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He’s worked to stop a rogue submarine from reigniting war between the United States and Russia, protected his loved ones from a renegade IRA faction, gotten pulled into the secret war between the CIA and the Colombian drug cartels, and successfully stopped a group of terrorists with a nuclear weapon, but it’s been a while since we’ve last seen Jack Ryan back up on the big screen.
The character, who first appeared in Tom Clancy’s novel The Hunt For Red October back in 1984, has now been away from the movies for more than a decade, but not for a lack of trying. Talk of a Jack Ryan reboot began all the way back in 2006 and many updates followed in the years since as the project fought its way through development and actually get made. And last year came the big breakthroughs. With Chris Pine set to reprise the iconic role made famous by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, the movie found Kenneth Branagh to both direct and star as the villain, Kevin Costner to play the super spy’s mentor, and Kiera Knightley to play the female lead. Cameras finally began to roll late last year in preparation for a Christmas 2013 release date, and I was fortunate to be on the set to witness it, flying out to London, England with a small group of other film journalists to both talk with the stars and watch them make Jack Ryan.
‘This script arrived and was unputdownable," Branagh said, sitting with us briefly between set-ups and explaining what drew him to the project. "I knew the previous movies and I read some of the books, and simple as that it came out of the blue. I was going to be making another movie, but it went away, and this one came to me and 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 antecedence of kind of 70s movies of great sort of style that I very much admired."
The new movie, based on a script by David Koepp, introduces audiences to a younger version of the character that we’ve never seen. And while previous incarnations of Ryan have shown him as a seasoned agent, this new film will have a new perspective on the character, having him question the road that he has begun to take.
"Jack as a character is really going through a decision process as this is really the origin story," said producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who has been attached to the new movie for years. "And so the result of it is that you see a guy who doesn’t see the CIA through rose-colored glasses…debating the merit of becoming a part of an organization – let’s just say a government organization of any kind – and what can I really do, what can’t I do."
By featuring a younger version of the character the movie also opens a more relatable side of the hero, one we haven’t necessarily seen before in previous incarnations of the character. So with respect to Baldwin, Ford and Affleck, Pine looked at what he calls the "fundamental pillars" of who Jack Ryan is so that he could create something new and different.
"Just like with Kirk, for instance, I can’t do what came before…I can only do my version of it," Pine said. "There are certain things that are kind of fundamental to Jack… He’s more comfortable in the study; he’s more comfortable with his books; he’s more comfortable putting a puzzle together; he’d rather spend a Sunday at home then go out – he’s a homebody. There’s a comfort in isolation, but there’s an intense confidence in his own abilities to figure stuff out and work through things in his own mind. So it’s balancing that kind of everyman with the thoughtfulness and the ability to be by himself and comfortable in isolation."
And while Ryan may have his smarts, the voice of experience is always needed and that’s where Costner comes into play. In the movie the veteran star – who was actually offered the role of Jack Ryan back in the days of The Hunt For Red October – plays the role of William Harper, a new character to the Tom Clancy universe who acts as both Ryan’s mentor and superior through his early days. But instead of just being the man behind the desk or the guy talking to Ryan through an earpiece, Costner says that his role is an active one, taking on situations where if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.
"Some guys are born for management, and some guys can straddle it, they can go back and forth, they’re more comfortable in the field and don’t mind being out there. Some guys were never meant to be out in the field at all," Costner said, arriving on set just to talk with us about his new role. "[Harper is] a person that can straddle, that can go in and sometimes there are places where you just have to get information, you have to know how to do it, and so I think that he’s going to straddle that line."
Want to know more about Jack Ryan?. In just a few months’ time I’ll have my full report about my experience in London watching the making of the film, including extended interviews with the cast and crew as well as more about plot, the hero and his latest mission. In the meantime, head over to our Blend Film Database for images, news and more about the upcoming blockbuster.