Since making her film debut in 2006’s Fido, Canadian actress Alexia Fast has made impressive progress in film and television. With last year’s Jack Reacher, she had her first chance to act alongside a major Hollywood star, sharing several crucial scenes with Tom Cruise. In honour of that film’s DVD and Blu-ray release, we spoke with Fast about the challenges of a major Hollywood production, her collaboration with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (best known for writing The Usual Suspects), and the experience of working with one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
The Loop: On the commentary, Christopher McQuarrie says he agonized over the casting of your character more than any other. Can you talk about the process of landing the role?
Alexia Fast: He definitely told me that he was having trouble casting this role. I only auditioned twice for him and we did it over Skype, but I think the quality that he was looking for was a certain kind of innocence and vulnerability. There’s a moment where my character kind of propositions Tom. She says, “I get off work at six,” and she’s trying to say, “I want to see you again.” I think a lot of people interpreted that line as a come on, a sexual kind of thing, whereas I just kind of saw it as a very hopeful thing. This is the first man she’s met that’s been nice to her. I didn’t read it in a sexual way. I think that was an example of something I did in my audition that he was looking for. Even though she’s sexy, it’s not about that for her. Tom is more of a father figure for her.
Is there anything you can do to emphasize the character’s innocence?
It’s in the way you fill up the lines. I think there are different types of sexy. You can be sexy and worldly and jaded and I don’t think she’s like that. I think she’s very open and very naïve in a lot of ways, which is probably partly why she was in these bad situations. She’s just making bad choices because she’s so naïve. The wardrobe also helps. We had this big debate because it had to be sexy, but it had to reflect her innocence, so we have her in that white long sleeve shirt. It’s sexy because her stomach is showing, but at the same time, she’s kind of covered up. In the bar scene, we had her in that pink plaid shirt, which was a little bit innocent in a way. We kind of struck a balance.
So you had a hand in picking the wardrobe?
Yeah, well it was very specific and Tom, being a producer, was very involved. At first, we just couldn’t get it right. Everything we tried on was too trashy. We couldn’t find that perfect balance. We got the mall to open their stores in the middle of the night, so that we could go in and try on a bunch of stuff and finally, at like two in the morning, we found the perfect outfit and everybody approved it. It was a bit of a hassle. We couldn’t get it right, but when we did, it was awesome.
What about Lee Child’s novel? Did that give you any extra material to help flesh out the character?
I feel like what I read in the script was a little bit different from what was in the novel. I didn’t really see that much of her innocence when I read the novel. When I read the script, the lines read much more innocent, I thought. My mom’s a huge fan of the books. She’s read every single one, so when I got the part, she freaked out. She’s a crazy fan of the novels.
Were you a fan of Tom Cruise going into the project? Had you grown up watching his films?
Yeah, I was a pretty big fan. I became a bigger fan after working with him just because I realize what a nice, genuine, happy, down to earth person he is. It was just really inspiring to see someone who’s so successful and continues to be a really nice guy. He really makes an effort to make sure that everybody is happy on set. He made an effort to ask me how I was doing and make sure I was comfortable. You don’t have to do that as a big star. I know he’s got a lot on his plate, but to step outside of that and try to make sure that I was doing all right was really nice. I think after working with him I was a bigger fan than before.
Christopher McQaurrie alluded to some kind of panic that you went through before shooting your first scene with Tom Cruise. Can you talk about that?
The night before, I slept for like three hours. I couldn’t sleep. I was so nervous. The funny thing is, I wasn’t scared about working with Tom. I just really wanted to do the best job possible for the character. Having such a short amount of time to do a good job—I only had a couple of key scenes in the movie—I just felt so much pressure. I just wanted to do the character justice, so I was really nervous about whether I was going to do a good job. When I started acting, that’s when I relaxed and felt comfortable and got over that hump.
How does Tom Cruise’s process differ from other actors you’ve worked with?
I just think he knows what he’s doing. He’s very sure of himself and he understands his character and he kind of goes in and does it. He’s great to react off of. He just is the character, that’s the thing. Sometimes you work with people who are struggling to find the character or they’re struggling to stay in character, but with Tom he just is that person.
McQuarrie said he was nervous about capturing the evolution of your character’s thinking in the scene with Jai Courtney. Can you talk about the challenges of that scene?
I think it’s really easy for it to just be interpreted as she sees him and immediately she’s scared and thinks that he’s a bad guy, but I had a different approach. When she saw him, I wanted there to be layers. I wanted her to be attracted to him first and think, “Oh my god, he’s so cute” and start talking to him in that light and slowly start to realize that something’s wrong. I just think that scene is all about layers, subtle moments. I tried to not go with the obvious approach. Jai was really great with that because he’s a very attractive, dashing man, so it was kind of easy to have that. The way he played it was helpful because he wasn’t too obvious with the fact that he’s a villain.
Did you actually do the stunt when your character gets punched?
Yeah, I actually did the punch. I had whiplash on my neck because I swung my neck so many times and they didn’t have any padding for me to fall on. I was falling on the ground. I had bruises. I love all that stuff though.
What was your reaction when you saw the finished film? Were there any surprises?
The first time I saw it was really nerve-racking. It was jarring and I had to watch it again before I felt happy with my performance because it was just too overwhelming to see everything come together. The second time, I was happy because I felt like I had achieved what I wanted to achieve. I just wanted the character to come alive. You try to break down your performance and think, “Oh, did I say that line perfectly? Did I say it the way I wanted to?” I kind of realized when I watched the film that it doesn’t really matter how I said the line or if the line was different than I was thinking because the character was there. No matter which way I said the line, the character was still there and that’s what I was going for.