Kenneth Branagh’s Spy Games
The Director of 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' on Secret Missions and Russian Accents
Captain Kirk in a Tom Clancy caper?
That’s the case when Star Trek actor Chris Pine steps into the shoes of the bestselling author’s beloved hero in 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'.
It’s the latest reboot of the popular movie franchise — and the chance to direct an updated contemporary thriller introducing the famous character was one that director Kenneth Branagh immediately seized upon. The script was simply a “page turner”, revealed the Brit thesp, who also doubles up as the film’s resident villain, Russian Viktor Cherevin.
'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' is the fifth film in the series, but unlike previous instalments, this isn’t an adaptation of any particular Clancy novel but an original tale instead. This time around, the Russians plan to do something evil, like, you know, crash the American economy with a terrorist attack. So it’s up to Ryan to turn into a Jason Bourne-esque butt-kicker and save the world.
And the five-time Oscar nominee Branagh is treating it the way he would any story, whether it’s a Shakespeare drama or a Hollywood thriller.
“I want the experience to be as authentic as possible. You approach the work in the same way. And you give it total commitment and you do your best and you hope to collaborate with some brilliant people. In the case of Jack Ryan, it was a huge collaboration and I enjoyed it very much and most of all I want the audience to enjoy it too. I want them to feel immersed in this world.”
But first, a secret spy mission for his leading man.
Q: Jack Ryan has been previously played by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. What are your thoughts on Chris Pine filling those shoes?
A: Chris is a very smart, sexy lad who is also very complex and has wit. I loved his performance as Kirk in the first J J Abrams Star Trek movie. Chris has intelligence and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has a bit of a twinkle in his eye. Chris is a very, very committed actor and performer. When he first arrived, we had supper together on a Sunday night and I hadn’t told him what I was planning to do.
Q: What did you have planned for him?
A: We arranged for him to meet a compliance officer and a leading Catholic priest — and we made him do some spy stuff! We set up a “drop” in a London park that was under surveillance by a dozen people and we told him, with two minutes to go, what he had to deliver and what he had to pick up and that he had a time limit on it and if he didn’t do it, he would be potentially arrested by people who possibly didn’t know that he was Chris Pine the actor or that he was involved in a piece of research. When I told him that, I did see the blood drain from his face (laughs). And when he finished it and we showed him the results in real time on CCTV footage, he said his pulse was racing and he thought his heart was going to come out of his body because he was so nervous.
All he had to do was go to a London park and find the right bench and the right person but when you know you are being watched in that way, it can do strange things. But it was all helpful for Chris to get a sense of what doing this job would really be like.
Q: Did he do the drop?
A: He did it but he was caught acting suspiciously. (laughs)
Q: What about casting the Russian villain? You know, a certain Kenneth Branagh …
A: (Laughs) Yes, the director had a hand in casting that particular actor. He discovered he was very, very cheap and very available and we knew where he was every minute of the day. Paramount kept asking me to do it and so did Chris, and I realised that with that part we had actually managed to stop people from talking about it as the “villain” or “the baddie” and they started talking about “Viktor” or “Cherevin” and everything became a bit more specific.
Q: How did you nail the accent?
A: I started by listening to Russian radio and TV broadcasts so I could hear the language. I listened to Russian music and then we had a Russian advisor who came in and I started to speak some of it and I found that extremely difficult — it was like doing piano practice every day for a few months (laughs). I didn’t just want to be coming in at the last minute and just saying my stuff so I had a parallel kind of preparatory period. I went to Moscow and met some slightly powerful and scary people. We definitely had some experiences of powerful people and became aware of the large sums of money that can swill around when it comes to these large interrelationships between financial institutions and sometimes government institutions. So we tried to get inside it in a human dimension. This is a human picture and not super human and that’s where we started from.
Q: Could the film’s premise — that an oligarch and financial terrorism could threaten the world economy — really happen?
A: We know from our own experience of current news reports that it is possible for what appear to be smaller individual transactions or mistakes or miscalculations, whether it was way back with Lehman Brothers, to have huge repercussions. We also know that there is the possibility of corruption or incompetence at high levels within famous financial institutions or misappropriation of funds. And what we also know is that even if you put that financial bond in the perfect place and that is perfectly understood by a brilliant mind then, if all the variables we’ve talked about go together, it can be catastrophic and this does happen.
There was an enormous impact, as we know, on the economy after 9/11 because of the reaction of the markets to that degree of instability, so it’s something that is part of what is considered by those who wish to destabilize the financial order from the point of view of terrorism.
Q: The intelligence agencies in the United States and Britain have been in the news lately, not least because of Wiki-Leaks. Do you think there should be tighter controls about how intelligence is gathered?
A: I think it’s inevitable and necessary that there is a debate and the issue is addressed. The world has changed and without simply saying “our film is so contemporary” it is true that one of the things ('Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' writer) David Koepp was interested in writing about was whether there is a line you draw beyond which we say to a government: “It’s all right, you make a decision for us, you decide what we need to know and if you think that a lot of people knowing this information makes us more at risk, then we empower you to make that choice.’
The spirit of the new digital age is that information should be available to everyone and it should democratise our lives. That’s one point of view, but on the other hand, we have so-called professionals telling us that it endangers us, so it’s a pretty vital area of debate.
And the first third of our film is Jack Ryan asking those things. “Why would I join up and trust you? I might be one of those 50,000 secrets and the first thing that happens is my wife gets killed...”