British writer Lee Child was a middle-aged guy with a perfectly successful career as a TV screenwriter when he tried his hand at a novel: 1997's Killing Floor. It was to be the first in a best-selling series about enigmatic antihero Jack Reacher.
A former U.S. Army crime investigator, Reacher travels the nation via bus and rail, by hitchhiking or walking, taking with him nothing but the clothes on his back, his razor-sharp intelligence, and his martial arts skills, and he looks for people in trouble.
People he can help. Wrongs he can right. Criminals he can nab.
Reacher found a whole new audience in 2012, when producer-actor Tom Cruise brought the accomplished brawler to the screen in Jack Reacher, based on Child's 2005 novel, One Shot.
Cruise's sequel, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, based on the 2013 book of that name, opens Friday.
Child, 61, who shares the screen with Cruise for a few seconds in a cameo as a TSA agent, will release his 21st Reacher novel, Night School, on Nov. 8.
You were 43 when you decided to sit down and write a novel. How did it come to you? Did you start with a story or with Reacher's character?
Oh, the character. The character is always supreme. When I go back to my childhood and think about what I used to enjoy, I think about The Lone Ranger on TV. Everyone remembers The Lone Ranger, but nobody in the world could possibly tell you a single story.
It's always character. Character is what you remember. If you have a strong plot, well that's . . . a great bonus.
Who is Jack Reacher?
In a way, he's the sum total of all the books I've read and all the movies -- of the most compelling things I found in those stories.
He's a character that's always existed, the noble loner, the mysterious stranger, the knight-errant. . . . The character goes back thousands of years to religious savior myths. There's always a character that does the right thing and then disappears, leaving the population altered in some way. Reacher is just a modern version of that.
He certainly doesn't fit into society. I mean, has there ever been a Jack Reacher story where he wasn't arrested or framed for murder? It seems to be part of the fabric of the stories.
I'm sure there must have been a few if you look through them. But, yeah, he's always at odds with somebody; he's always misjudged.
I think that's the key issue. The . . . false accusations are a metaphor for [the fact that] society doesn't judge him correctly, which I think is why the reader feels sympathy for him because the reader is equally badly judged [and] feels aggrieved that life isn't going the way he wants it to.
Does Reacher just rub people the wrong way? Or are you working in a social critique about our treatment of strangers?
It's a little of both. I think the ultimate nightmare is for you to get into a Kafkaesque situation where you know you haven't done anything wrong . . . but for some reason you are not listened to and you are not being believed.
That's the ultimate fear for a lot of people, that you enter an irrational world where things don't work the way they should.
And Reacher doesn't do irrational.
Reacher is ruthlessly rational and logical, and he really doesn't understand things that exist outside those realms. He doesn't know why people act out of emotions, and so he's adrift in the world of feelings.
Is that why Reacher seems to be perpetually on the run? He's so uncomfortable in the third novel, Tripwire, when he finds himself with a steady girlfriend and a house.
Yeah, he got a relationship and a house in the third and disposed of them by the fourth.
He won't give up his life on the road.
Yeah, in one story someone tells him, "Instead of only buying one shirt at a time, why don't you buy two so you have a spare one?" And he says, "No, then I'd need a bag and then a second bag and I'd end up with a house and a car and I'll be filling out all kinds of forms."
Is Reacher capable of love?
Yeah, I think he absolutely is, and I think in every book he falls in love very readily. Now, is it serious? Is it deep? . . . But he definitely feels tremendous attraction and togetherness.
Then he dumps them and runs.
But at the back of his mind, he's probably thinking, "Well, eventually she'll drop me."
And it becomes a catch-22 for him because he's attracted to smart, intelligent, strong women, and yet the more intelligent a woman is, the faster she understands this ain't gonna work.
Even after 20 novels, Reacher remains enigmatic.
Well, Reacher is a character who depends on a realistic set of actions and plot lines. But he is fundamentally a myth and a legend, so he needs to remain mysterious.
How closely did you work with the filmmakers on the two movies? Did you work on the scripts?
Not at all. They were all very generous and very inclusive, but I told them in the beginning I didn't want to be involved to that extent. I wanted to get all the fun out of [being on a movie set] but with none of the responsibility.
The movies are fabulous, and I think if I had been meddling, it wouldn't have been so good.
There's been some debate about Tom Cruise's decision to play Reacher. Some critics say it's his best role. But some fans of the novels aren't happy at all.
I think he's a terrific Reacher. I'm just flattered that readers are so involved as to get upset about it. I think any actor would have upset some fans because they all have an image of Reacher in their head.
I must have heard this 10,000 times, fans telling me they didn't go to the first film but saw it when it was on cable or something, and they were surprised to see that [Cruise] is really good.
Time is proving it to be a good choice.
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This article was written by Tirdad Derakhshani from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.