After backlash for Tom Cruise casting, ‘Reacher’ series finds ‘the right guy’ in hulking blond actor Alan Ritchson

American Age Official

Tom Cruise is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, and has been for a long time — so it was undoubtedly a major coup for author Lee Child and the filmmakers adapting his book series into the 2012 actioner Jack Reacher to land the actor in their title role.

The only thing was, Cruise bore no resemblance to the blond, 6-foot-5, muscle-bound ex-military cop who roams the streets of America intimidating anyone who looks at him while perfecting the fine art of vigilantism. Fans of Child’s popular book series (a favorite at any airport bookstand you’ve seen) protested. And though the Christopher McQuarrie-directed film and its 2016 sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back were generally well-received modest box office hits, their casting disparity was always the 5-foot-7 Ethan Hunt in the room.

With Amazon’s new series Reacher, though, Child and company had a chance to take a mulligan.

“I really enjoyed working with Cruise,” Child told BBC Radio Manchester in 2018. “He’s a really, really nice guy. We had a lot of fun. But ultimately the readers are right. The size of Reacher is really, really important and it’s a big component of who he is.”

JACK REACHER, Tom Cruise, 2012. ph: Karen Ballard/©Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett CollectionJACK REACHER, Tom Cruise, 2012. ph: Karen Ballard/©Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in 2012’s Jack Reacher. (Photo: Karen Ballard/©Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

Enter Alan Ritchson, the blond actor with a football player’s physique best known for playing Aquaman in The CW’s Smallville and as the tribute Gloss in the 2013 sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Ritchson looks the part for sure, not only matching Reacher’s physical credentials with heft and an impossibly chiseled frame, but also bringing a rugged old-school action hero aesthetic and believable wit to the smart-as-a-whip investigator.

“He carries the whole weight. We were all so excited. Finally, we found the right guy,” Child tells us during a recent virtual press day for the series. “I think it did demand somebody that is innately scary looking. Like, if he steps in the room, you think twice. And it’s not so much just the physical measurements, but that impregnable implacability that a big strong man has that was the quality that we needed. That’s the quality we get from Alan. There are four or five guys lining up against him and he turns around with a kind of weary expression. He knows he is gonna win. They don’t know that yet, but we know that.”

Alan Ritchson in 'Reacher'Alan Ritchson in 'Reacher'

Alan Ritchson in Reacher. (Photo: Amazon)

“I think both Tom and Alan both are fantastic Reachers,” says showrunner Nick Santora, who’s written and produced on The Sopranos, Prison Break and Scorpion. “When we were casting this show, I just imagined it would have to be a big actor and the studio said, ‘Yes, it should be a big actor.’ And we just went down that path and we found Alan and it worked. It was important that we epitomize what was in the books and man, Alan sure as heck does that.”

Says Ritchson, “I think we’ve really faithfully adapted this for those who have read the books. I think they’re gonna be very happy.”

The eight-episode inaugural season is fittingly based on the first of Child’s 26 novels, 1997’s Killing Floor. The story follows the enigmatic Reacher to the usually sleepy Georgia town of Margrave where, after initially being accused of murder, he teams with the local police department (including Willa Fitzgerald’s Roscoe Conklin and Malcolm Goodwin’s Oscar Finley) to solve what quickly escalates into a killing spree.

Alan Ritchson and Willa Fitzgerald in 'Reacher' (Amazon/Everett Collection)Alan Ritchson and Willa Fitzgerald in 'Reacher' (Amazon/Everett Collection)

Alan Ritchson and Willa Fitzgerald in Reacher. (Photo: Amazon/Everett Collection)

Well beyond its poster featuring its protagonist’s lumbering torso — so hulking that Reacher could be mistaken for, well, Hulk — the series leans into its now faithfully lumbering leading man any chance it gets. After he’s arrested, the cuffs don’t fit him. He corrects a detective who describes him as 6’4.” “6’5,” he fires back. He’s referred to as “250 pounds of frontier justice.”

“His biceps are bigger than my head,” Child says of Ritchson in the series.

And while all that bulk is all-natural in Child’s mythology of the character, Ritchson had to put in the hours.

“I built a gym in my house,” Ritchson says. “I moved the kitchen table aside and I put a gym in the dining room so I had to look at it every day. It’s hard to miss a workout when it’s staring you in the face while you’re eating your Cap’n Crunch in the morning… I had about eight months [to get ready for production], so it was just about pushing weights every day to put on a little size. I was 235 and when we got filming, a little bigger than he is in the first book. But it was just [working out] every day.”

Jack Reacher fans, especially the traditionalists, appear very happy with Ritchson’s casting.

“It’s such a fascinating thing, the relationship of a fan to a character in a book,” Child says. “Because even though the books sell in their millions, happily, when somebody is reading it, that’s purely one-on-one. That is one reader’s individual possession. That reader alone owns the character. So there’s a huge amount of possessiveness about it. And every single reader is ready to be angry about it, because if it doesn’t match their own personal view, then that’s a tragedy for them.

“But Alan actually will. And the response I’ve gotten so far is completely enthusiastic about it, totally supportive. The key phrase that I’m hearing from readers all the time is ‘I can’t wait to see it,’ which is exactly what you want… I think words mean a lot. And if somebody says, ‘can’t wait,’ that is ringing the right bell for me.”

Reacher is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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