Spotlight: ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ Director Kenneth Branagh on Cherry Picking Clancy’s Best & Rehearsing with Mikhail Baryshnikov
Studio System News, 17 January 2014
After bringing comic book hero Thor to the big screen as part of Marvel’s superhero series, director Kenneth Branagh is dipping back into the franchise well. This weekend, he’s re-launching author Tom Clancy’s reluctant hero in 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'. The film stars Chris Pine in the title role, which has previously been portrayed by Alec Baldwin ('The Hunt for Red October'), Harrison Ford ('Patriot Games' and 'Clear and Present Danger'), and Ben Affleck ('The Sum of All Fears'). Unlike previous Jack Ryan films, 'Shadow Recruit' is not based on a specific Clancy novel, but rather an original premise. It also stars Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, and Branagh himself.
The 53-year-old actor/filmmaker spoke to SSN about wearing two different hats on the movie, and how Jack Ryan is not all that different from the works of William Shakespeare.
SSN: Shadow Recruit is your second consecutive [time] directing a major movie franchise. What attracted you to it?
Branagh: I was working on a film that fell apart, then the director on Jack Ryan fell through, and it came to me. [Screenwriter] David Koepp was somebody I admired, and Chris Pine was set to play Jack Ryan, so I read it with those two things in mind. It was a real page-turner with a spy picture landscape that I liked very much.
SSN: How does this film stay true to the Clancy novels?
Branagh: We pulled from the Clancy universe as much as we thought would be good. His estate allowed us to cherry pick from the books the things we felt added to a most complete picture of Jack.
SSN: What were some of those details?
Branagh: Jack’s history in the military, the helicopter accident that caused this traumatic back injury, the medical history of [wife] Cathy. We tried to pull out anything we thought had some specificity and put it into this new 21st century scenario.
SSN: You haven’t acted in a film you’ve directed for the last 13 years. What made you take on the role of Victor Cherevin?
Branagh: Directing takes such an enormous amount of time and you don’t always feel like you can do something else even if you wanted to. This part was structured in such a way to make me feel that I could manage it if I prepared hard enough. So after 13 years I thought, ‘Well let me try it on.’
SSN: What was it about the part itself that made you want to try it on for size?
Branagh: He was not crazed like other movie villains, just dangerous, but also a passionate, romantic, and tragic figure with his own life ebbing away. I thought these would be very interesting things to play.
SSN: How did you master not only a Russian accent, but also the language itself?
Branagh: We had a dialect coach who helped me learn it phonetically. On the way to work, I’d listen to Russian radio and Russian TV presenters to hear contemporary Russian in lots of different sounds. Then I tied it to the back story we were building for Viktor by understanding how his voice might sounds as someone who had lived through the Soviet era, who was in the military, etc.
SSN: Mikhail Baryshnikov has not acted on the big screen since 1991’s Company Business yet you cast him in two key scenes. What was it like working with him?
Branagh: He loves rehearsing. Loves, loves, loves rehearsing. Given how small those scenes were, we rehearsed them more than anything else we did in the entire movie. For me it was just more time spent with somebody who’s an absolute legend. As far as I’m concerned he’s one of the great artists of our time.
SSN: Do you feel pressure to live up to the previous Jack Ryan films?
Branagh: The pressure one always feels is simply, ‘How do you do your best job?’ I never get thrown by outside pressure because there’s nothing I can do about that. The pressure is strong enough in terms of what you set yourself to do artistically and creatively. How the world takes it, how this film lives with those other ones remains to be seen.
SSN: In your earlier directing career, you were known for Shakespearean adaptations. Now you’re working on big blockbuster fare. Do you find that your fan base has expanded?
Branagh: The sense I have is that people expect the subject matter will be different and surprising with a level of quality attached. I know a number of people who saw Thor because they wanted to see what someone like me would do with that. Some members of an audience are following my work regardless of the subject matter and are brave enough to go on a journey with me in taking a few left turns along the way.
SSN: Do you see a common thread in your directing work?
Branagh: This little trilogy of 'Thor', 'Jack Ryan', and 'Cinderella' [upcoming, slated for a March 2015 release], are all about the acquisition of wisdom; they’re all coming-of-age stories in their own ways. In all cases they do it through trial and tribulation before arriving at who they are.
SSN: Do they relate to your Shakespeare film adaptations?
Branagh: The Cinderella story is an archetype that puts us all in a position where we can’t imagine what it’s like to be an underdog; Jack Ryan is an underdog at times in this movie, as was Thor. Those kind of archetypal myths are part of what Shakespeare deals with all the time; it’s just trying to tell the same ancient stories. The development for me is putting them into a more modern context in terms of scale and nature of filmmaking.