Having stormed through 26 bestselling novels so far, Lee Child's taciturn ex-military behemoth Jack Reacher has become the stuff of literary legend. He infamously lost a few inches when last translated to the screen, but that wrong is about to be righted in Reacher, Amazon Prime Video's new eight-episode series adapting Child's first Reacher book, Killing Floor. Filling the impressive, enormous boots of the main man himself is Titans star Alan Ritchson, who dropped by the Empire podcast to explain how his Reacher is the real deal, and that he's here for the long haul.
How difficult was it to get Reacher’s physicality and fighting style right?
Alan Ritchson: That was a huge conversation. And Buster Reeves, the stunt coordinator who designed these fights, did an excellent job. He just always nailed it. So much so, that it was a little intimidating. You know, the first time I saw him show me the fight design for the prison fight, that absolutely nuts five-on-one fight in the prison bathroom, it was hard to watch. I was like, ‘I’m not sure I can move like that’. And I'm not a stranger to action sequences. I've spent tons of time doing fight choreography, and this was the first time that I was like, ‘Dude… I don't know how you hit him with that many parts of your body’. He's like, ‘We'll get it…’ So it was just about going back to some of the most basic movements and then sort of rebuilding. I just had to surrender to the process and trust that it would look awesome and brutal. I'd be there, sweating all day, for months, but hopefully it was worth it.
Lee Child wrote this character, and he's larger than life himself, in every single way. I don't think he was necessarily thinking that one day, someone's going to have to actually play this guy.
Yeah, he’s talked about that. He told me that he never thought he’d see this, but he feels like this is right. That’s the only approval that really matters, and it's a real honour. I‘m a fan. I’ve kind of clung to every word he's written, and even I feel like the myth of who Reacher is has grown so large that there really is no human alive that can fill those shoes. So to hear him say that is reassuring. I guess we'll see what the fans have to say. It's the right medium to tell this story; we've got enough time to really get to know these characters. There’s nothing rushed about it. We're not trying to pack an entire book into two hours.
The show is very much like Reacher himself – it's gentle, it takes its time, then explodes into violence when you least expect it.
Yeah, if you haven't read the books, I think one of my favourite things about it is that pace, where you've got this slow burn. You watch Reacher break down a case, and he slowly works his way through the mystery, but there's always this final battle, this final sequence that you're building towards for the entire book. By the time you get there, there's so much anticipation for him to violently destroy the antagonists, and it's always done in such a satisfying way, because he's so brutal. He doesn't follow the same rules that we do. He has his own ethos, he honours his own code. It comes in at the end of every book, and the show is the same way. But it's even better, because every episode scratches that itch. So you know that in every episode, there's going to be this moment that we're building towards. It's cool. It's a really fun show.
I was nervous to meet [Lee Child]. You know, like – what if I'm not Reacher enough?
I’ve interviewed Lee Child a number of times over the years, and I suspect there's more than a little of Lee Child in Jack Reacher.
Of course, yeah, you can see it. He has the attitude, and he's got the height. He’s a bit thinner. He told me he's been the same weight since high school. He doesn’t go to the gym. He just smokes a lot, and eats avocado salads and reads books on the couch. His genetics should be studied.
Did you take anything from him to create your version of Reacher?
Yeah, I think the way that he kind of speaks out of the side of his mouth, and the way that he kind of holds his face. In one of the books he says something like, ‘his face is frozen in a half smile, like somebody who's waiting to smile before the shutter releases on a camera’ or something. That’s where you start to really see Lee in Jack. He kind of holds himself in the same way, and injects his idiosyncrasies or his mannerisms into Jack throughout the series. Having spent time with him in person, I see a lot of that. I think he's embellishing the weight a little bit and the power just a hair, but where he doesn't have to embellish is in his intellect. He is one of the smartest guys. He's just a wealth of information, and very funny. He’s a lot of fun to talk to. The intellect that Reacher has is almost superhero-esque, a kind of intellect like Batman coupled with this raw power and propensity for violence. But there's also this kind of dry sardonic humour. And Lee has a lot of that, too. I was nervous to meet him. You know, like – what if I'm not Reacher enough? But it was anything but that. He was he was so gracious and humble and kind and reassuring.
Were you a fan before this part came your way?
I hadn't read the books, but the audition process was very competitive and took over a year, so I got involved with the books as that process was unfolding. They wanted very much to find the right guy, to make sure that the fans were happy.
Because there's been a previous Jack Reacher who might not have been the right size…
Exactly, so this was an opportunity to maybe please the fans a little more in that way. So, it was a long process. As I started to get closer to the end, I started reading the books, and I'm glad I did, because I had a whole different understanding of who this guy was and why this is such an international hit. I read all 24 books before filming, and the first one twice, so by the time we were filming, I was such a huge fan. I was so in love with Reacher. I just was like, I have to get this right. I see why everybody loves this so much.
There's no pressure here to like, maintain my youth as we go through this, so I don't care. I’ll keep shooting as long as people will have me.
Going into the process, what was your approach to the audition? What were you playing him as?
I just tried to honour what was [in the script]. But they passed on me and everybody else that auditioned for this the first time around. There was nobody that they felt got it right. There was a different script, the very first time we auditioned, that went out to everybody that maybe could have been Reacher, or was the right size or shape or whatever. I think everybody auditioned. Reacher says nothing in the books a lot. I mean, that's famous: ‘Reacher said nothing’. It's all throughout the pages of the books. And that was the aspect of Reacher that they were trying to capture in the first audition. It was a four-page interrogation scene, where Reacher doesn't say anything. What the hell am I supposed to do with this shit? Like, how do I make this interesting? I tried to channel Waterworld, where the guy gets on the boat with Kevin Costner and he's really twitchy and super high-energy and Kevin Costner is kind of dry. And apparently it was a terrible choice!
So then, eight months later, I get a call that there's a new script, and a new casting director [who] had reviewed the tapes that went to producers. So I'm lucky that I got to that point because she reviewed the tape and said she thought she saw the qualities there. A new script came over and I was like, ‘This is much better, I can do a lot with this’. And at that point I started to get more familiar with the books. So it all came together that second time around, and it still took months. It was a battle. A lot of very talented guys that would be great Reachers were up for the role and wanted it.
But you fought them all.
I fought them all! With scything elbows to the face!
Did you at any point go to them, ‘Look, Reacher – Ritchson! It's right there!’?
Yeah, it’s basically the same name! I didn’t. I thought maybe it has to do with the physicality. Maybe I'm not big enough. There's a million reasons why you will or won't be right for a role like this. The size of this myth has grown so large, it's just hard for anybody to live up to it. It was all done over Zoom. This was during the pandemic. So, you know, normally you screen test in person, in front of real cameras, sometimes with other actors, and you meet all the producers, all the executives, the studio, the network, and there are no questions as to who you are as a person, and what you're going to be like on set. All that is usually answered by the time you’re cast. [But when they] decided they were just going to do this over Zoom, there was a lot of, like, ‘get out a tape measure and take pictures of yourself barefoot and in underwear’. There was a lot of pressure to perform from afar. You could tell there was a fear of them getting it wrong, or me showing up and not being exactly what I said I was. I [had] to reassure them I was telling the truth about what I would bring to this [and] what I had to offer.
It was nerve-wracking, showing up and meeting producers on set for the first time. I was terrified that they'd be like, ‘Oh shit, you're like an inch shorter than we need, man. You’re out of here!’ I was [only] sure [once] we started filming… that it was right. Two weeks in, there were no producers left on set. That never happens. As producers start to feel comfortable and leave town and go back to their other projects, you know you're in good shape. From then on, it was just, ‘Now we're making it happen.’ And I think we think we've got it, I think the fans are going to be happy.
Season One is Killing Floor, and I believe the idea is to do a book per season. As you mentioned earlier on, there are now 26 Reacher books, and he's kind of ageing in real time. He’s in his 50s/60s at this point in the books. How long do you think you might be able to do this?
I would like to shoot three or four of these books a year, so I'm not 100 by the time we get done! Because I want to tell every one of these stories, but we would have to advance the schedule here a little bit. I think in the first or second book, he mentions Reacher’s hair is thinning. I think I cheered out loud! There's no pressure here to like, maintain my youth as we go through this, so I don't care. I’ll keep shooting as long as people will have me.
What’s the one book you're itching to get to?
You know, I don't know if we're gonna go in an order or not. But I was so captivated by the first seven books. I raced through them in a week and a half and I just loved each one. Die Trying is an amazing book. The Hard Way… there's some amazing books that would make great shows.
Reacher starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 4 February.