Cruise, Child, Reacher (and me)

Lee Child – British, author of the Jack Reacher series and a multi-millionaire – has a cameo role in the new Reacher film starring Tom Cruise. When the big beasts met on set, Child’s amanuensis was there to watch 

Andy Martin@andymartinink
Tuesday 28 June 2016 18:42
The writer talks candidly about letting his literature loose on the silver screen
The writer talks candidly about letting his literature loose on the silver screen

I want to try and explain why it was that he had to insist on the private jet. It was all set for flying back from New Orleans. No problem, Mr Child. He had an urgent appointment the next morning at Random House in New York. That seemed fair. But then he demanded the private jet for the flight down there too, on that Thursday morning in December. Both ways? Yes, both ways.

It was, let’s admit it, just a little bit prima donna. But then, this was the movies. Didn’t they all behave like this? Why should he be any different? You were virtually obliged to be a git so as not to stand out from the crowd. And he really didn’t fancy having to get up early in order to take the scheduled flight from La Guardia. He would arrive feeling wrecked and in no mood to shoot his scene. It was all in the interests of making the movie as good as it could be, in other words. We understand, Mr Child. Consider it done.

But there was, in truth, a more subtle rationale in play. It was all about status. Hollywood was status obsessed. It was a highly feudal regime. Game of Thrones style. Were you going to be one of the high lords or one of the peasants? Lee didn’t fancy being a swineherd; he was only a troubadour, singing for his supper, but still he wanted to be seated right up there at the top table. Otherwise you were capitulating. You had already lost the battle.

So it was that he went not to La Guardia, not to JFK, but to Teterboro, in New Jersey, just on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. They sent a car for him of course. Come on, he’s not going to hail a cab! The grands seigneurs do not hail cabs. A three-hour flight, but he has a six-seat charter plane to himself, no security, no hanging about, no queuing. Just flunkeys, bowing down. And at the other end, at the Louis Armstrong International airport in New Orleans, for Mr Child’s further convenience, he didn’t even have to leave the airport. They still sent a car for him though, driven by some intern kid called Tyler – one of the lower echelons – who took him from one part of the airport to another. Paramount was using an entire terminal, abandoned by American Airlines, for the set. It didn’t need a lot of Industrial Light and Magic to get an airport terminal looking pretty much like an airport terminal. But it had to be both an airport in Norfolk, Virginia (which Reacher is leaving) and the airport in New Orleans where he is landing. Cue lots of posters saying “Sunny Virginia!” or similar. Cheap but effective. How the hell else were you supposed to show it was Virginia?

Hitting the mark: Tom Cruise in ‘Jack Reacher’ 

Lee was playing the part of a TSA officer (homeland security) checking Reacher’s boarding pass and ID. They had to make the smart blue shirt for him specifically, they couldn’t just go and buy one. Nobody else was as slim as he was with arms as long as his. Sarah was his make-up artist, a Brit who had come over specially for the movie. She spent more than an hour making him look good. First the haircut, then the shave, and finally the moisturiser. This was a first for Lee, who had never used any moisturiser himself, ever. Decided he probably wouldn’t bother in the future either, got as much moisture as he needed from coffee.

They were shooting from 6pm till 3am the next morning. It was all about the night shots. Easier to do at night sometimes. But they did Lee’s scene first, given his high feudal status and all. So this is the way it was set up: the camera over here, Lee over there, sitting at his podium (naturally, he had to be sitting down, he was too tall to be standing); in between a queue of people snaking around, going through security. The camera would begin shooting raw film, then it was “Background!” iethe queue, then it was “Action! ie Lee and Tom. Actually Tom was second in line. There was a young black woman in front of him, going through the same routine, presenting her boarding pass and ID. She was only an extra, but she had the important part of Woman Who Goes in Front of Jack Reacher. It was her real ID, a driving license. They had to shoot the scene about six times. She says to Lee, “Now you’ll be able to stalk me.” The driving license had her real address, but because he wasn’t wearing glasses it was all pretty hazy anyway. Tom came up behind her and said, “He wrote the book!” There was definite respect. Maybe a degree of amazement, too. She was flabbergasted. For a short period in her life, she had the unusual privilege of being sandwiched between the father of Reacher sitting in front of her and the guy behind her who was pretending to be Reacher.

They had lunch around 10pm. Hollywood hours. It was clear from the conversation that Tom had actually read the book (Lee didn’t like to ask, as such). And all the other books in the series too, it turned out. He was really quite knowledgeable. Obviously he knew One Shot – the basis of his first Reacher film – inside out. And now Never Go Back, too. But then little pearls of wisdom would escape his lips: “Reacher wouldn’t say x”, or “Reacher would do y”, that sort of thing. He’d come out with stray Reacherisms: “You can walk out of here or they can carry you out in a bucket!” The director and the producer were both fans of the books. So was the woman playing Reacher’s successor at the head of the 110th, Major Susan Turner (“The book is better” she said to Lee - I guess she had to say that). Status of girl playing the putative Reacher “daughter” unknown, except that she was good at stunts (with safety wire attached, of course – it would be digitally edited out later – she was only 17, after all, and had to have her mother chaperoning her). But to have Tom Cruise reading the books too, that was something. Someone had once said of Tom: “At least you don’t have to worry about him breaking in and stealing your library.” But maybe that was no longer true. He had taken to reading Reacher with a passion (or maybe listening to the audio book, or having fellow Scientologists read to him of an evening, or whatever).

It was three years to the day since the UK premiere of the first Jack Reacher movie. A day that was hard to forget for Lee. On the positive side: the full red-carpet treatment. Shamelessly enjoyable. Who would not get a kick out of being flown around the country in a helicopter? Delivered to Leicester Square in a stretch limo. It was like he was a movie star. And when they got out, there were as many fans yelling, “Lee Lee!” as “Tom! Tom!” He signed as many autographs. He even wore a shirt and tie for the night, really made an effort. Put laces in his shoes. The works.

On the downside, he was working, although he didn’t realise it at the time. He was being used to legitimise the movie for readers. But it was an impossible task, doomed to failure from the very beginning. And the interesting thing was that, to Lee’s mind, it had nothing to do with Tom Cruise. It was predictable that readers were going to hate the movie. You could take a 6’5” 250lb guy who looked like Reacher and whose name was Reacher and who had once been a military cop, and give him the part, and they would still hate it. Didn’t make any difference. Reading was private and movies were public. Youowned the book, you didn’t own the movie. On the page, Reacher is my guy. On the screen he becomes everyone’s. It’s like I have been robbed. Of course I am going to bellyache about it. I had this secret thing going on, and now it’s been exposed, and devalued. Naturally, readers were always convinced that the book was better. So Lee, in linking himself to the film, was bound to be scapegoated. It was all his fault. The best of times and the worst of times.

I mentioned this theory to a few friends. “Ha!” they would typically reply. “What about Harry Potter?” or “What about Bond?” and so on. “It is all down to Tom!”

But maybe, I thought, there was something specific to the heroic figure of Reacher that made him harder to translate to the screen; that was maybe, secretly, covertly, bookish. This was why Lee was filled with fresh hope: because Tom was becoming a reader. So he had a chance of being Reacher.

Lee Child’s latest novel is ‘Make Me’. Andy Martin’s new book is ‘Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of “Make Me”’.

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