Jack Reacher, as described in Lee Child's popular book series, is a former US Army major who roams the country bringing villains to justice by any means necessary. In Never Go Back, the eighteenth book in the Jack Reacher series, the six-foot-tall vigilante also "has a six-pack like a cobblestone city street, a chest like NFL armor, biceps like basketballs, and subcutaneous fat like a Kleenex handkerchief." .” That's a tall order for any casting director, but the highly anticipated Amazon Prime Video series Reacher finally found its man in Alan Ritchson.
"I'm so grateful for the opportunity to bring this guy to life," says Ritchson. Ritchson, the son of a retired U.S. Air Force chief master sergeant, was particularly excited to be entering a series where a retired soldier is the hero. "I've read each of the books at least twice so far and grew up worshiping my father. I wanted to make sure I got this character right for all the fans out there, but also for him."
We spoke to Ritchson about the pressures of an iconic character to gear up for the role, being underestimated and the brutal combat sequences to be expected in each episode.
Mens Journal: How does it feel to take on such an iconic character?
Alan Ritchson: The fact that I'm now a part of this world that Lee Child created is absolutely surreal. I heard about this search for Jack Reacher a few years ago when they announced they were doing a new series for Amazon. One of my best friends is a production designer and a huge reader. We did a number of films together and he was one of the first people I contacted about the role. Then he sends me phrases from the book - like "hands like Christmas turkeys" and "must go sideways through doors". According to him, I was the man for the job.
Did you immerse yourself in the books back then?
I did - I ran through them and immediately understood why so many people were fans of the character. I ended up reading 24 books in eight months - in that order - starting with Killing Floor and then going on to Die Trying, which I liked even more. You start meeting these awesome supporting players like "Hook" Hobie who take it to the next place. I felt a real desire to get the part. The pressure was building in my own head. This inner pressure increased with every book I read. I consider myself very lucky that it worked out.
One of the great things about Reacher is that not only is he a physical force to be reckoned with, but he's also very cunning as a detective. Did you enjoy playing someone with that depth of character?
I felt like Derek Zoolander in the early stages of my career, ever since that scene where he talks about wanting people to know how funny he can be. I feel this way because I want people to know how smart I actually am. I started modeling when I was 18 and it's the most fruitless business. I was asked not to open my mouth on set and treated like a sack of meat. I feel like I have good, creative ideas to share with the world, and there really wasn't room for that.
As an actor, I'm usually the last link in the creative chain. During my early days as a show manager, I questioned everything in hopes of doing better. I was yelled at for just saying my lines. I was excited to do something more than just use my body. My first real job was playing Aquaman in Smallville, and I didn't get that because I'm an intellectual. I got it because I looked like the cartoon character. These situations have been present throughout my career and that's why I have a little chip on my shoulder. I find the fact that Reacher is often the smartest person in the room very exciting. His intelligence is as much a part of his being as his physicality.
I was a late bloomer, and before puberty, girls would come up to me and ask if I would be cute when I grew up or not. I was 18 when I had my growth spurt and at the same time I started going to the gym. I had in mind that I would gain a muscle or two. I got a very different reaction back then – everyone suddenly assumed I was being an idiot or an idiot because of the way I looked. I know from the books that Reacher deals with similar assumptions. It sets the stage for a lot of fun where he can play with people's preconceived notions of who he is.
Given that your father was in the Air Force, there must have been an added excitement portraying Reacher, who was also a soldier.
He's the only person I've always looked up to and he's my hero. I think the military really gave him the structure he needed. It has an effect on a person's way of carrying themselves - from the way they stand to the way they shake hands with you. It's a dream to creatively honor her on screen. When I was in high school, I'd been drawn to enlisting in hopes of joining the Special Forces. My dad was against it, which surprised me at first - but I think he saw that creative desire in my eyes. Since I couldn't really be a soldier, at least I get to play one on TV. It's an honor to portray these people who I really respect.
Have you looked outside of the books for insight into the role?
I really didn't have to look long. It took a couple of nights to research the details of how detectives work in such situations. But there was already so much to learn out there. If you have 24 books of a character and you don't know how he would end up reacting to a situation, then you're in real trouble. The fact that more than 200 million books have been sold is pretty amazing. These facts have not escaped me.
You've prepared for your share of physical roles. How are you handling the process this time?
I attacked on all fronts to prepare for this one. I do what I can to stay healthy and in shape at all times as many of my projects are in this superhero genre. I try to stay lean, so I usually walk around at 205 pounds. However, I wanted to bulk up and ended up gaining 30 pounds to end up at 235 pounds. I prepared it five days a week for the eight months that we had to prepare. I don't usually use weights because I'm growing up so fast, but I pulled them out for it. I have to work out in the gym. The real requirement is that you have to get the calories, protein and macros, so it was a conveyor belt of food. Getting 4,500 calories and 300 grams of protein in your body is a full-time job. I was lucky that I had help.
I've had a few trainers over the years and have a few numbers to call if I need help with a plateau, but I mostly do it on my own now. I was in Toronto filming another show and the real problem was getting weights in the middle of the pandemic. The rules in Canada were very strict, so there was no chance of getting off somewhere else to train. I removed the dining table from the place we rented and we built a full size gym in that space. There was no escaping the morning workout because it was staring straight at me when I woke up. commuting. excuses.
How did you set up your training area in this room?
When you train five days a week, muscle confusion and equipment versatility are important. That's the only way you can grow. So I needed a few essential pieces of equipment that would help me with that. I found this machine from rthern Lights which is a Smith machine - a twin cable tower with a lat pull down bar, row cables, squat rack and bench press. It's this monstrous tower that fits into a small space and ticks all the boxes - all the elements I need most. That combined with those awesome adjustable free weights and a bench covered all the bases. My wife sometimes used them or my kids played with them and I had to wait for the weights in my own house.
There is such great detective work and dialogue in the show, but there are also incredible fight sequences. What was it like filming these?
Early on I thought this show was going to be just a bunch of fights, one after the other. Thankfully, the show ended up being so much more than that. However, that propensity for violence is a big part of who Reacher is. He lives outside the law and makes his own rules, especially when it comes to bringing people to justice or protecting the innocent. So it was important for us to get those fights right because they have a purpose to his story.
The battles had to be fought with the surgical precision and brutality that his past bestowed on him. That's what he's known for. So we had to adapt my personal fighting style, that's this brawler style mixed with Brazilian jiu-jitsu that I've done on screen before. For this one I had to break it down deeper and make it a lot more specific. There's a line Lee Child writes about Reacher using his "elbows like axes" and I worked with our stunt coordinator Buster Reeves to bring that energy. Thankfully, we've had months to prepare for each one. People can look forward to a big fight in every episode. I don't think the fans will be disappointed.
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