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Jack Reacher - Werner Herzog interview

Jack Reacher

Compiled by Jack Foley

WERNER Herzog talks about playing the villain in Jack Reacher and why he is pleased to have come across as creepy. He also discusses working with Tom Cruise and why playing the villain is more fun.

Q. You are a very famous filmmaker. For Jack Reacher you decided to become an actor again. Were you tempted to interfere with the director?
Werner Herzog: No, I wouldn’t interfere at all. And I have no problems following directions. I only made one suggestion, and it was picked up by Tom Cruise. But that was it.

Q. Did Tom Cruise apologize for pointing a gun in your face?
Werner Herzog: No, that was part of the deal. We were making a movie after all. Cruise was the one who wanted me in the movie. He apparently wanted me as a badass guy. They needed somebody that looked dangerous before he even spoke. And that’s how they found me.

Q. You’ve been in this business for a long time. How do you deal with changes?
Werner Herzog: Changes are as they are coming. I see it and I don’t want to grow old in certain things I did 30 years ago. I did a live streaming for the Internet of a rock concert recently. 18 cameras at the same time. It was great. The audience could participate and send pictures. I am curious at what is coming at me all the time. There have been huge changes in the past 40 years. There is a phenomenal possibility out there. Audiences have changed a lot as well.

Q. But don’t you think a good story like the one of Jack Reacher will always be in demand?
Werner Herzog: Of course. And that will outlive us in anything. A good story will always be a good story. The long-range survival is good story telling. That’s what I like about Jack Reacher – a film noir at its best.

Q. What part does acting play in your career?
Werner Herzog: I love everything that has to do with cinema. Writing a screenplay, producing, editing. I love it all. I swing most widely, and then I deal with it. I never planned my career in steps. It’s all coming at me like burglars in the night.

Q. You are most definitely the creepiest guy in this film. How do you find a guy like that? What does it take?
Werner Herzog: Let me tell you a little story. There is a scene where I ask this guy to eat his own fingers. Well, originally the scene was much longer. But it was so scary that the studio wanted it to be cut down. We cut it down and showed it to them again. It was still too scary for PG 13. So, we cut it a third time. And they finally used the third castrated version. If you think I am still scary, then we did our job.

Q. Mean guys are more fun to play for you, is that a correct assumption?
Werner Herzog: Yes, I can play guys like that. I like playing guys that are vile, hostile, dangerous. It’s easy for me. I just step into character. I tell you another little story: I have seen Mick Jagger once backstage. He was arguing with a stage manager about serving him the wrong whiskey. All of the sudden they call him out onto the stage, and Jagger transformed within a second into this laughing and happy rock star. I admire him for that.

Q. When you started, were you aware that you, Fassbinder and Wim Wenders were part of a new German cinema?
Werner Herzog: We knew there was a void in German cinema. We were the first generation growing up after the Nazi time. There was a new attitude towards German cinema. But ultimately I couldn’t care less if I was part of a new German cinema.

Q. Are there similarities between working with Tom Cruise and Klaus Kinski?
Werner Herzog: Yes, Kinski was an extraordinary professional, and so is Tom Cruise. It’s always easy to work with great professionals. Tom Cruise has this incredible intensity. After ten hours of shooting, he still goes strong and doesn’t seem to ever get tired. Kinski had that same intensity.

Q. Would you like to direct a film with Tom Cruise?
Werner Herzog: I would need a real good story where he had to fit. It has to be the right story. I wouldn’t just pick a random film just to be able to work with him.

Q. What are you doing next?
Werner Herzog: I have seven other films I need to deliver by next fall. Even for me that’s quite a bit.

Q. Are documentaries your true passion?
Werner Herzog: No, I do what’s coming at me. It’s predominantly documentaries. But I also made five feature films in the last 10 years. I think my features have been overlooked a bit because my most recent documentaries have been so successful.

Q. Are you a workaholic?
Werner Herzog: No, not at all. I work very calmly. I never shot a single hour overtime when I did Bad Lieutenant. I brought the film in 2.6 million dollars under budget. Now the producer wants to marry me. Nicolas Cage said: “Finally, somebody knows what he’s doing.”

Q. How long does it take you to write a screenplay?
Werner Herzog: I write a screenplay in one week. I invite friends; I cook for two, three hours. And in between the main meal and the desert when everybody is getting drunk I keep on working. I edit quickly. Grizzlyman was edited in nine days. The secret is to stay calm and keep going. I have a very clear vision of my movies.

Q. Do you ever consider retirement?
Werner Herzog: I don’t know. There are just too many films coming at me. And there is a certain sense of duty that I feel.

Q. Do you watch a lot of movies?
Werner Herzog: No, maybe two or three a year. But I read a lot. I stage operas once in a while. And until today I have never watched one on stage. I only listen to the recordings. I just see things very clearly.

Read our review of Jack Reacher