Interview with Alan Thompson of “Reacher” on Amazon Prime by Suzanne 2/2/22
This was such an interesting and fun chat with the actor who plays Sergeant Baker on the new show “Reacher.” I hope you enjoy the interview (and the series) as much as I did.
Here is the video!
Suzanne: So, tell us about your audition for the role of Sergeant Baker on Reacher.
Hugh: You know, it came to me through my agency, and as soon as I read it, I thought “Oh, wow.” Actually, I read for a different role, initially. So, I looked at it, and immediately ran out and got the novel. I got the first novel I could get my hands on, because I really wasn’t that familiar with the series as a book. You see the movies and etc. So, I wanted to go back to the source material, and I picked up a novel called Blue Moon, and as soon as I started reading, I was like, “Oh, that’s what it’s about.” I finished the novel in like a day, because it’s such a great piece, such a great character, and such a great way of looking at the world. So, I read through it, and then, you know, with these things, sometimes you go, “Oh, I did my best, and it’s too bad.” I got a call, and the sides for Baker come in, the audition for Baker comes in, and I thought. “Okay, cool.” So, I went, and I read that, and there’s a bit more of an extensive scene, and so I thought, “Wow, this is going to be fun. This is going to be fun, because the the writing is so strong.” There were all kinds of things to play in it, where a lot of times you’ll get scripts, and it’s fairly murky as to what you’re actually doing, or what you’re going to do. This is just so clear and so crisp right off the start. So, I went and laid it down, and, yeah, all the stars aligned, and I was on a jet to Toronto for five months in the middle of COVID lockdown.
Suzanne: That must have been fun.
Hugh: Woohoo! Yeah, I got [unintelligible] work; I got sprung from my apartment. I was like, “Oh my God, I get to go and get to see people. Amazing!”
Suzanne: So, where was it filmed? And did it take all eight months to film it?
Hugh: They filmed over five months. I got to Toronto. So, what we did was we flew in to Toronto, I guess in April, in the beginning of April, and then that was all the lockdown stuff [where] you have to clear COVID restrictions, [etc]. We started filming, and we wrapped just in the beginning of August. So, a five months stretch, and they did eight episodes in about four months. So, it was a tight schedule, but we were actually filming in a converted onion field north of Toronto. [laughs] They built this amazing set up there. It’s just crazy. The carpenters and all this production. When I went there the first day, it was like, “This is nicer than my hometown. Bigger than my hometown.”
Suzanne: So, they built the whole town in that field?
Hugh: Yeah, it was crazy.
Hugh: It was crazy, like there was a gas station, a cafe, the police station, and we filmed inside these things. I was like, “Oh.” I was talking to a friend of mine who’s on the show and became a friend of mine on the show, Jonathan, and I said, “Jonathan, you’ve got to go out and see this set before we get up there, because if you don’t, all you’re gonna be doing is being like, “Oh, this is awesome!” So, we went up and took a tour, and they paved streets and the whole thing, so it was really fun, really fun to play on something that was, I think, at that time, it was the biggest operating backlot in North America. It was just this massive production. So, yeah, it was fun. It was really fun to be a part of it.
Suzanne: And had you worked with any of the cast or crew before?
Hugh: I hadn’t. You know people by reputation; you know people by their work. I kind of make it a point not to IMDb people like crazy before I work like, “I saw you in that, and that’s not what you were doing before.” But as soon as you get there, you realize the level of the game is high. The people that were involved from the top down, obviously Alan is – and right from the beginning, you realize you’re there with someone who’s just got everything in hand, and he’s perfectly cast. I thought he was [great]. And obviously, people get into that physical thing, but the big thing about him is he is just such a good actor. He’s such a smart guy, and his timing, his sense of humor, his ability to capture that – it’s deadpan, but it’s also you understand there’s something going on behind that thought process Reacher has, in the books, because he’s an intelligent guy. He’s always figuring stuff out. He’s always looking. He sees a lot more than you think he sees. So, you know, it was really interesting watching the way that he works. And just you look at Willa and Malcolm and John, and I don’t IMDb people, but Bruce McGill plays the mayor.
Suzanne: Oh, love him. He’s awesome.
Hugh: He is an animal. He’s just so great to just to watch the way he goes through his day, having that much experience and just being such a good positive force on the set. I remember – the TV series, the original MacGyver, he was in that series. He played a character named Jack Dalton. I was in the Salvation Army one day, and I saw a DVD set of MacGyver, so I haul these things home and force my son to watch this. So, Jack Dalton was his favorite character, right? So, we’re sitting there, and I remember watching the show and going, “Oh, you see that guy, that guy that plays Jack Dalton? That guy knows what he’s doing. He’s a great actor.” Because it’s tough stuff. You know, as Bruce says, I’m an expert at exposition. So, much more than that. So, anyway, we finished watching the series, and then I looked at the cast list, and I checked out this thing in Deadline, and there’s my picture next to Jack Dalton. So, it was great. It was a great thing. So yeah, it’s always fun. We had fun, but everyone I worked with there was just, as a unit, they’ve been such a good team.
Suzanne: Yeah, Bruce had a great role on Rizzoli & Isles. He was awesome on that.
Hugh: He can do anything; he can do anything…Just to watch that level, the amount of experience and just how to get a day done, how to go through your day. I mean, I’m obviously an old fossil myself, but you’re constantly learning from good people like that, and he was really generous and really fun.
Suzanne: Yeah, as far as Reacher, you were saying he watches a lot. He reminds me of, he’s like one part Batman, one part Sherlock Holmes. There’re probably other parts in there. I watched all eight episodes, just so you know.
Hugh: Yeah, someone was talking – he’s like Clint Eastwood and Cary Grant, kind of like that. He’s got that physical assurance, because he doesn’t have to try to be a tough guy, doesn’t have to try to be anything. I don’t get that kind of energy from Alan as a person or [Reacher] as a character. I mean, if you do something that’s out of line, he’s going to adjust your dials and then just walks away and [doesn’t] look back. Yeah, it’s not a big deal for him, but that intelligence is something that you can’t fake it, right? He’s that guy.
Suzanne: Did the cast have anyone there to help them with the southern accents?
Hugh: Yeah, we did. We did have a dialect coach. And it’s always a tough thing I know – because…if you’re in that area, there’s a million different variations of what you hear and it’s just to try to put something together that doesn’t pull people out of the story as much as you possibly can, and it’s always a balance, a trade off. If you go for strict authenticity, it just becomes a little bit much.
Suzanne: If you can hear how people really talk here, no one would want characters to talk that way. They probably couldn’t understand them for one thing, and then they’d be going, “What?”
Hugh: It’s the same here. Like I did a show here years ago called Black Harbor, and it was an episodic, and I went down to the south shore of Nova Scotia, and I came back with the way that these people talked, and I came back to the producers with it, and they said, “No, no, that’s not gonna happen. Don’t start.” I was down there. I mean, I’m from here, and I could not understand what these guys were talking about. It’s completely different. And, you know, people say, “Okay, what’s the Nova Scotia [accent], what’s a Canadian accent? “And I’m like, “Which one? Which one of the forty do you want?”
Suzanne: Yeah, that’s an American conceit, like, there’s one Canadian accent. We have a thousand different accents and Canada has one.
Hugh: [speaks in an accent] It’s not the same. So, it’s pretty funny. It’s pretty funny. But, yeah, hopefully it comes out that there’s a sort of – but there is a variation between someone who’s raised in an urban environment and your age and your income level, all that kind of stuff really plays into it. So, yeah, I got to lean into it a little bit more, and, you know, hopefully, it all smooths out and looks like we’re all around from the –
Suzanne: General era, yeah. I found here that the older the person is, the less I can understand them. The lower in income or class or whatever, the less I can understand those, so it actually makes a big difference, but I actually thought your accent of all the people on the show, I thought yours was the best.
Hugh: Oh, that’s very kind of you.
Suzanne: I actually expected you to have a southern accent, when I got on the phone with you, because the others came and went, or they were too soft or whatever, but yours –
Hugh: It’s tough, because I actually used a model of a guy on YouTube where this guy – it’s just so hilarious. He’s fixing power saws or chainsaws…and it was so funny. And we had our dialect coaches going, “No, you can’t do that. [It’s] just way too much.” I mean, the people would go crazy. So, you do pedal it down. I mean, again, if you try to do what this guy was doing on on screen, it would be like, “No, no, it can’t happen,” because he’s just unintelligible at certain points. But yeah, the way that he presented things, the way that he latched on to things, was really interesting. The way he grouped words, and the way that his thought process worked was interesting. For Baker, I see him as someone who grew up there, and maybe didn’t have the best education, maybe didn’t have a lot of other options in life than to do what he was doing. So, you know, I really wanted to to try to bring that into the voice as much as possible.
Suzanne: Yeah, and I’ve lived in Georgia before too, but I’m not an expert on accents, even though I’ve lived all over the south. I can’t tell them all apart; it’s just when I hear it here I go, “Oh, yeah, that’s a little different than Alabama or whatever.
Hugh: Yeah, me too. It’s like…sometimes If you’re dealing with someone who actually lives in that community – like here, there’s urban Cape Breton. There are people there who if you’re talking to them, they could tell you what street you lived on. They know exactly. So, I have hopefully a decent ear, but I’m not like that; those people are like [unintelligible]. It’s pretty amazing.
Suzanne: Like the Professor Higgins on My Fair Lady, they can tell exactly what part of London you were from.
Hugh: Yeah, yeah.
Suzanne: So was there anyone there that you hung out with during the shooting or that was that impossible because of COVID?
Hugh: It was pretty tough. Again, Bruce was generous enough one day we just we got out – because you just didn’t want to be the guy that’s holed up with a case of COVID-19 and just deep six [a whole] two weeks of shooting, but we did get to get out at one point later on when things kind of in Toronto started to back off a little bit, and we did get to go out for an outdoor sort of meal. I got to hang out with Bruce for a night, which was really fun to talk to him, but that was a tough part of it too. The camaraderie that you usually get going, “Oh, let’s go out; let’s do something,” that just wasn’t happening. Or maybe it was happening and they just didn’t invite me. [laughs]
Suzanne: Right now I’ve been hearing that same thing when I’ve been talking to a lot of different actors for movies and TV shows, that they miss that camaraderie and getting together with the other people, especially you’re holed up together for months.
Hugh: Yeah, that’s it, like you would get out to set, and everybody would be bursting to tell you their stories, because we had nothing else going on, but it was really fun. I mean, being on set with that life was really kind of interesting, because I think people did get to open up a little bit more than a lot of times they do, because there was that sense that we’re kind of in a little spaceship and we’re all trying to get to August 1st or August 3rd or whatever the final day of shoot was, because it’s precarious to be in that environment where you needed to just be aware of it. You have a responsibility to kind of make sure that things stayed medically “okay.”
Suzanne: When they were making that town, they should have made the town bar a functioning bar and put outdoor seating for you guys, then you would have a place to hang out.
Hugh: I don’t know if you’ve seen [this, but] the little cafe where [Reacher]’s trying to eat [his pie] [unintelligible]. It’s way nicer than a lot of cafes I’ve had meals in, for sure.
Suzanne: Yeah, I really wanted a pie by the end of watching that!
Hugh: Me too.
Suzanne: I read that the books’ creator, Lee Child, the author, he’s also an executive producer. Was he on set at all? Did you get to meet him?
Hugh: Again, with COVID, it was really tough, because he was only able to get there…and even Nick Santora, the showrunner, he was kind of remote from LA a lot of times. So, a lot of the questions would go back and forth between at that time, because it was tough to travel. It’s tough. It’s tough to go there. And again, people were really, really conscious of anybody who would be going back and forth…Although all the vaccinations and all that kind of stuff were still underway at that point, but I think they just tried to keep it to a minimum. You can do this kind of stuff now where you can have a conversation with someone and not have to be in the same room, but it was disappointing too. You don’t get to meet [everyone]. It’s always nice to meet those people.
Suzanne: And what are you working on right now? Are you up there or are you at home?
Hugh: Yeah. Yeah, we were just about to begin a feature here called Dancing on the Elephant, and it’s based on a play that was produced here, and it’s about a guy – well, again, this is this the actor saying, “It’s about a guy who drops his mother off at an assisted living facility,” but it’s really not about a guy – [laughs] I [play] the guy who drops her off, but it’s not about me. That’s one of the things that it’s basically about; she she gets into this assisted care facility, and she doesn’t like it, so high jinks ensue.
Suzanne: So, it’s comedy?
Hugh: Yeah, and we were just about to go, and unfortunately, things got kind of wacky here with restrictions and COVID.
Suzanne: Omicron, yeah.
Hugh: Yeah, they’re going to push ahead with that now until the spring, but it may be October by the time we get going, so, you never know; you never know. I think, now, things are going to hopefully loosen up, and we just have to find a way to work and do that, but with a production, you’ve got to make sure that you can complete [it]. It’s tight.
Suzanne: Do you have any other things in the works?
Hugh: There’re a couple of things coming here to – I work on stage a lot, too. I work as a theater actor, so I’ve got a project coming up in October that I can’t really say too much about, because I haven’t really agreed to it yet, but I just came off stage, I try to do that. I try to stay acting on stage, because I just feel like it’s a really good grounding – Lee Child, he said, “There’re three rules in performance, and it’s the audience is always right, the audience is always right, and the audience is always right.” So, it’s just that I love doing that, because there’s no net, and you just stand up there, and it’s you and the writing and your fellow actors and your light. So, I am looking forward to that. And there’re a couple of big projects coming here in the summer. So, I’m back and forth to Toronto, basically, via Zoom and all the rest of it. So, something will turn up. Something will turn up.
Suzanne: Okay, good, good. Your character’s kind of interesting, because I was watching it, knowing that I was going to be interviewing you. So, I was watching for you, and your character’s always there somewhere. It’s like, you don’t really notice him big time until the end of the [season], but he’s always there, and they refer to him several times. So, it’s funny, because he’s kind of there, but…he’s just one of the guys until later.
Hugh: It’s interesting, because you look at the series as a whole, and that’s what the books do. I mean, in some ways there’ll be a certain thing that you should have noticed, or you should have sort of…there’s clues to what actually unfolds, and it’s interesting trying to play that too, because we’re all part of a unit. Everyone’s trying to tell a story, and it’s just there’re so many elements going on at that one time. You just have to make sure that you’re in your own lane, kind of making sure that you’re fulfilling what’s asked of you. Yeah, I don’t want to – I’ll get my Amazon subscription canceled if I go too far.
Suzanne: No spoilers, no spoilers, no, but yeah, there’re a lot of characters too. So, it’s hard to keep track and kind of figure out who’s who.
Hugh: Right. It’s just a massive show. There’re just so many things going on. I was sitting there going, “That’s wild.” like that. And I love – I mean, when you look at the first couple episodes, just I think they did a great job of just trying to – you know, you’ve got this cliffhanger, this cliffhanger; there’s a way that you can jump forward and go through them. So, hopefully the audience agrees.
Suzanne: Yeah, I think they will. I mean, especially anyone – I mean, I haven’t read the books, but from what I can tell, they stick pretty close to the book, so I think anyone who’s found the books will like them at the very least, but I think other people who like those type of shows, you know, action, that kind of thing and mysteries, I guess it’s kind of a mystery, but it’s, I think, a bit more of an action show than a mystery show or a cop show.
Hugh: Yeah, there’re a lot of people who like these books. Yeah, it’s crazy. Like I was out mowing the lawn just before I left…and my neighbor stops over, and I’m going, ‘Well, I’m just going to go up to do this…” She asked me what I was doing. I said, “I’m gonna go up to do this,” and she starts jumping up and down. She’s screaming; she’s pounding on my back going, “That’s awesome!” I thought, “Okay.” So, it was interesting, and then when you read the books, you understand that there’s that sense of a person who just has his own sort of code and sticks to the code, no matter what. It’s an appealing way to look at the world…It’s not always that simple in real life, and so I think there’s a real way that you can attach to that kind of narrative, but, again, it comes back to your real life. It does make you think about what you would defend and what you would do if you see something wrong. And Reacher, when he sees something wrong, [laughs] it doesn’t go well for the wrongdoers.
Suzanne: The rest of us might go, “Well, maybe I should call the police, or maybe I shouldn’t get involved.” He acts. He’s like Batman. I mean, that’s what Batman would do, right? Or any hero. That’s what he is. He’s a hero.
Hugh: Yeah. Alan, that’s the thing about it, he just carries that with him…as a person, he’s just, “Okay, if you’re gonna do that, then I’m going to do this, and I’m not going to get attached to it too much. I’m just going to actually get it done and sort of walk away, because that’s what has to happen here.” So, I think that’s a fun part of it.
Suzanne: Oh, and I was so glad that – let’s put it in a spoiler free way – no animals were killed. It looked like that was going to happen, but it didn’t, because I get so mad when they do that on shows, and I’m, “I’m never watching the show again.” It’s kept me from watching some good shows.
Hugh: Yeah, that whole thing – yeah, it’s funny, because there’re certain things – I was in a series called Chapelwaite. It’s Stephen King. It is still on Epix. So, you go into that, and I’m the worst. Like, I go into the stuff, the vampire stuff, all that scary stuff. I can’t stand [it] [laughs] I can’t watch this.
Suzanne: The scary stuff, or like, the more romantic stuff like Vampire Diaries?
Hugh: It’s pretty scary vampire stuff. So, I was in the series, and I took my son to set, and we were sitting there, and even though we’re shooting this thing, I’m sitting there going, “This is creepy.” It’s like there’s all these dead people all over the place. So, I really have a hard time watching stuff that’s like that, but it’s fun to play it.
Suzanne: I’m that way about zombies. I can’t take all the zombie shows. They creep me out.
Hugh: Yeah, and that’s like every second show.
Suzanne: I know. Believe me, I know.
Hugh: Yeah. Chapelwaite may not be for you then, because it’s kind of one of those. It’s a little bit on the line, but again, that’s another thing where, you know, Adrian Brody was the lead in that. And this guy, he’s one of the leaders, same thing. They’re workers; they’re actors. They’re there to do the work, and it’s not like – so it really was fun to work with him, and Alan’s the same way. It’s the same sort of – they’re just about getting the best of the scene.
Suzanne: In your experience, are most actors that way?
Hugh: To be honest, it varies. I mean, the great thing about Alan was that you went through, and you know there were days he had to be just dead tired, just the scheduling in that thing was crazy. And I think [laughs] everyone starts out that way, but you get tired, and it was remarkable to watch it just on set and off set. He was just a leader, always ready with a go forward attitude, and that’s tough to maintain over close to five months of shooting, where he’s [in almost all the shots].
Suzanne: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s good. You don’t want to hear about people who are the opposite and full of themselves, who can’t take the work.
Hugh: I guess everyone has their days…but it just makes fun to do. I think, as I get older, it’s like I just want to do things that are fun, and because you just do better work. You just do better work. There’s no question about it. I mean, when it’s fun, you can be involved in something that’s pretty heavy duty, and then, when they call “cut,” and someone tells a joke, and it’s like, okay, cool…And the set was loose; it was really fun, and we kept it loose. It’’s a fun thing to watch.
Suzanne: Yeah, there’s a lot of humor in it.
Hugh: Yeah. [laughs] I mean, just some of the stuff, you’re sitting around and talking about stuff, he’s a funny guy. He’s a funny guy. So, that that really helps.
Suzanne: Okay, well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your morning, and I appreciate your meeting up here with me and giving me a little perspective into the world of Reacher and into your world.
Hugh: Yeah, absolutely. No problem. It’s a pleasure.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie of http://www.scifivision.com
Canadian muti-faceted actor, Hugh Thompson (Chapelwaite) is making his return to the small screen alongside Alan Ritchson in the upcoming Amazon original series, REACHER, premiering Friday February 4th. The 8-episode series is based on Jack Reacher, the main character from Lee Child’s international bestselling books. Hugh was most recently seen as George Dennison on the Epix 10-part limited series CHAPELWAITE, adapted from Stephen King’s short story, ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ alongside Adrien Brody and Emily Hampshire (Schitt’s Creek).
Ritchson stars as the title character in the series, produced by Amazon, Skydance Television and Paramount Television Studios. The first season, written, exec produced and showrun by Nick Santora, is based on the first Jack Reacher novel, The Killing Floor, which is set in Georgia. Thompson will play Baker, the head cop of Margrave, described as a man that enjoys his position of power but hates Detective Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin).
In addition to his work in film and television, Hugh has appeared in just about every major theatre in Canada including Toronto`s Royal Alex, Montreal’s Centaur Theatre, The Citadel Theatre, The Grand Theatre, and Festival Antigonish. He won a Gemini Award for his work in the TV movie Blessed Stranger and a 2013 Merritt Award for his performance in Whale Riding Weather, from playwright Bryden MacDonald directed by Thom Fitzgerald. He’s also had heavy recurring roles on Canadian productions, Diggstown and Pure.
Proofread and Edited by Brenda