Pittsburgh features easy to spot in new Cruise action film
If you're tough guy Jack Reacher, and you're looking for a picturesque place in Pittsburgh to confront bad guys in a fight, where would you go?
If by picturesque, you mean a shadowy, rain-slicked asphalt jungle kind of place, Smallman Street in the Strip District is perfect. You can just imagine Jack looming over some defeated adversary, quipping through gritted teeth: “You want fries and coleslaw on that, pal?”
Assistant location manager John Adkins of Pittsburgh, who helped choose many of the locations used in “Jack Reacher,” is leery about giving too much away, but the fight scene in the Strip is prominent in the trailer.
“It's really, really cool,” Adkins says. “I actually prepped that location. ... It's fun to watch movies made in Pittsburgh. It's a ‘Where's Waldo' experience —‘Hey, there's that place!' ”
Lee Child's crime thriller novel “One Shot,” upon which the movie “Jack Reacher” is based, involves a military sniper who shoots into a crowd, killing five people. The police quickly follow clues to a suspect, who claims he's innocent. “Get Jack Reacher,” he says. And so, the story unfolds.
The movie — with an estimated $50 million budget — was directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the screenplay, and stars Tom Cruise, who also produced. Others in the cast include Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and Werner Herzog. “Jack Reacher” opens Dec. 21, but its national premiere will take place Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Child's book was set in an unnamed Indiana city. The cinematic adaptation of “Jack Reacher,” though, is all Pittsburgh.
“There's general city skyline stuff, which will resonate with people, without question,” Adkins says. “They loved the bridges, naturally, so there's a lot of bridges in the movie. And tunnels — there's a fairly extensive driving sequence that, I think, will capture that really well.
“We shot at West Penn Hospital. We were down in Avalon, and Oakmont. Mt. Washington, of course. There's also an iconic local diner that I think will be familiar to people.”
A lot of the locations also won't be recognizable, but they were shot around here, too. Adkins did a fair amount of research — Googling, asking around, and driving all over — looking for the perfect places to shoot.
“We got a good bit of work at a stone quarry out in Saltsburg,” Adkins says. “I think that will be an unbelievable scene. (We spent) many days out at that stone quarry. We shot all night there. It was challenging in terms of crew safety, making sure everyone got out of it in one piece.
“Tom Cruise is interesting to work with — so involved, very kind to the crew, and the people here in town.”
Cruise seemed especially eager to see where each scene would be shot.
“Once locations had been scouted and selected, Tom wanted to see them in advance,” Adkins says. “He was producer on the movie, and wanted to get a feel for them, which is a little bit unusual for one of the actors.
“The guy loves movies, and making movies. That's his thing. That was a really cool thing — seeing a movie star so involved at every level, trying make the best possible product.”
Although Cruise has been a superstar for decades, and has a certain reputation, Adkins found him refreshingly down-to-earth. One particular incident, while scouting locations with Cruise at a Downtown parking garage, drove that home.
“There were a couple of kids who were skateboarding,” Adkins says. “The advance guys went and chased them out. Tom went up to them and said, ‘Hey, guys, we'll only be here for 10 minutes. Then, you can come back and do your thing.'
“I thought, ‘OK, Tom was an alright guy.' ”
For actress Tammy Felice, working on “Jack Reacher” was a chance to come home. The Los Angeles-based actress was born in Jeannette, and never thought she'd be back in Pittsburgh to work on a major motion picture.
“My character is Anne Yanni, a sharp and sassy CNN news reporter, covering the shooting of five people,” Felice says. “It's a very small role. ... But seeing friends and family after a long day of work is such a blessing.
“I miss Pittsburgh and my family so much. It was also great to see the developments that have been going on at Point Park University, where I went to school. And, I thank the journalism department there. If I wouldn't have studied there, I never would have known what a reporter does, or how they think.”
Felice, who has acted on “CSI” and in commercials for Bud Light, Butterfinger and Fiat, found herself surrounded by Hollywood royalty.
In Pittsburgh, of all places.
“I was lucky to have been able have some free time after wardrobe fittings to watch a scene between Mr. Cruise and Mr. Duvall,” she says. “And every take, without question, was absolutely flawless. (They) never missed a word, a beat, a look, their tempo. They made it look just so easy and comfortable. To watch two legends work out a scene was just awesome.”
“Jack Reacher” was also a nice change of pace for locally based actors. It never hurts to have a movie with Cruise, Duvall and Werner Herzog on your resume.
Donna Belajac, who did the Pittsburgh casting for the film, found this movie to be a bit trickier than most.
“It was a lot of fun working with (director) Chris McQuarrie,” Belajac says. “He doesn't like to have actors read parts. He just likes to talk to them. It was a challenge for me, because I had to show him people that I knew could act. I had to really pick people who could deliver. I couldn't take any chances.”
Some of the prize roles involved getting beaten up by Tom Cruise.
“Denver Milord, he was a (Carnegie Mellon University) senior in the drama department,” Belajac says. “He did have a fight scene with Tom Cruise. I think he's even in one of the trailers. Tom Cruise does something to his finger, like takes it off or something.”
Local actor David Whalen happened to be a huge fan of Lee Childs' Jack Reacher books. He got a speaking role — Whalen plays Mr. Holt, whose wife is a murder victim.
“I was playing Sherlock Holmes here in Pittsburgh, while I was shooting the movie,” Whalen says. “That's what I found the most intriguing, reading the script. Jack Reacher is kind of a little like that, but much more contemporary.”
Of course, Reacher is more of an aggressive driver than Sherlock Holmes.
“That car was great,” Adkins says. “I think we had 10. I want to says it's a Charger, but I'm not 100 percent certain. Tom beat those things up. He loves to drive fast, anyway. Our mechanic had to constantly keep tweaking them, after he'd rip them up for awhile.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.