Kenneth Branagh Directs Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Static, 26 November 2013
By Interview People

Directing and starring in 'Jack Ryan', Kenneth Branagh, 52, plays opposite Chris Pine, Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner in the famed franchise created by novelist, Tom Clancy. In his private life, Branagh was married to Emma Thompson from 1989 to 1995, and has been married since 2003 to art director, Lindsay Brunnock, whom he met during the shooting of 'Shackleton'. After his divorce from Thompson, he was in a well-publicised relationship with Helena Bonham Carter for several years.

Branagh has directed or starred in several film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays including 'Henry V' (1989) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Director, 'Much Ado About Nothing' (1993), 'Othello' (1995), 'Hamlet' (1996), 'Love’s Labour’s Lost' (2000), and 'As You Like It' (2006). Some of his other films include 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' (2002), 'Valkyrie' (2008) and most recently, the blockbuster super hero film 'Thor', which he directed (2011).

He is a lifelong supporter of Belfast football team, Linfield, as well as Tottenham Hotspur and Rangers. He was knighted in November 2012.

Did Tom Clancy’s death have any impact on the production of the film? Did you meet him?

I was very sorry to hear about it. I did not meet Mr. Clancy during the work on the film. The film was essentially done at that point. There was no direct impact on us other than everybody being very sad that he passed away at an early age.

Were you familiar with his novels before taking on this project?

I had read some, but not all, yeah.

Chris Pine was already attached when they came to you for the project. Were you sold on him right away? What would you consider his strengths?

A smart, sexy lad, he’s also complex, he’s got wit, and I so loved his performance in that first JJ Abrams’ 'Star Trek'. I think that’s a terrific, terrific movie, fantastic start to that film. God that’s really a smart way of opening a picture in terms of a popular action movie with a bit of substance and it’s partly because they are all so good in it. Chris has intelligence and he has wit, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has a bit of a twinkle in his eye, and he could make me believe that Jack Ryan was as smart as we needed him to be. And in terms of the image, we present him as very WASPY and that’s what Jack Ryan is on the surface and we weren’t kind of denying that DNA. He’s a very committed actor and performer.

The casting of Keira Knightley was interesting. She’s known for period dramas. What did you see in her to cast her in a thriller?

Well first of all, as I have touched on, we take the characters seriously, believe they have background, and believe that even though we are in a film that also deals with espionage, that essentially one of the things that it’s about is deception inside a relationship, in a partnership. It happens to be a man and woman who in this case are not married at the beginning of the picture, but he’s hiding something.

In the CIA, you can’t tell people you are a covert operative unless you are married. So there’s a pressure which ultimately becomes something she is suspicious of and he wants to marry her so that he can tell her that he is in the CIA. She’s a smart, professional woman in her own right, she’s an eye surgeon and we get some sense of some of her world as a professional. She’s a strong individual and a passionate character rather than just ‘the frightened woman,’ that can be part of the cliché traps of this world.

I have always thought she was just a terrific actress. There’s a kind of intelligent, witty kind of quality in her work. She was really a joy to work with and I think it was quite an interesting choice too. Like in 'A Dangerous Method' I think you can see that she is having a real and proper career in addition to being a great beauty who has made great period films because they sometimes go together. She looks wonderful in some of the things we have seen her in visually. People think somehow it’s easy, but she’s got a really rigorous attitude towards her work and she just happens to be a breathtakingly beautiful woman, as well.

Can I ask you about the filming location? Are the Moscow scenes shot there?

We were in Moscow for some time, we were in New York for some time, and we cheated in other places that weren’t Moscow or New York.

What were some of the challenges of filming in Moscow? I can imagine getting a permit and the logistics might have been difficult?

Those things for sure as well as the hectic pace that I wasn’t quite geared up for and how fast everybody drove in Moscow. I thought I had been to some cities where people drove quickly, but they drive fast in Moscow so crossing the road is tricky, and if you are filming in the road it’s tricky. Yeah, I found it no more or no less sort of challenging, but very noisy, very packed, very dense, the sense of the city changing, the landscape changing. I felt even in the time we were there, I’d seen buildings come up and go down, the sense of construction and a kind of energy to the physical place and noise, speed and tremendous intensity. It was very graphic, contrast-y towards New York, a city of equal but different intensity, and for me as a filmmaker, I had not been to Moscow before so that was interesting to try to evoke what that was like and then evoke it elsewhere when we tried to get an essence of it. I hadn’t shot as a director in New York before, so in any case, we sort of employed the policy that Jack Ryan has in the movie and we had to be very fast moving and light on our feet.

What city did you use for Moscow?

Well we did some of it over here, we did some in Liverpool late at night where we could. It’s easier to go fast in a car with the real Chris Pine in it in parts of Liverpool than it was in parts of Moscow. We wanted to make sure that he came back each time we sent him around (laughs) the city. I found it easy to get lost in Moscow, that was my experience. But so we wanted a little bit more flexibility because our attitude at the action stuff was to try and keep it quite human. It’s more difficult about how somebody who is not used to being in a car chase finds it being in a car chase, than somebody who is able to flip it onto two wheels or whatever.

The intelligence services have recently been in the news with Wikileaks and Snowden. Do you think there should be tighter control about how they adopt governmental intelligence?

I think it’s inevitable and necessary that there is a debate to say the least that the issue has to be addressed. The world has changed.

The spirit of the new digital age is that information is free and should be available to everyone, and it should democratise our lives, and this issue of whether that is okay for one point of view to suggest but on the other hand, so-called professionals telling us that it endangers us, that’s a pretty vital kind of area of debate. The first third of our film is Chris Pine asking those things of Kevin Costner, and saying, ‘Why would I join up?’ and also saying, ‘Why would I join up and trust you?’ I might be one of those fifty thousand secrets and the first thing is that my wife gets killed.

Back in time, when you were that young, admiring Shakespearian director, did you want to make these big Hollywood productions? Or is it circumstance?

It’s an evolution. I was saying to a kid the other day on the set of 'Cinderella', he was asking me about things, and it was and remains that when I started in the British film industry, it was really a famine at that time. So few movies were being made, now I am working at Pinewood and we have all our sets and I drive around the corner and Ridley Scott is making 'Exodus', the sets the size of Soho, you can’t get in.

People are having to find spaces outside of studios because of the tax incentives and the investment in filmmaking here is so huge but I remember back then it was very hard to even think you would be in a movie. Nowadays, that’s changed so completely, so one’s attitude towards it has changed. For me, I see a little link. The second picture I made was 'Dead Again', it was a thriller, I like thrillers. It was literally the second movie I made as a director and I have a direct line up to 'Jack Ryan'. The third movie that I made I think as a director was 'Much Ado About Nothing' and it has some kind of link all the way to 'Cinderella' and sort of heads back to 'Henry V'. I wish I was more original (laughter), but I noticed that I am interested in many of the same things, but just different numbers are on the budget.

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