Herzog relishes turn as villain in 'Jack Reacher'

German filmmaker Werner Herzog is taking a rare turn in front of the camera as a cold-blooded murderer in the new thriller "Jack Reacher", portraying a character he calls "the epicenter of evil."

"Jack Reacher," the Christopher McQuarrie film which just opened in North America, sees Tom Cruise back in action mode as a former military investigator, after his detour into musical comedy with "Rock of Ages".

This is the first time that Reacher -- a popular character created by British author Jim Grant (who writes under the pseudonym Lee Child) and hero of about 20 novels -- has been depicted on the silver screen.

In the film, Reacher teams up with Helen Rodin (played by Rosamund Pike), the lawyer of a sniper accused of killing five people and taken into custody.

While the lead investigator (David Oyelowo) wants to secure a quick confession, the suspect tells the police to find Reacher. And he soon finds someone much more dangerous pulling the strings: The Zec, played by Herzog.

Herzog cuts an imposing, glowering figure, so it might seem an easy acting transition for the German to play really bad guys.

And he likes it that way.

"People know that I'm good at it. They've seen me in other films. I'm just an obvious choice," he told AFP. "And I know that in the few things and those limited things I'm doing as an actor, in what I'm doing I'm good. I leave a lasting impression."

In "Jack Reacher", Herzog's character is nothing short of "the epicenter of evil," the director/actor said. "I did my job, because I'm really scary. That's all there was to do."

More than a blockbuster

The presence of Herzog -- whose films and documentaries, from "Fitzcarraldo" (1982) to "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010), have earned critical acclaim on the art-house circuit -- in an American blockbuster may seem a bit surprising.

But for Herzog, "Jack Reacher" is more than just a popcorn blockbuster.

"I think there is a very strong sense of stylization. And you also don't see this kind of film noir very often," he said.

"In a way, it reminds me of Melville, some of it. Like "Le Samourai", all-time great movie. And the solitude of the character. He doesn't have a place. Almost an empty room, one bird in a cage."

In order to coax the longtime filmmaker to appear in front of the camera, Herzog said it took "first, good story-telling, a real good story, with good dialogue."

"And Christopher McQuarrie is very good at dialogue," Herzog said of the American writer and director, who won an Oscar in 1996 for best original screenplay for "The Usual Suspects".

"Secondly, I would expect that the director has some sort of vision that he follows. Then everything is OK. It doesn't have to coincide with my own vision," Herzog said.

The German, known to be a bit demanding, insists that is not the case.

"It's very easy to work with me, and very easy to work with Tom Cruise," Herzog said, heaping praise on his co-star's work.

"If somebody holds out for so long at the top, there must be some qualities of professionnalism," Herzog said.

Herzog especially lauded the "texture between Tom Cruise and Rosamund. Although they never kiss, never really touch each other. There's a shyness of how to deal with each other."

"This texture is mysterious. And it's essentially cinema. And if there's no texture, even the biggest films, with the biggest stars, can be a failure," he said.

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