Cruise reaches for new heights
Myles McWeeney on the controversial casting of little Tom Cruise as the 6ft 5in hero of the Jack Reacher thrillers
So you're the casting director for the first movie to be made of Lee Child's international bestselling Jack Reacher thrillers. You're looking for someone to play Reacher, the giant former US army military policeman turned vigilante drifter, the hero of the thrillers, who is "built like a brick outhouse".
Who do you call? Well, believe it or not, you get the diminutive Tom Cruise on the phone. And he says yes. Which is how Cruise began shooting the first Reacher movie, One Shot, in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, raising a perfect storm of protest on the internet and Twitter from die-hard fans of the 16 Reacher novels.
The fans of the tough but cerebral Reacher point out that, at six foot five and weighing 250 pounds, their hero is a tad bigger than Cruise, who is only a shade over 5 feet 7 inches in his elevator shoes, weighs barely 160 pounds soaking wet in a tweed suit, and, at 49, is too old for the part anyway.
One well-known American author, Tom Bergeron, tweeted that the casting "could work, I suppose, on the radio".
Others have been far less kind. One Shot has been adapted from the ninth book in the franchise, in which a former army sniper accused of killing five random victims in a senseless shooting spree, protests his innocence and sends for Reacher to clear him.
Jack Reacher is the creation of British writer Jim Grant, who writes under the pen name Lee Child.
He is one of the most successful British thriller writers ever, having sold 50 million books over the past 16 years, all of them featuring the charismatic former West Point graduate turned nomad Jack Reacher.
When we met in the Westbury Hotel last week over a coffee, Child was quick to come to Cruise's defence.
"Sure, Tom Cruise physically isn't a direct representation of Reacher, but Reacher's size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Tom Cruise will portray in his own way, and from what I've seen so far, he's doing it very well.
"I've met the cast and crew, I've seen some of the rehearsals and I've seen the read-through. It is a massive A-list production and I think it's going to be very convincing.
"People who are very familiar with the books may find it very strange for the first five minutes, and the acid test will be if they are sucked into the story and believe in it for the next 95 minutes.
"My guess is that they will."
Child sees the world from much the same perspective as Reacher, as he too is six foot five, but unlike the muscled ex-soldier he's as thin as a wraith. We're meeting to discuss the 16th book in the Reacher series, The Affair, which has just been published.
It is set in 1997, six months before the events described in the first, The Killing Floor, while Reacher is still an officer in the US army.
Child says that the decision to go back to Reacher's army days was prompted by a question that has been hanging around for years -- what exactly happened to shake him loose from the military life he loved.
"I was also very interested in going back to a world pre-9/11. The world was very different in 1997. Security was much more lax, it was a freer, easier world."
He produces a book a year, always starting on September 1, the anniversary of the day when, as a newly redundant Granada TV director, he began writing The Killing Floor, the book that changed his life.
He now lives in a high-rise apartment in Manhattan and has another apartment 15 floors below which he uses as an office. He and his New York-born wife, Jane, also have a house in the south of France and a mansion in England.
Each novel is written in a linear fashion and he polishes and edits as he goes, producing about 2,000 words a day. When he types 'The End', the book is perfectly formed and ready for his publisher.
What will surprise many fans is how violent Reacher is in this latest book. Child says that he is always careful not to make his central character too good.
"I think the danger for a series writer is that you fall in love with your character and only want to show him in a good light.
"That way everything becomes sugary and unsatisfying for the reader. I just let him do whatever it is he feels like doing, warts and all."