Kenneth Branagh is an actor/director who is best known for his screen adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays. The Irish-born Branagh has always dabbled in the Hollywood pool however, first directing the Hitchcockian thriller Dead Again in 1991 and then bringing a big-budget version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the screen in 1994. He began to focus on acting, taking on varied roles like that of the Scandinavian detective Wallander in the BBC television series and a supporting role as Laurence Oliver in My Week with Marilyn.
Recent years have seen him return to directing in a big way, first launching the Thor franchise for Marvel Studios and now working with Paramount Pictures on laying the groundwork for a whole new set of Jack Ryan adventures - based on the popular character created by Tom Clancy - beginning with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Branagh not only directs the movie, but he also stars alongside Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Kiera Knightley.
Screen Rant chatted with Kenneth Branagh on the London set of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit where and discussed the pressures of bringing a big-budget thriller to the screen and his inspirations for rebooting the Jack Ryan franchise in a post-911 (and post Jason Bourne) world.
What made you want to make this?
Kenneth Branagh: I guess the script arrived and it was unputdownable and I knew the previous films, I’d read some of the books and simple as that. It came out of the blue. I was going to be making another movie, it went away, and this one came to me, and I read it and responded very strongly as a kind of film I go to see. It’s the kind of film that the world of the film has the antecedent of '70s movies, of great style that I very much admired. All the President’s Men, Parallax View, things like this—quite extreme espionage thrillers with slightly distorted worlds.
No Dutch camera angles, no worry. (laughter) It’s me and Haris Zambarloukos again but we found a spirit level on the camera (chuckles). I don’t know if you spoke to Chris, he’s very eloquent about this but I liked Bond and I liked Bourne and I liked Mission: Impossible and this is distinct from all those because he’s not a paid assassin. He’s not a man coming up from program. We don’t have the flamboyance of say Bond and we don’t have the extremity of something like Mission: Impossible as far as the technology and things that go on. In a weird way, even though Jack Ryan is the brightest and the best, he’s sort of an analyst with the great skillful, intellectual mind, he’s also in relative terms, he’s kind of an everyman. He doesn't have the range of skills that Liam Neeson and I have a very particular set. He doesn't have that particular set of talents, but he’s got his brain and he’s got a desire to do something, to serve in some way and so all of that. It’s rich stuff.
With something like Thor, the human dimension inside a world full of fantastical elements and many disparate elements often felt like you were making lots of different films and with this, there’s also that element which for me, if you can get it right, leads to an interesting experience for the audience. You get surprised, there’s unexpected turns, and at the center of it, in both cases and certainly here, is this human element. It’s much more… the script engaged me because it was a page-turner but this big personal story that you’re invested in at the heart of it.
How do you balance the drama with the action?
It’s constant question between what you can take? We’re very blessed with the actors, so Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and a ton of other people who are really strong. We had people like David Paymer in the other day for just a small section of the film. He’s brilliant in it. These are people who once you get into a close-up, if you have story working for you, how they think is very, very striking and so definitely, the landscape of the close-up, the orchestration of that, versus bits of action like we’re doing today, so it’s about a sleight of hand as he gets from one vehicle into another. He’s being followed. He’s in the headquarters of the man who may appear to be his nemesis, and so this is all about multiple camera angles and lots and lots of coverage so we can really pace it up and confuse and then sometimes, it’s just what you hope is just the well-composed frame into which a very interesting character, played by a very interesting actor, walks and thinks for a bit, and it seems to me that it would be a very fascinating post-production process to try and orchestrate between the two things.
I hope we have plenty of both. I think we’ve all been surprised—Lorenzo, Mace. We had much more action than we thought we’d have, but we have the other dimension, the thinking man part of it and the thinking woman part of it, because Keira Knightley’s role is extremely central to how the story plays out. We have the resources to orchestrate both I think in a gripping way.
Next Page: Branagh on Playing The Villain
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens in theaters on January 17, 2014.