Having already claimed the helm of the Enterprise in JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek franchise, Chris Pine is now in the lead of another revived series: the Jack Ryan thrillers, which began on the big screen with The Hunt For Red October back in 1990.
Chris Pine’s version of Jack Ryan is young and steely eyed – a wizard with numbers and pattern-spotting, but hardly a cold-blooded executioner. In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the hero embarks on his first mission to Moscow, where he suffers the stresses and strains of fighting an economic terrorist attack headed up by Kenneth Branagh’s enigmatic villain.
The interview below took place last year while Shadow Recruit was still filming, and finds Chris Pine chatting about the difference between playing Captain Kirk and stepping into the shoes of author Tom Clancy’s most famous creation, working with Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Costner, and more.
On getting the role of Jack Ryan
It’s been a relatively fast shoot, compared to what I’m used to with these big films. Ken runs a really smooth set – nice clean twelve-hour days. It’s very civilised!
I’d just gotten Star Trek so it was a very exciting time in my career when I also got this. People ask why I took it and the simple answer is that I was offered work! Also, I love the Ryan franchise. I’ve always loved those films, and I love Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin and I’m a huge fan of spy fiction. I liked especially too, given what I’d done with Kirk, which was a kind of brash and at times arrogant character and how his selfishness can sometimes get people in trouble.
What I liked about Ryan was that he’s a quiet guy. In Patriot Games he’s driving a VW and has a rumpled jacket and he’s teaching, and his wife drives the Porsche. He’s more comfortable in his head. He’s more comfortable with his intelligence.
This film is two years in the development so we’ve had a lot of time to sit with the script. Ken made sure once he got involved that we had a couple of weeks of solid prep time, talking through the characters and the arc of the story. Keira [Knightley] came in late but she arrived with a lot of notes and ideas of what she wanted to do. Questions are a good thing. What’s important about her character is that I think we see that the bad guy is willing to sacrifice anything for his cause and his ideology, and Jack is not.
Jack is in love with his wife and that’s more important than anything else in the world to him. That’s paramount. The choice between saving the world and saving his wife is very difficult. He’s very human in that way. He isn’t Jason Bourne. He doesn’t have 50 different kinds of kung-fu in his repertoire.
On setting Shadow Recruit apart from other thrillers
I don’t know what will set this apart from the others. I liked that there’s an element of how we deal with people dying. A lot of times in action films it kind of doesn’t matter when characters fall off balconies or whatever. This is more about what if you really were in the situation where you had to kill someone. It’s intensely personal and death and trauma become very real things.
On the pressures of leading a major film
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the pressure of leading a huge studio film with a lot of suits on set. A lot of people have opinions and a lot of people need it to do well, so of course there’s pressure. It’s different than Star Trek in the sense that I’m playing the title character. All you can do is surround yourself with people you trust and pray for the best! I think we have a distinct, unique character: the character that I saw when I watched Adam Baldwin in Red October or Harrison Ford in Patriot Games.
He’s not wearing a cape or fighting the system: he’s just a good man. Almost the simplicity of the character sets him apart. In Clancy’s novels he becomes president at one point, and I think what makes him a good president is that he’s a good man, and he follows his heart. As simple and pure as it is, that’s the character. I can only stay true to the character and put my own spin on it.
Working with Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh
I’ve been so lucky in my short time making films. I played with George C Scott on my first film. It’s a constant apprenticeship. When I’m 70, working with some young buck, I’ll be able to say y’know, I did a movie with Kevin Costner. It’s fantastic. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of, working here at Pinewood with him. He’s a consummate movie star. It’s just incredible to watch his technique. He’s been doing it for so long, was the biggest movie star in the world for so long. Even just doing a close up, he knows how to work with the camera. You just learn by osmosis from being around him. He’s also now got that gravity that comes with age. He’s got a nice weight to him.
I did a scene with Kenneth the other day where I just felt like I was blown out of the water. He was… man, it was brutal. The first time the two characters face off is like a two bulls moment, and Jack is feeling out of his depth. I think that scene will really play. Ken’s incredible. When you consider that at 27 he’d been doing rep for ten months straight, finished on a Friday then on the Monday went straight into directing Henry V which was his first film… That must have been a testing moment!
It’s interesting watching Ken and Kevin because they have completely different ways of attacking things. Ken runs his set as a very structured environment and he’s very clear what he wants. What we’ve just been doing, which might take a week and a half on another movie, I’m sure we’ll be done by tomorrow, which is mind-boggling considering what we’re doing. He’s making a very focused film, despite the huge literary, Shakespearean themes. Because Jack is a very cerebral character you want to reflect that in the plot, but you can’t make the plot so obtuse that the audience can’t understand what’s going on. You have to balance that with making it fun and exciting and keeping it moving.
I love filming in the UK. I like the hours! In Hollywood you can easily be on 16 hour days. Here it’s more like 11 and you can go home in the evening and have a glass of wine! Read, watch television. It’s completely wonderful.
Chris Pine, thank you very much.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is out now in UK cinemas
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