Kenneth Branagh Loves the Thrills and Spills of Jack Ryan Reborn
Star of Stage and Screen Praises New Reboot Starring Chris Pine
Birmingham Mail, 28 January 2014
Sir Kenneth Branagh is one of the UK’s most esteemed actors and directors. The 53-year-old Belfast-born star of theatre, film and television talks about his latest movie project - thriller 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'. It stars Chris Pine as Jack Ryan and Keira Knightley as Jack's fiancee, Cathy.
This is the fourth screen incarnation of Jack Ryan after Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. What made you want to get involved?
I just couldn’t put the script down, it was as simple as that. I knew that Chris (Pine as Jack Ryan) was involved and I thought that was a great piece of casting. And I love thrillers. It was a chance to try and put that character as created by Clancy, and the things that made him compelling, into the 21st century and see if him and that new world collided in a strong and entertaining way.
You both direct and star (as the villain) in this film. How did you split yourself into the two roles?
On 'Henry V' we made the whole of it without any kind of monitors, so your judgement of your performance was based on conversations with your fellow actors and the camera operator. You had a guess then 24 or 48 hours later you saw the dailies and whether you were right. From my point of view you just prepare as much as you can. You try and be ahead of the game with accent and everything. Chris, Keira (Knightley, as Ryan’s fiancée, Cathy) and I didn’t rehearse much. We talked quite a bit but we got straight in. We sort of played with each other. I prepped as best I could but I wanted it to feel relatively raw, so we weren’t too slick and too smooth.
It is set in Moscow but much of it was filmed in the UK. How did you go about making it feel so realistic?
We did go to Moscow, briefly. One of the things we did was to establish... let’s call it the breathless pace that the film often has. We got off the plane from New York that morning, went and recced the first place in Moscow and that afternoon Chris was on a hotel roof with us saying ‘We have got 40 minutes, the sun is going, there is a three page dialogue scene, do you mind doing it all in one?’ Moving around in Moscow was a bit like that. When we came back to some of the ‘cheated’ Moscow in Liverpool and Manchester and parts of London, we adopted the same kind of ‘hit the ground running’ approach. I thought we were there for long enough to get this sense of vibrancy that the new Moscow has.
How amenable were the Russians to you being there as they are not portrayed in a particularly sympathetic light?
My sense was that people understood that this was a drama. Our intention was to tell the story of one fictional Russian oligarch with a very personal kind of biography and history that was not trying to, at a stroke, say ‘here’s what all wealthy Russians are like’. I think people understand that, – anymore than, having played Macbeth in the theatre, the Scots are up in arms at being portrayed as murderers and regicides. The Russians are great story tellers. We don’t make the Americans whiter than white. I think we were trying to be complex and I hope they respected that. Anyway, we managed to leave in one piece and, in fact, right now the movie is number one in Russia.
You first met Keira Knightley when she was 11 and auditioned for a role in your film, 'Hamlet', which she didn’t get. No mistakes this time.
There are some great English actresses. Keira is one of them and should have got a Golden Globe and an Oscar for 'Anna Karenina' as far as I am concerned.
When you were starting out as a director making 'Peter’s Friends' and 'Henry V' did you ever think you would have this kind of a directing career and was it ever an aspiration for you to do these kind of Hollywood-y films, like 'Thor' or 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'?
It was frankly astonishing to think you’d be having a film career of any kind when I started out. Before Henry V, we had a very doldrumy period in the British film industry. They just weren’t being made. I remember having a conversation with fellow actors wondering if we would ever be in one. So this is really a surprise. I love going to see pictures like this. They are hard to make yet you hope if they work they appear simple. You try to follow your instincts as best you can. For me the moment when you read the script is the key. I try and make that a very special moment, see what it does to you. If it really grabs you then you know there is a chance that over the two year cycle it can stimulate you. I was very lucky with these great actors, people who are fun to work with. In the end that becomes your experience. You are trying to do work that you believe in. so I just try to follow that, regardless of scale.
You are friends with your co-star Kevin Costner. How did you two meet?
When I first went to Hollywood it was on tour with two Shakespeare plays. I got a call at the theatre one day saying ‘there is a fellow called Kevin Costner who would like to take you out to lunch’. This was the beginning of 1990. I was very excited and said ‘Thank you very much’. He wanted to ask me about what it was like to act in and direct a movie at the same time. I has just completed doing it with Henry V and he was going to do it for a film called 'Dances with Wolves'. We had a long boozy lunch sharing war stories about the madness and fun of all of that. It was the beginning of a friendship that’s lasted across all that time. He was very helpful about the same process 25 years later. Having him there was very nice, it felt like we were in a conversation that was ongoing.