Kenneth Branagh Talks 'Jack Ryan'; Hopeful of Sequels

Kenneth Branagh as Viktor Cherevin

Interview by Melissa Molina

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the latest addition to the long-running movie franchise brought to life thanks to the books written by Tom Clancy. It's a new decade, and with it we find ourselves staring at a new interpretation of the CIA operative, this time played by Star Trek's Chris Pine. But the person who's caught our eye isn't the lead actor but the director, Kenneth Branagh.

Moviegoers may be familiar with his acting and direction in a number of Shakespearean and dramatic films, along with his adaptation of Thor for Marvel Studios, but that doesn't mean he would shy away from other genres. With the second reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise opening in theaters this weekend, Screen Rant spoke with the director/actor about taking on spy thriller, filming around the world, and his thoughts on doing a followup.


When you first came aboard Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, what came first; the acting job or the directing job?

Kenneth Branagh: It was the directing to start with and that was something where I read the script, felt very strongly that I wanted to do it, and then the process for me was to sit down with David Koepp, screenwriter, and with Chris Pine and go through refining the script and asking questions and things. Then Kevin Costner came aboard, we did the same thing with him, and then Keira Knightley and then it got to the point of where we've got to cast the villain, and by that stage it turned into such a terrific part that I was very pleased to think about doing it myself. I was probably on as director for 3-4 months until everyone persuaded me, and I persuaded myself, off to act in it.

Why did you have to persuade yourself?

I haven't acted and directed in a movie for 13 years so clearly I thought there must be some reason why I haven't done that. And so I think it was basically to do with the logistics. I wanted to make sure that I could at least do a great job. I didn't want to be in a movie with three great actors and not do a good job. I certainly didn't want to let them down as a director. It was planning for how you were going to create enough space and time to do it well and then enjoy it. So eventually I was convinced that it would be the case on this one.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit High-Res Photo (Kenneth Branagh is Viktor Cherevin)

This movie is a heavy action-thriller and is a slight departure from your more dramatic, Shakespearean-like movies. Are you familiar with the Tom Clancy books? Is that what first drew you onto the project?

Yes I was, and the previous Jack Ryan films, and I like the fact that though, you're right to say, there is a lot of action and we wanted lots of action, but nevertheless there's a lot of things that were very much a part of my interests like people sitting in a room talking. Two men in a bench at night in Moscow talking about grand events in the world or a couple discussing why he appears to be lying to her or not. So there was really a lot of character beats, a lot of two-handed scenes, and there was a lot of stuff with Chris Pine on his own, being the solo man under pressure, which I loved working with Chris on. I love the scene where he's on the rooftop in Russia alone. He's just killed a man, that's terrible to him. It's not glib, it's not casual. You can see it's costing him. I also loved the scene leaving Russia where now they have a sense of what [Viktor] Cherevin is doing, Jack Ryan and in this case Chris Pine's brain going a thousand miles per hour, quicker than hours, but in a way that invites us to keep up with him in an exciting way. Those sort of acting elements of it were also woven into the action stories. I felt as though some of it was playing to my strengths and some of it was playing to hopefully have a good time expanding on, which was all of the action stuff.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is technically a second reboot, since The Sum of All Fears was a reboot in itself. Did you have any sort of trepidation first approaching this project due to it's popularity and was it calmed down when you had the cast set?

When it was sent to me Chris [Pine] was already attached, so I read it with the knowledge that Chris would be playing Jack Ryan. That was key to me because I thought that was excellent casting, an actor I very, very much admire and liked a lot. I thought that he had the qualities of approachable-ness, the humor, the quick thinking, the capacity for vulnerability. I thought that was the central security for me, plus we had a script by a screenwriter David Koepp who is top drawer, so I felt as though that was a very strong place to start from.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit High-Res Photo (Chris Pine on Bike)

One of the other entertaining aspects about any Jack Ryan movie is that you get to jump around from one location to another. How was it globe-trotting throughout the production?

It was fun because you have this sense of the film taking on the rhythm of the story. One weekend you're in New York and you're chasing all over there with a Ducati motorbike causing all sorts of mayhem, then you go straight to Russia, jet lagged and straight into working all night there. There was something about this movie that had a kind of breathless quality to it, in the actual physical shooting that was reflective of what the story was. I think films often take on that quality. They become the thing that they're trying to reflect, so we seemed to be constantly on the move and constantly using 3 to 4 cameras and constantly asking Chris things like to get out of there! The new location is over there! The car's there! The sun's perfect please come over here! It was that kind of quality that where sometimes when he was having to be Jack Ryan under pressure like that, there wasn't much acting required.

Now that you've finished Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, would you ever be interested in directing another Jack Ryan movie if they presented it to you?

Well I think, being the superstitious Irish man I am, I'm going to wait to answer that question if and when the audience decides they like this one. I think the possibilities in the modern world of spies is such that there's many, many stories to tell. I think the ground is rich. I loved working with Chris [Pine], Kevin [Costner] and Keira [Knightley] so who knows? It certainly would be something to very seriously think about. I hope we have that kind of nice problem.


More: Chatting With Kenneth Branagh On Set


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

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