'Jack Ryan' Interview: Kenneth Branagh on Re-launching The Tom Clancy Franchise

At one point did you decide you wanted to play a villain role as well and what’s your approach to that character?

Kenneth Branagh: It came to me as a director but it became clear to me that Paramount were very interested in me playing Cherevin, and I said, “Well, let’s just put that on the sideburner. Let me talk to Chris and see our relationship is and let’s see how we can cast the next important character to cast, Cathy his wife then Keira came along and we were very lucky to get Kevin as well. And then by that stage, as I saw all those people sitting in the middle of the movie and by now, Chris and I had talked about some of the larger thematic strands in it, so it’s partly old vs. new, old empire vs. new empire in a strange paradox where you might say that America is strangely the old empire and new money is Russia post-Glastnost and everything else is a new empire and that’s a swing from previous historical versions. It’s East and West in cultural attitudes and then it’s a personal kind of serious of opposites of Jack and Cherevin in relation to what it takes to be a patriot.

If there was a subtitle at the moment for the ever-evolving story of what’s the film about, it would be at least partly that. “What it takes to be a patriot?” How do you make a contribution that is not to do with nationalism but is to do with this very interesting subject of what love of country may mean when that’s a concept people sometimes can understand but really, whether in the military or sometimes in politics, our more ordinary smaller lives, you might say, we’re mostly interpreting that through interaction with people, with individuals, and how you relate to your fellow soldier or your fellow worker or your partner in life. We were so full of these things springing out of this we hope very good yarn that I thought that now I have a handle on how to give the other side of that, to make that side of the story as personal as possible, to try to answer your question.

So how do you approach it? Like make it as personal a story, not a cardboard villain. I’ve never used the word villain in relation to him because if you play it, I don’t think you can see it that way. There’s this fellow called (puts on Russian accent) Victor Cherevin, who is a very powerful guy and he has a very particular grudge and a pain that is in his system and that he wants to do something about, and he has the imagination to go with it and take on America, the CIA and Jack Ryan all at once. All of those clashes I hope makes for good drama.

Can you talk about wanting to shoot this in London rather than anywhere else?

Well, it’s a good question. Initially, there had been ideas of shooting in all sorts of different places and sometimes, it can seem as if the constituent parts could be changed, it could be any international city, but the plot might suggest, because it’s a global economy and an economic crisis, a disaster, a catastrophe in fact that’s linked to the center of this, but I felt that the initial instincts of the script and what I received from David Koepp very much meant that Russia in the East and America in the West were important to be distinct in terms of the internal character of the individuals and the sort of cultural strands coming out of the story. It didn’t strain. It was getting good rich stuff.

Actually, shooting in these places got complicated and complex, so for instance, Moscow is an amazing city but it’s a challenge to work in because it’s so big and so spread out, so some of what we wanted, which is the brilliantly noisy architecture of Moscow. Lots of buildings going up and the sense of the city being transformed. We felt that we could get in some parts of the city of London and get the scale and some visual effects, which will also allow us to create some of what we had to do ourselves. Victor Cheverin’s building is going to be an adaptation of what you see here, and so we felt as though… we needed a place where perhaps, frankly, we could benefit from the tax rebates and we were pointed in all sorts of directions.

You make a film nowadays and of course everybody is going to knock on your door, from New Orleans to Montreal to wherever, the Isle of Man. There are advantageous conditions here plus London has big city DNA, big city architecture, and that was important for us, and we were able to also go to Liverpool and find some old imperian… Liverpool was once the most important city in the world for a short time when it was the center of the shipping industry and various trades, some notorious, so that was able to provide us with some old imperial Moscow that frankly is gone. We felt as if we could get the big landscape by moving around and adding some visual FX back here and get our lovely tax rebate as well.

Jack Ryan Shadow Recuit Chris Pine Kevin Costner

You did an accent as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn which was quite comical. Have you refined that a bit so this is not as broad?

Well, that was more of a Ruritanian kind of Prisoner of Zenda kind of accent that he adopted for The Sleeping Prince. Here, we've got a couple Russian friends of ours now who daily listen to me. I have to speak some real Russian and they try to keep me on the straight and narrow. I love doing it. It’s a fantastic, fantastic language. It’s a great thing and the accent is also making it very distinct, but very easy for it to go too far in the other way. One of the things we tried to do with all the performances and Kevin’s giving a sensational performance, so are Keira and Chris are the key to them, so I’m watching and learning from the three of them who are masters, I must say, all masters of this screen acting lark. It’s all very fascinating to watch. They are simple and simple is hard to do, simple is so hard to do, and I think they do it after a  lot of practice of being complex, etc, so I’m trying to be simple with an accent and natural and naturalistic, that’s our cunning plan. Please excuse me, I have to go. It’s nice to see you all.


More: Interview With Chris Pine


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens in theaters on January 17, 2014.

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