During the ’90s, Tom Clancy was one of the top-selling authors in the country selling millions of books starring Jack Ryan, an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who was called in for some of their toughest assignments involving international espionage and political intrigue. Since 1984, Clancy wrote eleven novels that followed Jack Ryan from his early days in the Marines all the way to his successful bid as President of the United States, creating an entire alternate universe for the character that’s inspired multiple movies and video games.
On the movie side of things, the likes of Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck have all taken a turn as the character and for many years, Paramount Pictures and franchise producer Mace Neufeld along with Lorenzo di Bonaventura have tried to bring the character back to the screen, at one point planning to adapt Clancy’s 2002 novel Red Rabbit. Their attempts finally proved successful when they decided to make a prequel that told Jack Ryan’s origins and cast Chris Pine as a version of the character from before he joined the CIA.
Late last year, ComingSoon.net was invited to visit the London location where director Kenneth Branagh (Thor) was filming what is currently titled simply Jack Ryan, his team having transformed a portion of the East End into a section of Moscow. With our full set report coming later in the year, Paramount Pictures allowed us to give CS readers an early sneak preview of the movie that everyone’s going to be talking about at this time next year following its release on Christmas Day.
Di Bonaventura had been developing the project, once dubbed Moscow, for many years, at one point with director Phillip Noyce who helmed Harrison Ford’s two Jack Ryan movies, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.
“Mace put together this great series of films that really stand (due to) their intelligence and their entertainment value so he set a pretty high bar,” Di Bonaventura told us early in our visit. “That in of itself was the biggest challenge. You don’t really want to screw up after all those good films. The big break for us came when Ken (Branagh) came aboard. He’s such an actor’s director but at the same time with ‘Thor,’ he really had the chance to play in a bigger venue. He’s put those things together here because this is a lot about performance. There’s a lot of emotional context that’s going on between Jack and his fiancée (played by Keira Knightley) and Jack is going through this decision-making process because he doesn’t view the CIA through rose-colored glasses.”
“I’ve been trying to restart (the franchise) for nine years,” Neufeld confirmed during a separate interview. “With executive changes and having run out of books that we could do, what triggered going to greenlight, as Lorenzo said, was Kenneth. I had only talked to him years ago when I called him about directing a film after he’d done ‘Dead Again.’ We had lunch and he had read the script and liked it, had some suggestions, but more than that, he had gone beyond the call of duty and read every Tom Clancy book–and that’s a lot of pages–and seen all the movies and was totally prepared and very enthusiastic.”
Branagh himself was fairly busy on the day of our visit, but we did get to talk to him briefly, not only about following Thor with another introduction to a potential franchise, but he also plays a key role in the film as the film’s primary antagonist, Viktor Cherevin.
“It came out of the blue,” Branagh told us about how he came across the project. “I was going to make another movie and it went away and this one came to me. I read it and responded very strongly. It’s the kind of film that I go to see. The world of the film has the antecedent of ’70s movies of great style that I greatly admired–’All the President’s Men,’ ‘Parallax View’—kind of extreme espionage thrillers with slightly distorted worlds.”
Although Branagh admits to liking the Jason Bourne, James Bond and “Mission: Impossible” movies just fine, he feels Jack Ryan will be distinct enough to set it apart. “In a weird way, even though Jack Ryan is the brightest and best, this analyst with a skillful intellectual mind, in relative terms he’s also kind of an every man as much as he doesn’t have the range of skills that say Liam Neeson might have. He’s got his brain and he has a desire to serve in some way, and it’s rich stuff.”
David Barron, best known for co-producing the “Harry Potter” movies, was brought on board to help facilitate their decision to film the entire movie in London – hence the Russian look to our location. Having worked with Branagh before, he explained how the idea of him playing a key role in the movie he’s directing came about. “He’s enjoying doing both. He thought he could play that part and we felt that he could play that part very well so we didn’t try to dissuade him.”
“And we got him at the right price,” Neufeld joked.
Having already reenergized and modernized one James Tiberius Kirk for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, actor Chris Pine was called upon to do the same for Tom Clancy’s popular character. In our interview with him, Pine explained how he felt Ryan differs from Bourne and Bond and the other spy-driven action-thrillers that may bear comparisons with the relaunch of the character ten years after The Sum of All Fears. “Bourne has his body, he’s physically very adept at kicking ass, and Bond looks great doing it and he’s brooding and complicated, but he wears a suit well and drives great cars. I think the challenge with Jack is how do you make dynamic his smarts? His weapons is his brains–he thinks and moves with his mind faster than other people. With the Ryan character, the challenge is to move the plot forward and you have to just let the thinking do the work. With this film we tried to give him a substantive enough background and back story so that we understand why he moves and thinks the way that he does and why perhaps in this particular circumstance, he initially is hesitant to jump right into the story.”
One bit of casting that may have come as a surprise to some was that of Kevin Costner, who could very well have played Jack Ryan himself back in the ’80s or ’90s and in fact, he told us that he had to turn the role down to make a personal project that turned into one of his biggest hits. “I was offered the Jack Ryan series back in the beginning–I think ‘Hunt for Red October’ was the first one–and I couldn’t do it because I had already postponed ‘Dances With Wolves’ for one year and now I had a chance to do this ‘Red October’ but I had already assembled my crew and put my money into it. Then they offered me a real lot of money, more than I had ever seen, to do that and I said, ‘No doesn’t mean more. It’s just no.’ People were like ‘Oh, that silly little Indian movie,’ and I started to think it was a silly little Indian movie.”
Instead, Costner takes on the role of William Harper, Ryan’s CIA minder who may play a larger part in Paramount’s plans for the “Ryanverse.” Our extended interview with Costner was one of the highlights of our visit and we can’t wait to share the rest of it with you.
Look for that and more later this year sometime before Jack Ryan is released on Christmas Day, December 25.