In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Colbie Smulders — once-and-future agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. — plays a soldier gone fugitive with Tom Cruise’s lone-wolf hero. Here are her tips for playing a badass. (Hint: Learn to take a punch.)
1. Humility trumps pride
In the film, Smulders plays Maj. Susan Turner, a military police officer framed by a government conspiracy. Turner wears a Ranger pin, indicating that she completed the famously tough Army Ranger school. Smulders talked to real-life soldiers and read Phil Klay’s Army anthology Redeployment for inspiration. “That Ranger pin is so tiny,” she jokes. “If I freaking graduated Ranger school, you better believe I would have a shoulder pad. But nobody wants to be so braggadocios.
2. Improv is everything
By her own estimate, Smulders fires a gun exactly once in the movie. “We’re not spies,” she says. “We don’t have this high-tech technology. These are people on the run, and it’s very improvised fighting.” Lacking heavy artillery, Turner has to think on her feet. “We have one of our stunt guys, this beautiful German man, 6’ 6” and weighs 220 pounds. In the real world, that is gonna be a significant challenge for me. So we put Turner in these situations where she’s fighting and she breaks a rake and uses the stick, or she uses her cell phone. Everything is at her disposal.”
3. Hitting is easy, getting hit is hard
Smulders has played terse S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2012, but she’s rarely been at the forefront of the action. “I’ve been in Avengers films, but I don’t do a lot of the action parts,” she says. “There are superheroes in the movie! People would much rather see them fight each other!” By comparison, training for Never Go Back took six weeks — and led the performer to an intriguing epiphany. “The hardest thing is getting fake hit. You really have to sell it. Somebody comes at you and stops a couple inches from your face. You have to react like it’s painful. In my training, those were the days I was more sore, doing gut punches or getting thrown against walls. You’re moving your body in a way that’s not natural.”
4. Friendly competition brings out the best in everyone
Turner and Reacher are well matched as partners. “These are two people who basically have the same job within the Army, both very educated, very strong,” Smulders says. That meant she had to keep up with Cruise — literally. “He’s such a master of this genre of film,” she says of her costar. “And Tom is ridiculously fit.” Smulders had broken her leg not long before filming started. “I got off crutches and started shooting this movie three weeks later,” she explains. “I was in the weakest physical shape of my life. Luckily for me, I’m competitive. It was like, I need to be able to run so I can keep up with Tom Cruise and look like I am as fast as Tom Cruise. And he is so fast. Supremely fast.”
5. Let the adrenaline kick in
Reacher and Turner find themselves in the occasional high-speed car chase. “The times that Tom was driving, it was like being on a Canadian roller coaster: It’s kind of fun, and you don’t really know what’s gonna happen,” Smulders says. When (safely) driving a car through closed roads and open fields, the actress found it important to remember not to overthink it. “I’m driving very fast, and Tom Cruise is sitting next to me,” Smulders recalls with a laugh. “This is for real.”
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back opens in theaters Friday.