Author Lee Child cameos as a TSA agent in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” He has one line:
“Enjoy your flight.”
As simple as that might sound, Child had to shoot the scene more than once.
“Not because of me, and not because of Tom Cruise, but because of the extras,” the British author said, chuckling. “They were in this snaking S-shaped line, like a security line, and the movement was quite choreographed. It took a couple of takes to get them all moving right. But I love all that. I wish we’d done more takes, to be honest.”
Child is the creator of Jack Reacher, the fictional former military police major who has wandered the earth having adventures and avenging wrongs in 21 best-selling novels — so far.
“Never Go Back” is the second movie based on Child’s Reacher books. The film’s existence was no guarantee, even in this age of franchises and sequel after sequel after sequel.
The first film, 2012’s “Jack Reacher,” was a decent action thriller (it has a 62 score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 50 on Metacritic). But it made only $80 million in the U.S. (on a $60 million budget), which doesn’t crack the 20 top grossing films of Cruise’s career.
Most involved with the first film believed moviegoers stayed away because it opened seven days after Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six staff members at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“I thought it was a great movie, but we just ran up against a terrible tragedy,” Child said by phone from New Orleans, where the studio held a fan event. “We didn’t do the premiere, we withdrew all the PR, and the movie started out under a little bit of a cloud. Knock on wood, if nothing like that happens this time, I think we’ll get a fairer shake.”
Child (which is a pen name, by the way; the author’s given name is Jim Grant) spent nearly two decades working in television before publishing the first Reacher novel, “Killing Floor,” in 1997. He said he hoped then that the character would prove popular, but he really had no idea.
“If you predict success in this business, you’re delusional,” he said. “If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you can’t explain why. You just have to take whatever verdict the market brings.”
And the market likes Reacher. The character is a billion-dollar brand worldwide, selling nearly 100 million books. Stephen King and John Grisham may be better known, but Forbes magazine in 2014 said Child has the strongest reader loyalty of any best-selling author.
Part of that has to do with consistent output. Child writes a book every year.
“I have no idea what it will be until it’s finished,” Child said. “Next year’s book, I’ve just started it, but because of the movie promotion, I won’t get much done until December. By about March, I’ll know what it’s about.”
In addition to consistency, Child thinks Reacher resonates because of his moral clarity — even though he’s killed close to 200 people in the novels. The real world has to have laws, procedures, rights and protections, but in some cases and on some level, people actually find that unjust.
“If you’re absolutely sure that somebody is in the wrong but they’ve gotten off on a technicality, that’s very frustrating,” Child said. “For that kind of emotion, Reacher would just cut straight to the chase and take the guy out. And I think people find that tremendously satisfying simply because they know they can’t have it in real life.”
Reacher also is unusual because he’s a man of few words. Fans on Twitter often use the hashtag #ReacherSaidNothing, a sentence that Child employs in several of the novels (“Reacher Said Nothing” also is a book about Child’s writing process by Andy Martin).
“Yeah, those three little words every now and then on the page, they create rhythm, they create a pause, a beat, and they describe the character very well, I think,” Child said. “I wanted to set him out as a character who won’t just talk for the sake of talking. He’ll stay quiet if that’s the correct response.”
Reacher has a solid following among the military, though Child said it depends on rank.
“Reacher was a major, and typically majors and below love him,” Child said. “Lieutenant colonel and above are a little uneasy, because they think, ‘What would it be like to have this guy under my command?’ Having said that, I just received an invitation from a colonel at West Point to come up and see real-life Reacher training.”
While there’s no Blofeld or Moriarty to menace his hero, there is no end to injustices in the world. Child says he focuses solely on giving his audience a good time. Whether “Never Go Back” finds its movie audience or not, Child said he envisions Reacher being around on the page a good long while.
“Certainly, he’ll carry on as long as I’m compos mentis and can still write,” Child said. “Robert Ludlum had 21 books while he was alive, and since he’s been dead he’s had another 32. So maybe Reacher will be like that.”