sequel?
I’m not quite sure what book yet – I’m sure I know what terrain that I want to go after. The first book, ‘The Killing Floor,’ is more rural; in fact, the reason we avoided it is because it felt a little too ‘Walking Tall,’ a little too small town. Some of the other books that involved big cities we knew that we couldn’t do because it truly isn’t quintessential Jack Reacher and it gave you no place to go [in sequels]. The reason why we settled on Pittsburgh was because it was a nice sort of middle-sized city.
What I’d like to do next is cut rural – go for one of those books that takes place in the badlands, out in the Dakotas, something like that, where the terrain reflects the character of the next movie. Because in truth, the next movie is not going to be such a complex mystery as ‘One Shot’ is – and more importantly, I don’t have to set up Jack Reacher. The next movie can begin with him right there on page one walking in; there’s going to be less dialogue, and it’s going to be a tougher, grittier, sparser movie. So I think the landscape should reflect that.
And then, if we’re lucky, we’ll get to go to a third movie, and then you blow it open, you go to a big city. You go to the one that takes place in New York and London, so that he’s always a fish out of water and he’s got a different thrust in each movie.
Jack Reacher is now playing in theaters. If you want to discuss the film in detail, head over to our Jack Reacher Spoilers Discussion. For more with McQuarrie, check out our discussion of his plans to expand Fox’s X-Men Universe and his beloved script for what he calls ‘Kurosawa’s Wolverine’.