Reacher is one of the biggest shows currently on Prime Video. The series follows Jack Reacher, retired Military Police Officer who finds himself arrested for a murder he did not commit. Based on the best-selling novel Killing Floor by Lee Child, the show is filled with action, suspense and a healthy dose of drama to keep things interesting.
With Reacher climbing the Prime Video charts, CGMagazine decided to take some time and talk to Hugh Thompson, who plays Officer Baker in the series. Known for his work on Sea of Love (1989), and Poor Boy’s Game (2007), he is a veteran Canadian actor of stage and screen that brings a wealth of experience to the role. Talking about Reacher, acting and what is next for his career, Thompson gives a good look at what it takes to be an actor in Canada and how the craft gives plenty of room to bring characters you are excited about to life.
CGMagazine: What brought you to the career you’re in now?
Hugh Thompson: You know, it’s funny; I was an athlete when I was a kid—I guess not a kid, but I was a boxer for years when I was an adolescent. I had an English teacher—she was big on having athletes in the theatre productions, so that’s how I got started. She kind of conscripted a bunch of us athletes to get into the theatre, but I didn’t think too much of it.
At first, I thought okay, well I’ll just do this because it’s going to help me get through grade 10 English. I had to do a project on Great Expectations, an endless Charles Dickens novel, and I didn’t do it. So she said “Here’s the deal, I’ll mark you on what you did, or you can be in the production next year.” I chose door number two.
It was great. I mean, it was actually one of those things where you get on stage—or just before you go on—is very similar to the feeling that you get before you start an athletic competition. It was to me at that time in the theatre, anyway. I think it’s a little bit different now, and hopefully I’m a little bit better at it. But yeah, that same sort of performance sport, I think the feeling was really familiar to me. And I was probably very terrible, but I had a crew hat, and so I was hooked.
CGMagazine: Amazing! So from that, you’ve had a long and storied career. What are some of the most memorable moments and memorable roles you’ve had up to this point?
Hugh Thompson: Well, I’m speaking to you from Halifax and I think one of the things on film I did that I was really close to…I guess it was close to my life here. [In the early 90s] I was shooting a TV series here called Black Harbor. In 1999, there was a plane crash off Nova Scotia—a Swiss Air flight went down. We made a movie about the aftermath of that crash called Blessed Strangers, where I played a fisherman who was involved in the aftermath of that disaster.
I think for me, that was one of the roles where I thought it’s a lot to have been raised here. And having been around when that happened, I felt a pretty big sense of responsibility toward that project, and I hope it turned out okay. But that was one of the big ones for me. Even though I was on a series at the time, it was the first time I’d actually been asked to carry a big load in a lengthy production, so to me, that was a big milestone.
On stage, there’s been so many—I don’t know, it’s hard to pick out from all the terrifying moments on stage which one I like the best. But I just wrapped a show here in Halifax (I guess we call it closed). We closed a show here in Halifax called December Men. I always like the last show that I did. I guess because I’m getting better.
CGMagazine: Now you’ve had a lot of different characters and a lot of different shows and movies. Do you find you’ve ever been typecast in a certain type of role? Or do you feel you just pick the roles that fit your character and your personality?
Hugh Thompson: It’s funny. I was thinking about that, and I think because of my physicality and sometimes because of the shape of my head or my face, I get cops, I get dads…and then, where I am in my life now, I’m past the dad thing already. Yeah, I think there was that sense of “you don’t escape your physicality”, I think, in a certain way. But there are always different things in those cops. I mean, I played an officer in Reacher.
Previous to this, I was in Chapelwaite, as an adaptation of a Stephen King miniseries, where I also played a police officer. The two guys, I think, were very different, given both of them are dealing with big changes in their lives. But I think you could make an argument that one guy would act in a significantly different way than the other guy within the same circumstances.
CGMagazine: Now, can you tell us a little about your character on Reacher, and why you decided to jump into that role?
Hugh Thompson: Well, I wasn’t really familiar with the books, to begin with. I have to say it surprisingly, because when I first went for the role, I immediately grabbed…I think it was Blue Moon, the novel. And so, I read this book and I thought “wow, now I see why people love this stuff!” Because it’s just so well constructed. It’s so well-built. I got the same thing from the script.
I originally read for another role in the show, and they came back and said “listen, we would like you to read for Baker”. So, I started diving into that. And just the worldview of that character did not appeal to me, but I think I understood how a person who was in that situation would act the way that he does, which he ends up doing. I just love inhabiting people whose thought process is unfamiliar to me, going in and learning it as I go through the script.
I think each situation is put in front of you to consider. I think I learned more about the character as you go along, and I certainly was that way during the show as things went along. I’m in opposition to Jack Reacher for the duration, so it was an interesting challenge to try to make them human and try to make his choices make sense on the day, and by the second.
CGMagazine: With such a challenging role, how do you prepare for the types of roles such as what we see on Reacher?
Hugh Thompson: It’s funny, I think over the years I’ve tried to just take the things with me of myself that are useful to the job and to the character. You have to leave your own sense of judgment, and you need to not judge your character. That said, I had turned down stuff that I thought okay, this is not where I want to go. It has to be something that’s written. There has to be, I think, a light that comes out of it.
And as I think, as I get older, and I sort of go through life, you want to leave more light in the world than you started out with. So, there have been things that I thought “no, I’m not going to do this”. I was offered a show called Touched—a feature film that I actually ended up doing. It had the character description, and it was like okay, well, this guy is a maintenance supervisor, and he has a girl chained to the wall in his apartment building.
I thought no, I don’t think I want to hear any more about this. When I read the script, it was completely different from what I thought, so I ended up doing it and had a wonderful time with Karl [R. Hearne] the writer and director.
You get educated as you go along—not to say “no” right away or “yes” right away, because you need to follow through with those things when you make a decision.
CGMagazine: Reacher right now is one of the biggest shows on Prime Video, how does that feel?
Hugh Thompson: Oh it’s great. I’m so happy for the show; for Alan, for sure, because he’s just one of those guys that working with him was just really fun. He’s just a leader on-screen and off-screen. I understand the workload that he was under and the pressure that he was under during the filming. And every day he comes in and does the job and has a good sense of humour.
He’s just an imposing physical human being, but just to see his timing—his ability to take things in the script and just make them work—is not easy. It looks easy—I guess he makes it look easy, but he’s one of those guys that just wants to see it succeed. And I’m really happy for him because it’s a big project, and you want to see that thing come alive. Even from reading the books…yeah I want to see this work, and it does, it really works, so I’m happy about it.
CGMagazine: Just to wrap up, for anyone that looks at you as an inspiration in your career of acting, what advice would you give them if they want to start following in those footsteps?
Hugh Thompson: I think you always have to be open to learning and a really important thing is to say yes to opportunities, even if you think maybe “is this going to teach me anything?” It’s amazing what you learn from just saying “yes”. And you have to say “yes” to yourself first and say “yes, I believe in myself, and I think I have something to offer. I think I have something to say.” Or “I have the ability to help someone else to say something.” And when you say “yes”, you can go forward. You can’t do anything without saying “yes”.
CGMagazine: Amazing. Now where can people find you on your current projects? And is there anything you want to plug while we’re at it?
Hugh Thompson: I’m doing a little feature here called Dancing on the Elephant, and that’s gonna go to camera next month. And yeah, watch Chapelwaite on Epix. I did a Stephen King series previous to Reacher, Adrien Brody stars on that one, and it’s scary people so, you know, watch out!