“She’s a little bit like Tom Cruise,” Jack Reacher: Never Go Back director, Edward Zwick, says of young actress, Danika Yarosh. “She’s very, very ‘go-get-‘em’, and she’s got all these interests that are similar to his. She’s an athlete and she’s a dancer, so she has discipline, and she’s very, very serious about learning her craft. She really watched Tom very closely, which is a great way for a young actor to learn: to work with serious actors, who are not pretentious, and not divas, who are really hard working, and who also want to go the emotional distance. I’ve been really lucky. I first met Claire Danes, when she was 13 ½, for My So-Called Life. I first met Evan Rachel Wood when she was 14. Sometimes you find these young actors, and you know that you’re really looking at the beginning of something.”
They are hugely encouraging words of praise from the director of Glory, Courage Under Fire, Defiance, and The Last Samurai, and the co-creator of the era-defining TV series, thirtysomething and My So-Called Life. Following on from regular runs on the TV shows, Shameless and Heroes Reborn, Zwick cast the now eighteen-year-old Danika Yarosh (a New Jersey-born dancer who had been a major player in the Broadway run of Billy Elliot) in the plum role of the plucky Samantha, who may or may not be the daughter of Tom Cruise’s titular man of action in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
“It was amazing,” Yarosh enthuses of her first major big screen role. “It was a great script, with a great storyline, a great cast, and a great director. It was probably the best first experience ever! Tom took me under his wing from the beginning, and he just taught me about everything, in every different field. Usually on set, I learn by observing, and by watching, but he actually took it upon himself to full on just teach me. That was an experience, all on its own. It was a total dream! Tom taught me a lot about stunts. He would be doing a big stunt, which I wasn’t in, and he would make sure that I would be on set, and that I would be right next to the cameraman. And he would teach me about angles, and how stunts work, and how to keep yourself safe, and he had me training with the stunt crew, just so I learned for future work.”
Yarosh’s experience on the sequel was made even more exciting by her response to the first film. “I was a huge fan of it,” she says of Jack Reacher. “I saw it with my Dad. My Dad is probably the biggest Tom Cruise fan. [Laughs] My dad took a selfie with Tom! He was stoked! [Laughs] He got to show all his buddies at work!”
Mr. Yarosh certainly wasn’t the only one. “We did shoot in The French Quarter in New Orleans on Bourbon Street, and it was insane,” Yarosh says. “Everyone in town knew that Tom was there, and it attracted a huge crowd! But Tom stopped, and he made sure that every single person got a picture, and he wouldn’t leave until then. And the security team was yelling at him, ‘We have to leave! We have to shoot the next thing!’ and he was like, ‘Oh no, just five more minutes!’ And there was another time, when we were shooting at a school, and there was a group of girls surrounding him. We were right about to shoot, and he stopped to make sure that every single person got a picture. I was right next to him, and one girl walked away, and she said to her friends, ‘Oh man, it didn’t come out right!’ He was swarmed, and I have no idea how he heard this, but he turned around and was like, ‘Do you want to take that picture again?’, and she was like, ‘No, it’s fine!’ He’s like, ‘Let’s retake it.’ It just made her day. He’s that type of person, which I really admire.”
In the film, Yarosh’s Samantha is right next to Cruise’s Reacher when it comes to the action. “She’s very, very street smart, and very tough,” the actress says. “She’s grown up in and out of foster care her entire life, so she knows how to take care of herself. She grew up taking care of herself, so she’s very independent. So in that light, she’s very much like Reacher. She’s basically Reacher in a teenage body form. They even have the same thought process. Everything about them is very similar in that manner. But Jack’s not sure whether she’s his daughter or not, and that affects his life in a huge way. But at the same time, Sam also helps him out. So it’s a very interesting relationship that they have throughout the entire movie, and they both help each other out in ways that are not exactly related to the storyline, but more just to them as characters.”
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back might prove to be a launching pad for Danika Yarosh, who counts Kevin Spacey (“He’s brilliant…in everything!”) and Cate Blanchett as her favourite actors. The actress will next appear in the feature, Live Like Line. “It’s a sports movie, based on a true story,” Yarosh explains. “It’s about a group of girls, and their volleyball team, back in Iowa in 2011.” It’s another physical turn for the actress, who smiles when she’s asked if she always wanted to act. “Up until two years ago, I was planning on going to medical school,” she laughs. “I’m a huge science nerd! I love all that!”