How ‘Reacher’ Star Alan Ritchson Crafted an Authentic Portrayal of the Beloved Hero (Video)

The actor tells TheWrap why he chose not to watch the Tom Cruise films

When Alan Ritchson first found out he landed the lead role in a Jack Reacher TV series, he was literally speechless. He startled his wife, who was napping, but when she awoke he couldn’t form the words to tell her the good news. “Are the kids okay?” she asked. Ritchson nodded, and she then immediately knew what had him so stunned. “Reacher?!” she asked, and Ritchson finally exhaled.

“’Reacher said nothing’ has been true for me,” Ritchson told TheWrap during a recent interview about his audition process and work on the series, evoking a famous line from the Lee Child book series. The “Titans” actor was “clamoring for a shot” at the title role in Amazon Prime Video’s TV series adaptation of the popular books, but during the first round of casting, he was passed over. “To my defense, the scenes were very different,” Ritchson said of the initial audition process. “We were auditioning with a scene where Reacher doesn’t say anything, so it was very tough to play.”

After coming up empty during the first round of auditions, a new casting director was brought onto the project and new scenes were presented to the finalists. All told, the “very competitive” process lasted six or seven months in Ritchson’s estimation. “It was long, it was arduous and I campaigned hard for it,” the actor recalled. “I read all 24 books before we shot this, and with every turn of the page, I became more enamored.”

Ritchson called his experience on the series – the first season of which adapts Child’s first Reacher book “Killing Floor” – “wildly collaborative,” saying he and the producers would spend “hours together discussing the scenes, telling stories about my own life, just getting to know each other’s sensibilities and taste.”

Indeed, Ritchson found parallels between his own life and that of Reacher’s, especially where we find the character in Season 1 as the show flashes back to Reacher’s childhood on a military base. “I grew up in the military, my parents were vets,” Ritchson said. “There’s something that’s sort of sacred about that life, and there’s a reverence that I have for the service members who dedicate themselves to that calling and growing up on military bases, moving around a lot. There’s something nostalgic about that for me, looking back. So there are emotional ties that I have that I think Reacher and I share in a lot of ways.”

Ritchson said it’s a testament to the “egoless brilliance” of the producers and showrunner Nick Santora that he was invited to collaborate on the series. “These guys wanted to hear from everybody,” the actor said. “And I think hopefully the fans are the beneficiary and enjoy an authentic Reacher because everybody worked hard to that end.”

An “authentic Reacher” was top of mind for the producers, due in part to blowback from fans of the books following the casting of Tom Cruise in the two previous feature film adaptations (“Jack Reacher” in 2012 and “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” in 2016). Reacher is described as a massive and intimidating human being in the books, and some diehard fans felt Cruise, at 5-foot-7-inches tall, fell short of expectations in those films. But Ritchson wouldn’t know – he’s never seen them.

Prime Video

“Those were just movies that I missed, and when I got involved [in the show], I just decided I didn’t want to risk picking up any of the choices that he made,” Ritchson explained. “And it would be easy to do because Tom is a legend, and I grew up watching him. I revere his work. I think it would be inevitable that I’d try and steal something of his because he’s so good.”

At 6-foot-10, Ritchson is much closer, physically, to the Jack Reacher of the books – right down to the size of his hands. The character is famously described as having hands the size of dinner plates, and yes Ritchson checked. “Yes, I measured them against dinner plates,” the actor confessed. “I had to know, and yes they are. You can eat off these. If you’re ever out a plate or two at Christmas dinner, I’ll come help you out.”

Ritchson’s size is front and center from the opening scenes of the new series, which begins with Reacher stepping off a bus in Margrave, Georgia and subsequently being arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. That opening sequence finds the actor not speaking for a full six minutes and using only body language to communicate to audiences that he is Jack Reacher. “I really wanted to avoid the trap of trying to emote any kind of malice or look intimidating,” Ritchson said of his physical embodiment of the character. “We’re the same size, and I’m never afraid when I walk into a room. It’s just a confidence you get when you’re usually the biggest guy in a space. You don’t need to act intimidating to do that.”

Still, the show makes use of frequent close-ups to accentuate Reacher’s imposing stature, and pilot director Tomas Vincent invented what came to be known as “The Reacher Shot.” Ritchson explained, “He would put the camera just a couple inches from my face on a very short lens, which you usually use for establishing a wide shot of something.” Ritchson confessed he struggled not to look directly into the camera when the camera was all he could see. “I was like, ‘Tomas, I can’t do this,’ he’s like ‘Just look around the room,’ and I’m like, ‘The entire room is this lens. I can’t look anywhere else.’” Eventually, he found his groove, and he acknowledges the final result is incredibly effective at letting the audience feel Reacher’s size.

The story of the first season finds Reacher investigating a string of murders in Margrave alongside detective Oscar Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin) and police officer Roscoe Conklin (Willa Fitzgerald), but whereas his new friends are bound by law, Reacher enacts his own justice. “At the heart of this story, we’ve got somebody who cares about protecting the innocent and seeing justice done,” Ritchson said of Reacher’s core directive. “Like all of us, I mean, we just want to live in a world that’s fair.”

The character’s heft comes in handy in the show’s fight sequences, which are as intense as they are brief. “It’s elbows like axes, as it says,” Ritchson said in reference to the swiftness of the fights. “He’s a brutal fighter. It’s all over in a second, and it’s tough to fight like that.” The actor – who is no stranger to stunt sequences from his work on “Titans” and the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” films – said he had to deconstruct his fighting style in order to land the “surgical precision” of Reacher. “I do think the fights are very true to the books, and I can’t wait for people to enjoy them,” Ritchson added.

In staying true to the books, Ritchson had an invaluable resource at his disposal: author Lee Child is an executive producer on “Reacher.” And when asked about his relationship with the author, Ritchson’s face lit up. “Just imagine for a moment that you’ve read all the books available by an author, you’ve fallen in love with his writing, you see his mind coming to life on the page, you now get to bring to life some figment of his imagination that he spent over two decades conjuring up and manifesting, and now you’re going to meet this guy on set,” Ritchson said, adding that he had a list of questions ready to ask the author ranging from “Am I tall enough?” to “Am I Reacher enough?” before he once again fell speechless in front of the Jack Reacher creator.

"Reacher" (Prime Video)
“Reacher” (Prime Video)

“But he couldn’t have been more gracious and humble and kind and we hit it off,” the actor continued. “He’s just a super fascinating guy. Anybody that reads a book a day is going to be interesting to talk to. He knows a little something about everything, and you see that in his books and I think it’s one of the reasons we enjoy him so much. They stoke that curiosity in us.” However, Ritchson confessed that he and Child didn’t actually talk much about Jack Reacher. “We didn’t talk much about the role or the character of the books. I had a million questions for him, just about who he is and what he’s interested in and how he spends his day, and he was kind enough to entertain that.”

As Prime Video looks to expand its genre offerings beyond the successful John Krasinski-fronted “Jack Ryan” and the recently launched “Wheel of Time,” no doubt “Reacher” is intended to last for many more seasons – with plenty of source material to mine. When asked which book he’d like to see adapted for a Season 2, Ritchson was humble. “I’ve got a list of books I want to see made. I should be so lucky. But I don’t think they want to hear from me in my book choices.” Eventually, though, he relented. “One of my favorites is ‘Die Trying,’” Ritchson replied, referring to the second novel in the series. “I would love to make that at some point.”

If the “Reacher” show turns out to be half as popular as the books, Ritchson may very well get his chance.